Community Strides

It’s a bright and frosty Friday morning in the East End of Glasgow, where a small group meet up at a local church-run café to walk, jog, or run around Tollcross Park. This is one of SAMH and jogscotland’s ‘Community Strides’ groups, set up to support people from the BAME community to be more included in their community, and better equipped to support their own physical health, mental health, and wellbeing, through the power of physical activity.

‘The Charter’, named after the café they meet in, was the idea of jog leader Paul Wilson, who coordinates English language classes for refugees in the area. Paul, who was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder a few years ago, took up running after his doctor suggested it might help. Joining a local trail-running group, he enjoyed the social aspect of it; but also found that running alone gave him space to clear his head, and to think without distraction. It hugely benefited his mental health, and he saw that it could do the same for some of the people coming to his English classes.

The East End of Glasgow has a large community of asylum seekers who are fleeing very difficult circumstances. Many are waiting for the outcome of their cases – often without clear timescales or any idea of whether their application will be accepted. Paul recognised that looking after their wellbeing would be important,  and that running could provide them with the same outlet it did for him, while also creating a way to connect with others in the community.

The church café is a community hub, and some of its regulars from the local area were interested in joining too. Many have had their own struggles – with mental health problems, as well as with issues like homelessness and addiction. They like the group because it gives them some routine, something to get out of bed for in the morning. Jogging makes them feel good about themselves, and lifts their spirits. And as they progress, it builds their confidence.

The group is for all abilities and Paul makes sure everyone feels included and welcome. They walk around Tollcross Park together, with those who are faster doing extra loops or sprints; while others alternate walking and jogging, gradually increasing the intervals as they go. The group has access to running gear which has been donated by members of the local parkrun, which means that lack of the right clothing isn’t a barrier to taking part; and the café they meet at operates by donation, so anyone can get involved.

Yacoub, originally from Sudan, is one of the most enthusiastic of the group, sprinting around with a big grin on his face at all times. He says running makes him feel happy and healthy, and he finds the group friendly and welcoming. Yacoub has recently completed his jogscotland jog leader training, and hopes to help set up a second group to run in the evening so that some of his friends who are at college can come along. Building this additional capacity within the BAME community to deliver jogscotland groups is a key part of the Community Strides programme

Afterwards the group return to the café for a bowl of soup or a cup of coffee. It’s a chance for them to chat and catch up, and you can tell they feel energised and lifted from their run. The group come from very different paths of life, but thanks to the inclusive and welcoming environment Paul has created, they can all share in and benefit from a refreshing jog around the park.

Community Strides is delivered by SAMH and jogscotland, thanks to Changing Lives, a fund from sportscotland, Active Scotland, The Robertson Trust, and Spirit of 2012. It aims to support people in Scotland’s BME (Black, Minority and Ethnic) communities to be more included in their community and better equipped to support their own physical health, mental health, and wellbeing, through the power of physical activity.