A little-used sports ground in Walthamstow is being rediscovered by local people, writes Jo McKenzie
For the past 17 years I have walked from Blackhorse Road Station, along Edward Road, on my way to Douglas Eyre Sports Centre.
Here, as part of my role as projects manager for London Playing Fields Foundation, I have organised and delivered many football tournaments. The 34-acre playing field provides a cricket square, grass football pitches, and a new 3G pitch that are all heavily used by local sports teams and by schools.
But what about the people living in Edward Road, Coppermill Lane, and surrounding streets? As a sports charity, how are we helping them to be more physically active? Well, until recently, the answer was not at all.
This realisation led us to look at how we could open the facility for the benefit of the whole community, welcoming all ages and abilities and particularly those who are inactive. One answer was to mark out a mile-long path on the perimeter of the field for local people to walk or jog around. Quarter-mile marker posts enable participants to keep track of the distance they travel on each visit.
In order to engage with the local community, particularly people who were inactive, we also needed to do some outreach work to find out what would work best. Through our relationship with neighbouring Coppermill School, in July we launched our new ‘Green Hearts’ project. Over the summer period we had more than 30 people exercising on the field, some of them walking every day.
You might be surprised that such a simple idea has proved so popular. Why aren’t these people in the gym or walking around the marshes? Well the answer is that the playing field provides a safe and secure environment in which they can exercise with people of a similar ability and without being embarrassed about exercising in public. Just being outdoors in the fresh air, surrounded by green space and hearing the birds singing is a great way to mentally relax by paying more attention to the world around you and your own thoughts and feelings.
Having the playing field right on their doorstep is a clear benefit for many and of course the fact that it is free, with no special equipment or clothing required, also makes it appealing. For those people who have recognised that they need to do more physical activity for the sake of their health and are looking for a gentle introduction to exercise, Green Hearts provides a great starting point. It is self-led, there is no competitive element, and you can just set and work towards your own goals.
The sports ground is open throughout the day so participants can drop in to use the path at a time convenient to them. Our groundstaff are on site each day and are very keen to see local residents making use of this quiet green space.
A Green Hearts ‘activator’ has been leading a weekly group session to give support and encouragement to those who may be new to exercising. Thanks to funding from St James Street Big Local these group sessions will continue to run until this summer. Regular healthy lifestyle workshops are also being organised.
Personally I am really pleased that the ground is now being used more on weekdays and it is exciting to see people of all ages and abilities making use of the site.
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