Walk and talk initiatives are popping up across Pittwater to combat social isolation

Programs to overcome loneliness and improve social interactions are being implemented by many organisations across the Peninsula. Social isolation and loneliness can have a severe impact on people’s physical and mental health, quality of life and longevity.

Local psychotherapist Peta Kelly created the Walk ‘n’ Talk & Smile More initiative. This free program creates a supportive environment for people to connect with others while walking routes in Palm Beach, Newport, Avalon, Curl Curl, Dee Why and Manly.

Peta says the walks create an opportunity to talk about life, enjoy the outdoors and build connections. They are not meant to provide medical advice.

“The point of this initiative is to help people overcome loneliness, build connections, feel better about themselves and find purpose in life and direction,” says Peta, founder of Smile More in Dee Why. “(It’s to talk) about life, what they’re doing. Or it could be if they’re struggling that they’ve got someone to talk to.”

This year, Walk ‘n’ Talk & Smile More has around 2,000 members in its public group and over 100 in its private one, where group members help to organise the Northern Beaches walks.

Ecotherapy walks are an initiative provided by the Belong Club at Community Care Northern Beaches. Its walk-and-talk events are free.

Program officer Alison Hush says the initiative started during COVID-19 as an idea to keep the ‘community connected and to help reduce loneliness’.

“The main benefit of attending our walk and talk is the human connection. There is a growing body of research that shows people with strong social connections are happier and healthier,” Alison says.

“During the activity (Ecotherapy walks), there will be periods of silent mindful walking to practice connection with nature and opportunities to reflect on and share your experiences.”

The location alternates each week between the rainforest section of the Narrabeen Lagoon, Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Falls.

Gathering to chat with people on public sidewalks is an initiative happening worldwide, and now the Northern Beaches has its own Sidewalk Talk group, run by local psychotherapist Peter Coyle. People meet on sidewalks to chat and more importantly, to listen.

“We are focusing on building awareness of the benefits of heart-centred listening to both the individual (getting a sense of belonging) and the community,” Peter says.

Visit smilemore.au, ccnb.com.au/events and sidewalk-talk.org