Walking is a great way to move, make friends or enjoy me time.
Date: 19 April 2023 Author: Energise Me
During lockdown, Jude was looking for a way to manage her own mental wellbeing. What started as walking while talking to friends on the phone, soon sparked a bigger idea. What if this was the essence of a walking group?
After a rough personal experience during lockdown, I found myself walking to clear my head quite often. As we couldn’t mix households at the time, I used these walks to phone friends. One specifically found it quite amusing that I just went further and further every time I walked. When restrictions were lifted, I then walked with other people. Not only was I trying to make it therapeutic for myself, but other people spoke of their lives and experiences too.
It was one of those a-ha! moments. After a particularly bad day, I borrowed a pair of wellies from my friend and went out in the pouring rain. This time, I had forgotten my phone. Lost in my thoughts, this idea came to me – Walk n Talk 4 Mental Health. I started planning what it was going to look like. When I got home, I started designing the logo. And that’s where my walks morphed into something more than just about me.
There are so many people on waiting lists for therapy that this could be an option to help them now. Sometimes people just need a friendly ear.
A friend of mine, Kate, has been an integral part of this entire development. She’s now the project manager. None of what followed would have happened without her.
I am a mental health trained first aid instructor, so for every walk we set up, we would have a trained mental health first aider as a part of that. This got the attention of people at the council and social prescribers who were pointing out a real need for this in our community. There are so many people on waiting lists for therapy that this could be an option to help them now. Sometimes people just need a friendly ear.
It was important to us to train our volunteer walk leaders. It’s a confidence thing. It shows the participants that they care and have an additional layer of understanding of mental health. While also giving the volunteers a sense of confidence to feel like they can do the job and help others properly.
Kate on a walk in the forest!
Ideally, want we wanted to do was help normalise conversations about mental health. It’s hard for some people to feel like they need it over somebody else. So, we’re trying to make it as open and available as possible.
When people join our walks, there’s no pressure to talk about anything, it’s not compulsory. Some just like expanding their networks. But at no point do we want people to feel like they can’t open up about their issues and have those conversations.
It’s amazing really to watch these connections form.
Initially, the group was made up of people I knew. Then it was people being referred to me or being encouraged to come along by people already involved.
Now, we have a variety of people who join in because we do our walks at various times in the day. Our afternoon walks attract those who are retired or at home with the children. While our evening walks are usually filled with people who’ve come home from work and are looking for some down-time or wanting to connect with others.
It’s amazing really to watch these connections form. A lady from South Africa and a lady from up North didn’t know anybody in Andover before. They both came along to the walks and now they’re best friends.
We want as many people as possible to feel the benefits of moving their body while speaking their mind.
The biggest reason for choosing walking as the activity is that you can just get up and go. And the more you do, the further you’ll be able to go. Of course, it’s better to have good quality clothes but you can do it in whatever.
But also, when I was a child and things were happening in my life, I would take myself out on a walk. It’s always been something that when my head is exploding, going out for a walk really helps. Being a part of nature, hearing the birds sing and feeling the elements is just so soothing. I wanted to help other people experience that.
So, now we do 4 walks in Andover, 1 in Basingstoke and 1 in Romsey. Hopefully, this is just the beginning for us. It’s been an incredible journey so far and we’re really excited for what is still to come. We want as many people as possible to feel the benefits of moving their body while speaking their mind. If you want to come along, you’re more than welcome.