Active Elders Day celebrates older activities in Stratford

Get active elderly members on the cricket pitch

Get active elderly members on the cricket pitch - Credit: Archant

A new football craze is sweeping the nation, but at a nice, gentle pace.

Walking football was just one of the wide range of taster sports sessions on offer at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park last Wednesday for those aged over-55.

Organised through the Active People, Active Park community outreach programme, the Active Elders day offered the borough’s older residents a chance to try something new – including the likes of parkour, boxing and cricket – while meeting new people.

The average age of retirement for professional footballers in this country is 35, but most of those demonstrating their walking football skills were more than double that age.

Former nurse Nancy Baker, 80, of Haydey Road, Canning Town has been playing the sport for the past six weeks with the West Ham United Foundation.

Living alone since the death of her husband four years ago, just leaving the house used to be a struggle, but she admits the sport has given her a new lease of life.

“For the first few years I just couldn’t get out of the house at all,” she said.

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“But groups like this really help. It’s a lot of fun and I’ve made lots of good friends.

“We actually go bowling together once a week now – that’s all come about through this walking football group.”

Similar to the regular game, the only real difference – as the name suggests – is its strictly no-running code.

But although few of the players will be challenging Lionel Messi for fitness levels, the health benefits are there for all to see.

Former school dinner lady Joan Barhan, 85, of Avenons Road, Plaistow, said: “It’s good to get out – it’s not great being stuck indoors all day.

“If I wasn’t playing walking football I’d probably just be doing housework, shopping, cleaning or cooking.

“I’m really starting to feel better during the week because of this.”

Playing every Wednesday, the foundation launched a new weekly session at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Monday, starting at 5pm on South Lawn.

But they’re not the only walking football group in Newham.

Mark Blythe, 55, East Ham Active co-ordinator, runs weekly session in Priory Park, and Flanders Field.

“It’s great on two levels,” he said. “They’re obviously getting some exercise, which many of them wouldn’t normally, and it’s also a good opportunity to make friends.

“The only real difference in the sport is you’re not allowed to run, but that’s actually harder than you might think.

“You still have to have the same skill-set – an ability control the ball and pass.”