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Taking a step towards healthier communities

8 January 2013

The new year has begun with more worrying reports about increasing levels of obesity and related health concerns. The UK is now among the most obese nations in the world – one in four of the country’s adults are obese while levels of childhood obesity continue to rise at an alarming rate.

Living Streets’ award-winning Fitter for Walking initiative is taking steps in the right direction however – encouraging all ages to discover the great outdoors and become more physically active.

In this guest blog, Jayne Phenton touches on some of the project’s milestones since being awarded BIG funding in 2008. As we discover, small changes to local communities can have a widely felt, lasting impact on people’s health and well-being.

Young people digging

Young People got involved in the project on the Marks Gate Estate

Research recently published in The Lancet showed that physical inactivity is the fourth greatest health risk globally, only rivalled by smoking in Britain.

In the UK, the majority of us are not as physically active as we should be – nearly two thirds don’t get the recommended 150 minutes a week, putting us at risk of a range of chronic conditions including coronary heart disease, England’s biggest killer.

Walking is the cheapest, most accessible exercise option so why aren’t we simply slipping on our shoes and burning some energy on the streets?

The recently published NICE Guidance on Walking and Cycling recognises the importance of investing in the public realm citing the Netherlands and Denmark as role models with high levels of walking and cycling, lower car usage, less pollution and a healthier population.

In 2008, Living Streets launched Fitter For Walking with £1.7 million from the Big Lottery Fund and £470k match funding from local authority partners. Over the next four years, the charity worked with 150 communities in England, chosen for their high levels of obesity and low levels of physical activity in economically deprived areas.

The project aimed to promote walking and improve the walkability of environments. At the Marks Gate Estate residents could only access their local shopping centre and train station on foot via a notoriously unwelcoming subway.

Residents of the Marks Gate Estate receiving their Fitter for Walking Award

Residents of the Marks Gate Estate receiving their Fitter for Walking Award

Living Streets worked with Barking and Dagenham Council to create a ‘walking corridor’ by resurfacing and painting the subway, installing dropped kerbs, removing street clutter and improving signage. Local community groups planted bulbs and shrubs and held events to promote walking.

“People came together to make a difference to this hostile environment, which allowed them to feel a sense of ownership over the space. People’s attitude and perception really changed,” says Living Streets’ Head of Projects, Jack Skillen.

Evaluation surveys found not only more people walking, but 40% of people thought it felt safer and 43% thought it more pleasant to walk around.

The success of the Fitter for Walking project has been recognised twice this year, for ‘Excellence in Walking and Public Realm’ at the National Transport Awards 2012 and the Big Society Award from the National Charity Awards. But perhaps the most important commendation comes from the people who made their neighbourhoods safer, more attractive places, simply by being more active on their streets.

As one resident from the Marks Gate Estate describes it: “I think it’s got new members of the community involved and raised awareness of a lot of things that need to be sorted out in the area. The subway has been improved, lots of things have improved.”

Jayne Phenton is Media Coordinator at Living Streets

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Big Fail permalink
    11 January 2013 2:36 pm

    This is all well and good, however I’m extremely dissapointed to have had a first stage application which would have met so many of our communities’ health needs met knocked back for a second time.

    Your assessment process makes sweeping generalised assumptions, based on paltry word limits on an application form which doesn’t even allow the full word count to be used up.

    Here is a groundbreaking idea for you, why not “talk” to people about their applications? Rather than lazily hide behind a desk making tickbox judgements based on all too few explanatory words, a process which frankly disrespects the needs and desires of communities.

    One of the points made states we’d score more highly if “the people who will benefit from the project were more directly involved in the day-to-day running of the project” Well we stated how they would be and again, how are you supposed to give a detailed running commentary on this in such short word limits? When do we know when we’ve explained enough of how this would work? No, far easier for your tick-box assessors to mark it like a pub quiz paper.

    At any rate who decides what level of beneficiary involvement in day-to-day running of a project is right? Let me guess, an ivory tower academic came out with a report on good practice and you’ve rigidly stuck to that without question or seeing how things are done in the real world.

    I am the chair of a small community trust fund and if the administrator we employ was as lazy and apathetic in their quest to identify difference making projects to fund, they’d be sacked. It is shameful that you preside over such large sums of money with such incompetence to effectively do so.

    On the one hand, I’d love to suggest you come and see our work in action, but on the other I don’t think you’ve the real interest in coming out from behind your desks for anything other than a cosy PR photocall.

    Glad I got that out of my system, even if you’ll just smile, not take a blind bit of notice and carry on regardless.

    • Big Lottery Fund permalink*
      11 January 2013 5:06 pm

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your post. We’re sorry to hear that you’re unhappy with the result of your application to BIG. Please can you email your details to so we can arrange for someone locally to contact you about your application.


  2. Pete Johnstone permalink
    13 January 2013 8:50 am


    I have been reading your Blogs with interest.

    I am currently researching crowding funding and how it can help raise funds for the environment and I would happily do a Blog around Crowdfunding the environment if that would be of interest to you?

    Best wishes


    Pete Johnstone CEnv MInstF(Dip) MIEEM


    PJ elements

    T 07842572632



  1. Healthy Walking Habit - Get Walking!

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