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Volunteers providing exercises by phone

A volunteer sat at a computer learning to teach chair exercises

Volunteers learn a new way to assist with wellbeing

Age UK Wandsworth has introduced Active Chats, which sees trained volunteers deliver chair exercises over the phone as a new way to assist with the physical and mental wellbeing of older people in the area.



Volunteers contribute to the work of the Age UK’s network in a variety of ways, with new initiatives being added all the time. One such addition is Active Chats, which is being pioneered by Age UK Wandsworth. It sees volunteers provide older people with a series of chair exercises over the phone in an engaging way.

Age UK Wandsworth has responded to the coronavirus crisis in a variety of impactful ways. Their emergency food parcel service has resulted in 3,000 deliveries so far, while expansions to their telephone befriending service now mean there are 450 local older people receiving regular calls. But as the coronavirus outbreak continues, and older people remain indoors, it’s important they remain active to ensure their physical and mental wellbeing.

Active ChatsInstructions for exercise, even if you're not online

While there are a number of resources available online, including exercise videos, many older people don’t have internet access or digital confidence. And with isolation resulting in a sense of malaise for many, finding the motivation to keep up routine exercise may be a challenge. That’s where Active Chats comes in.

Active Chats is a project launched by Age UK Wandsworth, which sees trained volunteers call older people on a regular basis to run through a series of chair exercises.

“They’re delivered in a fun, friendly way, as this is also an opportunity for our service users to socialise too,” explains Emma Chisholm, Community & Wellbeing Lead at Age UK Wandsworth. “It’s not like telephone bootcamp, but a way of providing accessible instructions for exercises, such as telling the person being called to ‘point their toe at the floor like a ballerina’. The aim is to promote mobility but also to reduce social isolation at this difficult time.”

Qualified instructions

A qualified personal trainer has designed these exercises, with all volunteers receiving full training and a conversation guide to talk through with the person they’re calling. All of the movements are from a seated position to avoid the risk of falls, and focus on moving all of the major joint and muscle groups. Age UK Wandsworth also refers callers to other sources of physical exercise content on television, radio or online (if they have access), while suggesting ways they can keep active during the day such as standing up and walking during TV ads or when on the phone.

Age UK Wandsworth are receiving referrals from hospital discharge teams as well as occupational therapists, while allowing people to self-refer if they feel they would benefit from the service. All food parcel delivered include information about the service.

Words of encouragement from those participating

Pierre (pictured) is one of the volunteers participating in Active Chats. He lives in the local area, with his job as a physiotherapist having allowed him to become a functional part of his community, and is full of praise for the initiative. “With isolation and loneliness such an issue during a lockdown, the opportunity to have some human interaction feels so precious and valuable,” says Pierre.

“It's highly satisfying to be giving something back. My job has enabled me to witness the clear physiological and psychological benefits of exercise. Active Chats allow me to transfer that skill-set to the benefit of the user. It works the other way around, too, in that I'm getting some valuable life and recipe advice in return, and striking up some great friendships.”

One such friendship is with Joan, who can testify to the benefits of Active Chats and speaking to Pierre. “He is such a lovely man,” says Joan. “We have a good chat and he goes through the exercises with me, saying ‘I’m doing them with you!’ He makes a joke of it and we have a laugh. I used to get a lot of neck pain, but the exercises he’s taught me have been great. I try and do them every day and it really has helped.”

Active Chats from Age UK Wandsworth

Active Chats is a response to social isolation and reduced physical activity older people may experience due to the coronavirus restrictions. It provides telephone befriending with gentle seated exercise to benefit people like Joan (pictured).

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Last updated: Jul 28 2022

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