Two elderly people playing football

Special Recognition For Dementia Friendly Walking Football

Lincolnshire FA’s Dementia Friendly Walking Football sessions were submitted for a County FA Recognition Award

Lincolnshire FA's Dementia Friendly Walking Football sessions have been nominated in the Special Recognition category of the 2023 County FA Recognition Awards. 

But what was the need of the sessions? And what did the delivery look like?

The Need

Across the course of the 2022/23 playing season, there were 52 walking football teams playing football in Lincolnshire across 19 different clubs, with 492 players registered through the league system. 0 of these were known to be people living with dementia. 

There are currently 944,000 people living with dementia in the UK, a number expected to rise to over 1,100,000 by 2030. Dementia was the leading cause of death in the UK during 2022, accounting for 66,000 deaths [11.4% of all deaths]. 

Lincolnshire’s recorded dementia prevalence follows a similar trend to the national average, but remains significantly higher, with an estimated 6.5% of those over the age of 65 living with dementia. This is reflective of the local age profile, health profile and behavioural factors, and equates to roughly 12,000 people. 

More than 50% of the people living with dementia don’t get the recommended 2.5 hours exercise per week, and nearly a quarter of people say they do not exercise at all. 
Through conversations with staff at Active Lincolnshire, it was stated over 40% of dementia is actually preventable, with one of the best preventative measures being sport & physical activity. We had a sufficient amount of Over 35 & Walking Football opportunities in place across Lincolnshire to support this theory, but we had nothing available locally to support those who had already been diagnosed as living with dementia. 

As an organisation who want to provide equal opportunities for all in Lincolnshire, we felt the time was right to create a solution and launch a brand new session specifically for those living with dementia which centered around a fun and inclusive environment.


The Objective

By our own admission, we were not experts or even particularly experienced when it came to creating dementia friendly sporting environments, but we knew we couldn't claim to have completely catered for the walking football market without having a more specific offer available to those living with dementia. We had to consider how to complete the ‘circle’ of opportunities attached to this format, and the health benefits which can be achieved by doing so. We also recognised that for every one person diagnosed as living with dementia, there are a network of people close to that person who will be affected in some way. It was important to acknowledge that our sessions could act as a release for them, too. 

The objectives of the project were to have a positive impact on the lives of people who are, at times, excluded from sport & physical activity due to providers not taking the appropriate level of care or steps to create a dementia friendly environment. Whilst dementia is not a natural part of aging, you can still live well with dementia! 

The dementia friendly walking football sessions created by Lincolnshire FA was the only football related activity available for those living with dementia in Lincolnshire, so it really served a purpose and plugged a gap in the market. 


The Action

Though we were incredibly passionate and enthusiastic in regard to the purpose and set-up of the project, the County FA are not a delivery arm and so we searched to find a suitable delivery partner. 

After a period of time, we decided to approach Lincoln City Foundation. There were several reasons behind this, the first being the shared values across organisations in terms of ensuring football related opportunities are accessible to everyone in the community. Lincoln City Foundation have done work in the dementia space before and have coaches available to deliver who had completed the dementia friends training which we felt was vital.

The community foundation also had suitable facilities with accessible travel routes and parking which we knew, from research, was incredibly important to those living with dementia and their carers. The location also had a great indoor space available for carers which we could utilise for them to socialise and enjoy some much-deserved downtime whilst the players enjoyed the football. 

We then reached out to Carers First, who are the charity partner of Lincoln City Foundation. This led to Jake Park, Football Development Manager and the lead on this project, attending a local Carers First meeting to gather some market research and local feedback which determined the spine of the offer, in terms day & time of play and generated some local interest. 

We shared leaflets at local dementia cafes as we note digital access may come at a premium for those hard-to-reach individuals & families, and we have written to local care homes. In addition to this, we pitched the project to staff at Active Lincolnshire to get some expert feedback. 

We posted the opportunity through the Active Lincolnshire 'Activity Finder', as we appreciate how their platform can access people from 'non-footballing' backgrounds who we wish to connect with.


The Result

Success needs to be determined differently for different projects. We very quickly decided that the success for this particular project was not to be determined by the number of people we engaged through the project, but actually the level of impact we had on those that we did engage with. 

On the pitch, CFA and foundation staff have made sure to make appropriate amendments for the participants which includes brightly coloured bibs, cones, and tape round the goalposts. The staff learnt over the first 5 weeks which activities and drills work, and which don’t, ensuring the sessions are player-friendly and will hopefully lead to retention. 

Off the pitch, we created a safe indoor space for carers, where they could socialise and enjoy some tea, coffee, cake & biscuits whilst having a few of the pitch. After each session, the carers, players, coaches and a member of the CFA team relaxed and enjoyed some fantastic conversation which really drives home the reason as to why we started this project. We ensured the signage is clear for participants as we know this is key in creating a dementia friendly environment. 

We engaged with a small collective of individuals living with dementia, though we also allowed an individual to join in who does not live with dementia. The individual attended the session to play with his friend [who lives with dementia] who he used to play with over 40 years ago. The same individual, who attended every week with his wife, stated that "he had been waiting for an opportunity such as this for years". 

Through this project, we created opportunities for people who did not think they would have the opportunity to play football again, and that is incredibly meaningful.


Jake Park, Football Development Manager, said: “Working on projects you are truly passionate about doesn’t really feel like work, and for the Dementia Friendly Walking Football project, that has been the case. You’re working to make a difference; working to try to have a positive impact on someone’s life. The number of people you impact isn’t necessarily important, but the level of impact you have on those people is. 

The project has been eye-opening. Understanding dementia, understanding the barriers and the challenges those living with dementia face, but also recognising the incredible support systems those living with dementia have and the opportunities, organisations like Lincolnshire FA have, to do more.

I’m incredibly thankful to Lincoln City Foundation & Carers First for their support on this project, some of the stories we have heard and seen throughout the course of this project are incredibly powerful, and I hope that we can continue to utilise walking football as a vehicle for positive change.”


To find out more about the Dementia Friendly Walking Football sessions, click here 

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