Parish puts best foot forward to tackle social isolationWednesday 26th April 2023
A parish community braved stormy weather conditions this month by organising a group walk to tackle social isolation and loneliness in their community.
St Mary’s Parish in Horwich embarked on a wet and windy walk on Easter Monday as part of a YCW (Young Christian Workers) initiative to provide support and companionship for people in their community.
The walk is part of a series of activities organised by the parish YCW group who have been conducting research into loneliness within the Horwich community, and how their Catholic parish of St Mary’s might be able to respond to those needs.
YCW member Leah Rowlinson said: “We wanted to organise the walk due to the research we performed on the issue of loneliness, as we thought this could perhaps be a step in the right direction, providing an opportunity for people to enjoy spending some time outdoors but also with other parishioners, developing new connections and friendships.
“I remember from my own time in lockdown how helpful physical activity was to me, particularly outdoor walks, in helping me to feel more positive and, in the later stage, overcome loneliness through social distancing walks with others. I was therefore really excited to see if it was able to have a similar impact for others and I like to think it was!”
Around 20 people braved the grisly weather to explore the beautiful countryside in and around Horwich before returning back to The Rosary Room at the parish for some well-deserved refreshments.
Throughout the day, the group relished the opportunity to make new connections, as well as stepping out to enjoy the beautiful scenery on their doorstep.
This winning combination of social connectedness, physical activity, and the great outdoors is a strategy praised by mental health experts, who champion each of these elements for their significant mental and emotional benefits.
According to Public Health England, regular physical activity can reduce your risk of becoming depressed by 30%, whilst mental health charity Mind reports people can better manage stress, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts through physical activity, in addition to boosting mood and self-esteem.
Meanwhile, a study from Natural England suggests visits to rural environments can result in the highest levels of relaxation and enjoyment, whilst research from ECORYS and the University of East Anglia found that walking groups can reduce loneliness and social isolation for those attending.
St Mary’s YCW group were eager to put these theories to the test and were greatly rewarded for their efforts.
Leah explained: “Despite the weather being bleak and miserable, those who attended the walk were far from this and even when the heavens opened, everyone still seemed to be laughing, chatting and generally enjoying being with others.
“From speaking to people who attended, I learned that everyone enjoyed coming together in the spirit of Easter and the wonderful scenes and walks on our door stop here in Horwich.”
Five ideas to boost social connectedness in your parish
- Start Your Own Parish Walking Group
Follow the example of St Mary’s by kickstarting your own parish walking group. Why not take it one step further and celebrate the beauty of creation with our diocesan Walk for Creation. (Click here for an easy-print version)
- Coffee Mornings after Mass
This tried and tested activity is a wonderful opportunity for parishioners to spend time together and build that sense of community. If this is something your parish hasn’t yet tried, why not start a monthly tea and coffee gathering after one of your weekend Masses?
- Pen pal scheme – take letters to housebound parishioners
Parishioners who are housebound or unable to attend Mass may be more susceptible to loneliness or social isolation. Why not start up a pen pal scheme where parishioners can write letters to those receiving home visits to keep them up to date with parish or diocesan news and boost connectivity beyond the four walls of the church?
- Ecumenical prayer groups
Don’t forget! We’re called to extend our reach beyond the comfort of our own parishes and to share the Good News with all we meet. Why not start by building a network that spreads to other Christian denominations around us by starting up an ecumenical prayer group?
- Parish concerts
Does your parish have a thriving a music ministry? Do you have talented individuals who might provide an evening of entertainment for the community? Why not invite the wider community to a parish concert? You could even have a collection to raise funds for a particular cause or charity.