By Thames Menteth-Wheelwright, Events and Communications Officer

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown have challenged housing associations to think differently about how to help their residents and communities stay physically active.

Lockdown severely limited the amount of time people could spend outdoors, especially for those who were shielding. Those working from home no longer had their daily commute to boost their step count, gyms were forced to close, and contact sports were temporarily stopped. Yet, as lockdown progressed many people found new ways to stay active within the confines of their own homes.

Realising how central exercise is to managing physical and mental wellbeing, housing associations across the country have stepped up efforts to encourage their residents to keep active. Some have moved exercise, dance, yoga, and even Pilates classes online for residents stuck at home, while others have delivered wellbeing packs to promote safe outdoor activities such as gardening.

However, recent research from Sport England has shown that those from lower socio-economic groups, older people, women and BAME groups are still less likely to be active.

As we move out of lockdown, the challenge for social housing organisations will be to build on the positive momentum towards exercise – especially walking and cycling – that lockdown has brought about amongst some residents, while continuing to provide the resources needed to encourage other communities to get active, too.

One organisation that has been pioneering this approach, and partnering with local housing providers to do so, is The Mason Mile. This is an initiative to support hard to reach communities to become more active through the delivery of one-mile structured and unstructured routes, which are led by community ambassadors in their local communities.

Sport England have supported the programme in its first year to deliver in areas across Maidstone in Kent. The Mason Mile are now working with Sport England on its second year of roll-out across multiple localities, in partnership with key identified partners, including Golding Homes in Maidstone and Peabody in Thamesmead.

The Mile is about bringing people together in a fun way. Some miles are themed, such as the Mystery Mile and Nature Mile, and include lots of engaging activities for kids and their families to do along the way. The Mile also incentivises activity through a rewards programme, which operates in each local area. Through local partners, such as leisure centres, it is able to offer freebies for families when they reach specific milestones, which they can evidence using an app which tracks their miles.

The programme is community-led and centres the needs and interests of local populations, co-developing the programmes with them to suit their needs. The Mile reinforces this approach by building up a group of local ambassadors, who are supported to set up The Miles in their communities. Those ambassadors are trained and given the skills, experience, help and advice necessary to take on The Mile independently in their areas, so that it will continue beyond the term of the funding.

Over the coming months The Mason Mile are developing a community app to further support and connect local people to do their mile their way.

If you would like to find out more about The Mason Mile and how your organisation could become a delivery partner, please contact Anna Skeats at anna.skeats@masonfoundation.co.uk or visit The Mason Mile website [www.themasonmile.com] for more information.

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