2023 Future of Ageing Awards winner: ECH Walking Footy

ECH Walking Footy

ECH Walking Footy won the Community Engagement category in the 2023 Future of Ageing Awards.

South Australian retirement living and home care provider ECH, in collaboration with the South Australian National Football League (SANFL), launched Walking Footy in 2019, an Australian Rules Football initiative for individuals aged over 50.

The program aims to promote physical activity, social connections, and overall well-being among older adults, aligning with ECH’s commitment to addressing social isolation. With a focus on inclusivity and safety, the modified game prohibits running, tackling, or bumping, making it accessible to participants with varying physical abilities.

How it came about

The concept originated from the success of Walking Football and Cricket in the UK, prompting ECH to collaborate with SANFL for the Australian version. A co-design process involving community members led to the creation, testing, and trialling of the game at the Adelaide Oval. The success of the trials paved the way for a full-scale competition, available to over 15,000 ECH clients and the broader community.

According to a study into Why Social Relationships Are Important for Physical Health, lack of social connection has been shown to be comparable to riskfactors such as smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day, or comparable to the negative health outcomes associated with obesity, and physical inactivity. 

J Holt-Lunstad (2018)

How it works

Walking Footy is non-contact and suitable for varying fitness levels, making it accessible to all ages. Games are run with four 10-minute quarters in teams of six or more, held at SANFL venues. Each season lasts six weeks.

The cost to play is currently $5 per person, to cover costs including hire fees and resources. ECH and SANFL have been careful to keep costs to a minimum to ensure this does not create a barrier to attendance.

The program has successfully established teams, contributing to social connections and physical activity for older individuals. Despite occasional disruptions due to weather, participants prioritise the social aspect, meeting for coffee/lunch after games

ECH Walking Footy

Implementation and Partnerships

The Walking Footy program runs across Adelaide and recently expanded to Kadina on the Yorke Peninsula. ECH and SANFL jointly fund the initiative, with ECH contributing over $30,000 annually.

Evidence of success

The program’s success is evidenced by regular stakeholder meetings, participant surveys, and positive feedback, indicating its impact on physical health, social engagement, and joy.

Participants highlight the program’s positive effects on mobility, socialisation, and mental well-being. The combination of physical activity and social interaction has proven to be a key factor in its success. The initiative also accommodates those unable to play physically, garnering support from organisations like the Sporting Memories Foundation, which leverages the program to address dementia, depression, and loneliness.

Long-Term Goals and Community Impact

Walking Footy aims to expand further in metropolitan Adelaide and regional South Australia, establishing leagues in different regions. Encouraging volunteer involvement is crucial for sustaining growth and facilitating additional teams. The program’s positive influence is evident in testimonials expressing the joy, exercise benefits, and social connections it brings to participants.

ECH’s Walking Footy stands out as a pioneering initiative that effectively addresses the physical and social well-being of older adults. The collaboration with SANFL, the co-design process, and ongoing community engagement exemplify a model that prioritises inclusivity, enjoyment, and meaningful connections, aligning with the criteria of the awards.

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