A Mile in Her Shoes (AMiHS) charity works with women with complex needs, to help them get back on their feet through the power of running and outdoor exercise with the goal of a parkrun to aim towards. Here, Celia Roberts, a trustee of the charity, explains more.
We are a small grassroots charity, founded by Nicola Miller in 2013, to encourage women who are at risk of homelessness or affected by related issues to try running as a way of exercising, socialising, lifting confidence and boosting self-esteem.
Our running fitness sessions aim to identify and remove any barriers to running, enabling participants to access the same mental, physical, health and social benefits from running as any other woman.
These sessions are fun and suitable for all fitness levels, led by female volunteers who are all insured, trained and qualified to lead mixed ability groups.
To start overcoming some basic barriers to taking part we provide all the appropriate clothing our participants may need, including sports bras and footwear suitable for running. Much of the kit is donated second-hand, mostly from other runners, but it is all in good condition and the sports bras and socks are always brand new.
Our participants are referred to us through ‘social prescribing.’ This is where GPs ‘prescribe’ and encourage exercise, recognising the benefits to both physical and mental wellbeing that this can bring. More than 1500 GP practices are now signed up as ‘parkrun practices,’ meaning they are linked with their local parkrun event to promote the health and wellbeing of patients and staff. A key ‘prescription’ that they offer is attending parkrun and encouraging exercise more generally.
At AMiHS we are a huge advocates of social prescribing. We have witnessed the social, mental and physical health benefits of exercise first-hand. The Greater London Authority, through The Mayor of London’s ‘Team London’ programme, has funded AMiHS to bridge the gap between socially isolated women and parkrun, taking them on the journey with the goal of partaking in a parkrun event, and enjoying it as a positive experience.
For many women who have experienced homelessness, domestic abuse, mental health issues and other traumas, the prospect of running or walking 5k with a large group of men and women can be extremely daunting and is often met with reluctance.
The pandemic has contributed to a potent mix of anxieties about safety, worries about body image and fears about meeting others both for social and health reasons. Some women have become so anxious about stepping outside that they are reluctant to leave the house even to put out the rubbish.
Our free sessions in the park, offer individual support to women so that they can gradually build up their fitness and confidence levels to feel empowered to want to reach their goals. Then we accompany them to a parkrun event when they feel ready to take on the challenge.
With the parkrun events currently being suspended, the charity has continued organising parkrun preparation sessions for small groups throughout this last year and now we are gearing up to the potential re-opening of the parkrun events, hopefully later this year.
The women we work with tell us how much these exercise sessions have helped them both physically, for example, with inflamed joints, stiff shoulders and general lack of fitness; also, most importantly, with their mental health and general wellbeing.
The opportunity to get out and meet 1 or 2 new people can make a huge difference to how someone feels. As Nana said, “To talk, run and have a laugh. Being even with just one other person motivates me, it lifts my spirits.”
Surpreet, like many of the women who join our sessions, feels isolated and depressed, with financial worries and estranged from her family, “After lockdown the social prescribing link worker advised me to get in touch with AMiHS. I had always avoided learning to jog or run but, free sessions in the park felt as though it could be an adventure worth trying out. I started in July 2020 and have not missed a Saturday since, even at Christmas and New Year!
It was a completely new experience. I had personalised coaching and felt very cared for. I also met other new runners when small group sessions were permitted and the volunteers have now got me interval running for 30 mins each session. We are now running 3k and I have hopes of joining them in a parkrun when Government rules allow.
Given how tense and anxious I often feel in my day-to-day life, Saturday morning with AMiHS is the one place where I feel safe, secure, loved and at the same time I know I am doing one of our advised 3 physical sessions a week.
AMiHS has brought love, care, new friends and a new way of exercising into my life. It means much to me, much more than I can describe here.”
We will have lots of newbies ready to experience their first parkrun as soon as the events are able to open again. We’ll see you there!
Everyone at AMiHS
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