Walking, connecting and befriending: a qualitative pilot study of participation in a lay-led walking group intervention

Jane South*, Gianfranco Giuntoli, Karina Kinsella, David Carless, Jonathan Long, Jim McKenna

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


Lay-led walking group interventions to increase physical activity often use community engagement methods to ensure intervention reach and to address the determinants of neighbourhood walking. More needs to be known about how social factors support engagement and maintenance of group activity. This paper presents results from qualitative research on a pilot project in the North of England, UK that sought to increase participation in lay-led walking groups run as part of the national Walking for Health scheme. The ‘Walking for Wellness’ project included the introduction of a befriending role as a support mechanism. Focus groups and individual interviews were used to examine social processes within lay-led walking groups and how these processes facilitated participation and led to wellbeing outcomes. The sample comprised walkers attending six health walks, befrienders and professional stakeholders. In total 92 people were interviewed, including 77 walkers. Thematic data analysis identified six major themes: pathways to involvement; factors influencing involvement; widening access; befriender role; benefits from participation; and strengthening communities. There was strong qualitative evidence that social factors, which included mutual aid, strengthening of social networks and social support to facilitate participation for those having mild difficulties, facilitated engagement in group-based walking. Walk participants did not see social benefits as an unanticipated outcome but as integral to the processes of engagement and maintenance of activity. In contrast the introduction of a formal befriending role was seen to lack relevance and raised issues around the stigma associated with poor mental health. The paper concludes that understanding social processes and how they link to health outcomes has implications for the design and evaluation of lay-led walking group interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-26
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Transport and Health
Early online date24 Jan 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • walking groups
  • volunteering
  • social support
  • social networks
  • access
  • mental health


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