Community Project: Communities First

Communities First Nordic Walking Project

“A fantastic example of how Nordic Walking can appeal to everyone, of any age, from any social background, of any ethnicity, and living in any environment. Nordic Walking truly has the ability to appeal to anyone,” says Yvonne Bignall, the British Nordic Walking instructor who led this project.

Communities First, a charity based in South London, applied for funding from by Groundwork Stronger Communities Funding and the Mayor of London to run a 10-week Nordic Walking programme aimed at supporting people who were feeling isolated, particularly by the lockdown conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time of the application, there was a strong probability of a further lockdown being introduced so the application included plans to adapt the programme to online delivery. Which was just as well. 

The area has a diverse population and this was reflected in the people who signed up to the programme which quickly attracted 18 participants, 7 women and 11 men, with an age range from 20s to 70s. Nordic Walking appealed to them for a range of reasons: reducing social isolation, improving mental health and fitness, and because it is an accessibility suitable for individuals who are partially sighted or on the autism spectrum. 

The programme had to start before a specific date and this was before the end of “lockdown 2” so Yvonne delivered an introductory session online to introduce Nordic Walking and explain what everyone would need to know once the programme began in earnest. 

She was able to deliver three face-to-face sessions, starting with a workshop and followed by two group walks so everyone could learn the basics of Nordic Walking and practice the technique. When more stringent Covid-19 restrictions were introduced the plan to move online kicked in. Yvonne acted promptly to ensure that the programme maintained its momentum and that the camaraderie and group cohesion that had developed would be strengthened despite not being able to get together in person. 

Community First made sure that everyone on the programme had a pair of poles that they could use and Barefoot Studios, the pole supplier, produced a video to show how to adjust the poles correctly so there was no need for anyone to struggle. Everyone was encouraged to Nordic Walk on their own or with a buddy from the programme when permitted and a local instructor helped out to buddy up with a couple of participants. 

The online support included: 

  • Weekly online meetings attended by between 8 and 13 individuals, work commitments allowing.
  • Weekly emails with encouragement and support, details of the next week’s “homework”, and photos that group members had sent in of their Nordic Walking activities.
  • One video a week released on a secure platform to help develop Nordic Walking technique.
  • Activities for each week on a different theme to support their walking and provide a focus for the weekly online meet-up.

Participants were encouraged to send Yvonne videos of themselves Nordic Walking so she could give them personalised feedback on how their technique was progressing. With a focus on practicing the fundamentals of the technique some picked it up very quickly and others have needed a bit more feedback – just as with any other group of Nordic Walkers. 

For now, the group is keen to maintain their online social activity. When Covid-19 restrictions are properly over, the group is looking forward to getting together in person to enjoy a celebratory Nordic Walk together. 

Adam Thornton, Community Engagement Officer for Communities First says, 

"The Covid-19 crisis has been devastating for many but it has also seen us at our best with communities pulling together to help those most affected. While lockdown has meant strict social distancing, many local groups and charities have found interesting and novel ways to combat loneliness, provide essential support to those most in need, and to keep the community united.

"It was important for us to design our Nordic Walking programme with flexibility and creativity and not taking a one glove fits all approach. The programme achieved multiple outcomes, new friendships were forged, loneliness and isolation reduced, it was just great to be part of a project that had a real community feel about it. So, a big thank you to our funders Groundwork/Stronger Communities that made this programme possible and for their continued support throughout also to Yvonne Bignall our British Nordic Walking coach who, with no pun intended, walked the extra mile to help the programme being a huge success and finally to all our fantastic participants who we look forward to seeing very soon indeed. YNWA – You'll never walk alone". 

Ewemade Orobator, Deputy Director of Operations adds, 

“Thanks so much, Yvonne, for such an excellent and innovative Feedback Report. Finally, thank you for such a splendid job that you delivered for this programme. It really is appreciated. “ 

Communities First Nordic Walking group

The reactions from participants have been very complimentary. 

“The first time that I heard about Nordic Walking was when I received the email advertising it. The people in the image looked like they enjoyed it, so I thought, why not? I’m so glad that I did. The first week was a bit iffy as it was so cold but I must admit that I really liked it. I wasn’t put off. The team, with Adam and Yvonne, plus the other participants made it fun. I don’t like going to the gym and this being outdoors in nature and fresh air made it even better. Doing an exercise that is different to what I’ve done before whilst meeting new people is great. My fitness has improved as I’m using muscles not generally used in other exercises. The lockdown has prevented us from meeting together as we would like but I am motivated to continue Nordic Walking even after the course comes to an end. Yvonne, you’ve been great. Thank you!”


"I thought it was a great time out, was impressed how you arranged the social distancing, well thought out, especially during the signing in period. Your awareness of Adult Autism was first class, experience counts for a lot in difficult times. Your staff and the Nordic Walking Trainer were all confident in their roles; friendly atmosphere. Looking forward to Wandle Park hopefully with better weather 😎."

Cheers, Grateful

Paul, InAspectrum Autism Group Leader 

“Nordic Walking has got me out of the house, out of the same environment, exercising in the fresh air and I think it has positive benefits to my mental health. It also helps me with me co-ordination, my posture and keeping me fit and active. Even though it’s mid-January, I’m out here Nordic Walking and I’ll reap some benefits from doing it. Thank you very much.”


“I started Nordic Walking to learn a new way to exercise and to build myself up mentally and physically. It’s an overwhelmingly good way for people to get out and be active together and I would recommend this activity to anyone who wants to. I’ll definitely keep going into the future. Thank you very much.”


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