England Netball and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes extend impactful Walking Netball partnership

Group photo from the 2019 Walking Netball celebration with the National Federation of Women’s Institutes

England Netball is delighted to announce the extension of its partnership with the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) following three successful years. The partnership continues to focus on empowering members of the WI to engage, increase activity and prevent social isolation through the governing body’s popular Walking Netball programme.

The collaboration, initially launched in March 2018, was brought together by two nationally recognised and trusted women’s organisations and has exceeded expectations by making the project, to date, the most successful sporting partnership seen in the WI.

WI members of all ages and abilities across the country, have taken to Walking Netball with enthusiasm and passion and have been a leading force in demonstrating that the sport can be inclusive to all women. Thanks to funding from Sport England the project has successfully introduced the WI to a team sport enjoyed by thousands of women across the country, which continues to grow in popularity.

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The WI and Walking Netball partnership to date has reached 3,148 WI members across England. At its outset, 17% of WI Walking Netballers were considered ‘inactive’*, a figure which declined to 9% after a year of the programme.

The extension of the partnership will allow the project to continue to build women’s confidence, self-esteem, and physical and mental wellbeing through a slower version of the game, whilst also offering the opportunity for women to develop their skills through Walking Netball Host training. This impacts the lives of many more members of the WI, which following the pandemic, will be crucial in supporting people to rebuild both their social interactions as well as their physical activity habits. The WI and England Netball hope that through Walking Netball they can continue to engage and motivate women of all generations and backgrounds around the country.

Thanks to the partnership, selected WIs were provided with 20 fully equipped weekly or fortnightly sessions delivered by an England Netball Walking Netball Host in venues the participants were familiar with. To encourage WI members to maintain regular activity levels beyond these first sessions, and to leave a positive legacy for the project, an incredible 226 WI members have been trained as Walking Netball Hosts to date, with more eager to get involved.

Ann Jones, Chair of the NFWI said of the partnership: “This fabulous initiative has been hugely popular with members of all ages and abilities; offering members an opportunity to come together on court, enhance their social interaction and build self-esteem. During lockdown, the online virtual sessions have provided a welcome chance to keep in touch with members around the country whilst maintaining Walking Netball skills and providing members a virtual opportunity to take part and find out more about the programme.

“Not only has the project brought together women by building their confidence, reducing loneliness, enhancing social interaction and celebrating achievements, it has also given members the opportunity to develop and sustain personal skills whilst improving physical ability in a safe, friendly and fun environment.”

Fran Connolly, CEO of England Netball, added: “This project and the innovative partnership with the WI has enabled more women to enjoy all the benefits of being active through netball in the familiar surroundings of the WI. The project engaged members of the WI to participate when they otherwise would not have, and it has been a huge success.

“Our research has shown that the programme is powerful in not only retaining activity levels in older women – which usually decline as people get older – but improving functional movement, preventing social isolation, and improving mental health.

“It is really exciting to be extending our partnership with the WI. It comes at an important time when morale has been low and the physical activity levels of many has been hindered due to the pandemic. We’re very much looking forward to working with the WI to get more women active again and to help reach those that have likely felt isolated over the course of the last 12 months. There’s a lot for us to look forward to and work on.”

WI member and Walking Netball participant Bridget said of the project: “It’s not about winning in sport. I think mostly it’s about just having fun together. We’re not bothered about winning or whether we’ve scored. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day. We’ve all had a good afternoon.”

WI member, Sheila added: “It does alleviate that stress, worry and provides friendship and togetherness… you feel part of a team.”

England Netball and the WI will continue to work together, with the Walking Netball project remaining at the heart of this special partnership between two leading organisations for women. A detailed report celebrating the success of the partnership to date can be found here.

* inactive is defined as taking part in less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week.

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