Safety measures like social distancing, hand sanitiser and track and trace will be in place at the weekly sessions hosted on the University campus in Norwich, which can accommodate up to 12 students at a time.
The first session takes place on Wednesday 5 August and the events will be running throughout the summer and into the new academic terms.
Thought to be the first-of-its-kind when it was first introduced in January 2019, the initiative aims to improve student wellbeing through physical activity. The scheme offers an alternative to traditional sports and enables students who are missing their pets to have that animal interaction.
The sessions are run in partnership with local dog walking and day-care business Tom & Toto who provide the dogs and have extra-long leads meaning students can stroke them while maintaining social distancing, using hand sanitser before and after interacting with them.
This comes as the University bolsters its range of outdoor activities for the new academic year in September. As well as the dog walking sessions, the campus’ waymarked walking routes are open, and some sports club training has resumed this week following national Government guidelines.
Phil Steele, UEA’s Director of Sport and Commercial Services, said: “We are so lucky to have 360 acres of lush campus grounds to host activities for students who will be beginning or returning to their studies this year. Things are going to be a bit different so we are thinking outside the box to ensure students can still enjoy exercise.
“The sessions were hugely popular first time round with most selling out extremely quickly. And with restrictions placed on our social interaction with other people, we think our students will love this quirky activity.
“We also hope to reduce some of the stigma which still surrounds mental health and raise awareness of the benefits of physical activity, no matter what form it takes, for mental wellbeing.”
The initiative is backed by research produced by scientists at UEA’s Norwich Medical School who have found that dog walking helps people to not only maintain physical health, but also their mental health.
UEA is home to Sportspark which has a 50m swimming pool, athletics track, gym and class training, squash courts, flood lit sports pitches for football and hockey, outdoor courts for netball and tennis, a climbing wall and gymnastics centre, which has recently opened under Government guidelines. UEA+Sport also has 58 clubs on offer, from archery and ballet and rowing and cricket, so there’s something for everyone if dog walking isn’t your thing.
The dog walking initiative has been developed in collaboration with Student Services and are additional to the wellbeing support already offered which includes wellbeing advice sessions, resilience and wellbeing workshops, talking therapies, an exercise referral scheme and a student-designed wellbeing app.