"It's great to offer something other than a prescription to patients."
Would you walk more if your GP or another health professional advised you to? We think you would and this belief was behind our first series of Dr Maps - beautifully drawn maps showing short local walks, directly from the health centre. The maps are made into tear-off pads which GPs can 'prescribe' to patients.
You can see what they look like here.
We know that some people are scared of maps. We also know that maps are the best way to show where to walk - so how do you resolve this?
Just creating lovely maps isn't enough of course - a major part of the process is working with people who live and work in the area to make sure the maps reach the right people.
The answer is to create a map that everyone can understand and one which they actually want to pick up. We work with the best illustrators to create beautiful maps which everyone can read. We use 3-dimensional drawings to illustrate the maps, showing key navigational features and important buildings to help people place themselves on the map. We also adjust road widths to highlight the most important roads and identify green spaces. We have tested the maps with a variety of communities, including many who speak little English (hence there are very few words on the map) and they have been very well liked.
Of course creating 3D maps isn't cheap - each one has to be individually drawn. Where resources are limited we have created similar style maps using either open-source base maps, or within London - using the Legible London base map.
We work with health professionals including GPs to ensure that they understand what the maps are for. We have found that spending time with health professionals to talk about the maps results in much greater buy-in to the project and generally results in the maps being available in waiting rooms, handed out by clinic staff and 'prescribed' by GPs.
We also talk to local community groups and to the local authority and any other key local bodies to ensure that the routes pass by important locations, for example outdoor gyms, and community centres. We then work with the venues to ensure that they make the maps available. We also work with key local employers to encourage them to share the maps with their staff.
In one surgery in Camden we had an unexpected outcome - the doctors liked the maps so much they started to use them for home visits, realising that walking in many cases was quicker than driving!
In any area there will be places that are really interesting but which only local people know about - that short cut through the alleyway or the flight of steps that cut out a long road walk or the secret public garden you can walk through. Often these kind of places simply don't show on a map, you would never know that you could walk there unless someone told you.
We want to make sure that our walks find these special places so we talk to the local people. Most often we draft some routes then ask around for community events or meetings we can attend to talk about them. Once we spread out some maps and start showing people our routes we soon find out where the better routes are! Think "you don't want to go there, it's much nicer this way along here" and you'll see what we mean.
The only way to know how good a route is, is of course to walk it. Before any routes are finalised we do an audit to make sure it feels safe, it is interesting and it doesn't have any obstructions or obstacles, including any flights of steps or restrictions which a standard wheelchair couldn't get past. We identify ways around any barriers we find and we check that we are following the best route.
We seek to find the best walking routes in any locality - and the best way to find out is to talk to people who actually live there.
The whole point of the maps is to show people pleasant and interesting places to walk - so we need to make sure that's what they are.