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Meet the group taking on young people’s loneliness one step at a time

A spirited movement is stepping into the limelight, changing the narrative for young women grappling with loneliness.

Meet Ella Thompson, the founder of “Girls Who Walk Manchester,” a volunteer-led, not-for-profit organisation that has swiftly become a symbol of empowerment and connection.

Girls Who Walk Manchester

Driven by a passion to address the often-overlooked issue of loneliness among young women—double that of their counterparts over 70—Ella initiated Girls Who Walk as a remedy, providing a safe and welcoming space through the simple act of coming together for Sunday walks.

What began as a local initiative has, in just five months, blossomed into a community powerhouse, boasting a remarkable 10,000-strong Instagram following and a coveted feature on Channel 4’s Steph’s Packed Lunch.

Ella’s brainchild isn’t just a local success story; it’s a movement resonating across the UK.

The “Girls Who Walk” brand, pioneered in Manchester, has become a rallying cry adopted by over 35 cities and towns nationwide.

Through the power of communal walks, this initiative has become a lifeline, dispelling the shadows of loneliness for countless women.

As Girls Who Walk Manchester approaches a milestone moment, nearing a festive walk and event in collaboration with local business Loaf Manchester, we delve into Ella Thompson’s journey.

From the roots of inspiration to the widespread impact on women across the country, this is a tale of community, resilience, and the enduring power of a shared stride towards connection.

Can you share the inspiration behind starting Girls Who Walk Manchester and how the idea evolved into a community movement?

“I started Girls Who Walk Manchester after finishing up 4 years at university over the summer and moving back home to Bolton.

“Going, what essentially felt like, back in time to my life when I left Bolton at 18 was incredibly lonely and isolating.

“I found myself looking for ways to meet new people but found most events to be paid for or centred around drinking, which I did not want to get involved in.

“When researching ways to make friends, I came across a group in Barcelona that held walks and events for girls to come along and meet new people, and wondered why there was nothing like this in Manchester (or anywhere in the UK!).

“So, after a message on a Facebook group asking if anyone wanted to come on a walk with me, hundreds of girls replied – and Girls Who Walk Manchester was born!

“We quickly gained traction through social media, and after a viral TikTok got many girls asking for a group like ours where they live.

“In response, one of my volunteers Sophie, has helped girls across the UK start their own Girls Who Walk groups.

“This has in turn helped thousands make new friends.”

Loneliness among young women is a pressing issue. How did you identify this gap, and what made you focus specifically on walks as a solution?

“I identified this gap through my own lived experience.

“Navigating life after university is scary, and full of uncertainty – it’s very easy to feel like you’re the only person who feels this way.

“Putting out that first initial message was scary, but made me instantly feel like I was not alone, and our walks each week remind me of that too.

“Focusing on walks came from the need for a free, sober activity that gets you up, out of the house, and moving.

“So many young women focus on their wellness by getting their 10,000 steps a day in – so our walks are a perfect way to do this, be outside, and meet new people in a casual way.”

In just five months, Girls Who Walk MCR has gained tremendous momentum. How do you think the community has contributed to its rapid growth, and what impact have you observed on the women involved?

“Girls Who Walk MCR has grown to the level it has now because of the people involved, especially our volunteers. We are all women in our early 20s who have come together for the same reason – to meet new people.

“Because of our shared lived experience, we know exactly what other girls want and the best way to go about it. Social media has helped immensely too, with the word getting out about us really easily due to channels such as TikTok and Instagram.

“We are a welcoming and safe space that reminds you that you aren’t the only person in Manchester feeling lonely and wanting to meet new people, which has had a positive impact on myself, our volunteers, and the attendees! 

“My favourite part about Girls Who Walk MCR is seeing people swap contact details after a walk, or go off to lunch together. Being able to facilitate friendships and offer a safety net to those moving into the city is incredible, and I am so thankful for this community.”

Events consistently sell out within 24 hours, and Sunday walk sign-ups reach full capacity in just 5 minutes. What do you think is the key to creating such high demand, and how do you keep the events engaging?

“I think in creating Girls Who Walk MCR, we’ve created a space that was lacking in the city, and that’s why our walks and events are in such demand!

“We ensure that we brainstorm ideas with our community via social media, constantly asking them what they would like to see and what they enjoy about coming to our walks.

“This is the same after an event, by asking for feedback on how the girls found the event and whether would they attend another one.

“By doing this, we are keeping Girls Who Walk collaborative and the heart of the Manchester community.

“Tailoring our walks and our events to our girls means they not only stay engaged with us but are a part of the bigger picture.”

You mentioned collaborating with Loaf and other businesses in Manchester. How do these partnerships contribute to the Girls Who Walk experience, and how do you choose your collaborators?

“When building Girls Who Walk MCR it was essential to me to give back to the community that serves us and work with local businesses and start-ups.

“By doing this, we are bringing custom from hundreds of girls into the local economy and boosting their presence in Manchester.

“With Loaf, they do amazing community work by not just partnering with us, but other groups in Manchester, and having such an incredible partnership allows for a great Sunday morning experience for all our girls. It’s a win-win!

What are your aspirations for Girls Who Walk Manchester in the coming years? Are there specific goals or milestones you hope to achieve?

“In the coming years, I would love Girls Who Walk Manchester to be known by every girl in Greater Manchester, or moving to the city.

“Loneliness is such a taboo subject, but is experienced by such a large number of young women, so by increasing our presence I would like loneliness to not just be spoken about more but tackled head-on by our group.

“Furthermore, by focusing on community and accessibility, I would love to set up a Girls Who Walk Manchester division in each Greater Manchester town, as from my own experience I know how isolating small towns can be and this would be a great way to bring more women across Greater Manchester together. 

“It would be incredible to gain funding so that we can put these incredible plans into motion and grow this community beyond the city walls!”

It’s impossible not to applaud the remarkable work this organisation has accomplished in just a short span of time.

Ella’s personal journey, driven by a desire to combat the pervasive issue of loneliness among young women, has blossomed into a national movement of connection and empowerment.

The community has become a source of friendship, support, and a powerful antidote to the often-silent struggle of loneliness.

Witnessing events consistently reaching full capacity within minutes and the rapid growth of this movement showcases the hunger for genuine connection in today’s fast-paced world.

Girls Who Walk Manchester stands as a vital community service, proving that a simple act like taking a stroll together can be a powerful remedy for the isolation many young women face.

Ella Thompson and the entire Girls Who Walk community have not only created a movement, they are showcasing the power of shared strides towards connection and friendship

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