Walking groups unite to help more people get active for health

The landscapes and picturesque market towns and villages are famous around the world, capturing the imaginations of generations who have visited them.

And more people living and working in North Yorkshire are now enjoying their county’s coastal and countryside vistas as well as towns and villages while boosting their health and wellbeing through a concerted effort to unite walking groups under one banner and create new organisations.

Ramblers Wellbeing Walks was launched nationally by the Ramblers, Britain’s largest walking community, at the start of 2022.

North Yorkshire Sport (NYS) worked with Ramblers and Stronger Communities to bring together several existing walking for health groups, including some that have been operating for as long as 15 years to help ease the transition.

North Yorkshire Sport has also supported developing new groups to attract a variety of walkers to get active within their communities.

The scheme supports free group walks led by trained volunteer leaders. All walks are short – between 30 and 90 minutes – and over easy ground, so are ideal for people who are not experienced walkers, have some mobility issues or for those of us who may not feel confident striding out on our own.

In North Yorkshire, the county council’s public health team and stronger communities team, which helps communities to help themselves, provided initial funding of £8,000. This enabled North Yorkshire Sport, a county charity that uses sport and physical activity to drive change, to act as a co-ordinating body to unify walking groups across the county, as well as establishing new ones and supporting training for walk leaders.

A further £8,000 will be provided for the next year to expand the reach of the scheme, geographically and to specific groups of people, such as black and minority ethnic communities.

Existing groups that now come under the Ramblers Wellbeing Walks umbrella include Skipton Walkers, Hambleton Strollers, North Craven Strollers, South Craven Strollers and Richmondshire Wellbeing Walkers. In addition, North Yorkshire Sport has helped to establish two new groups - Masham Strollers and Stepping Out in Scarborough.

Chris Nash, the chair of Skipton Walkers, said: “We meet every Monday. We normally do three different walks, so we cater for all levels of ability. Partly it gives people a bit of physical activity, gets them out of the house, but even more important is meeting up and chatting with friends. A lot of our members are quite elderly, a lot of them live alone and I think it keeps them active and gets them out and about.”

Group member Cynthia Wood said: “I moved to Skipton 13 years ago and didn’t know anybody. I heard about the walking group, joined it and have really enjoyed meeting up every Monday. From there, things have snowballed to other outings.”

And fellow member Pat Slater added: “A friend introduced me to the group nine months after my husband died. I’ve been coming for 15 years and have enjoyed it. When I started, I went with the leg-stretchers, but I’m afraid now I’m down to the slower walk.”

As well as bringing groups together, North Yorkshire Sport has coordinated training to build, support and sustain walking groups. This has included training for 25 volunteer walk leaders, which has particularly helped the new groups to enhance their activity. In addition, nine people have completed a “train the trainer” course, which enables groups to deliver walk leader training to potential volunteers.

A group from Skipton Walkers walking by the canal.

Some groups are creating links with care providers to reach people who might not ordinarily take part in walks.

Sue Jackson, walk leader from Hambleton Strollers Wellbeing Walks, said: “You will receive a warm welcome from our Ramblers Wellbeing Walks scheme. You’ll be in great company exploring a range of tried-and-tested routes with our experienced walk leaders, forming new friendships and enjoying, safely, the pleasures of walking together.”

And group member Marion Archer added: “The feeling after a Strollers’ walk is great. You just feel so much better. Through several joint surgeries, I have been able to get up and go afterwards with great support from others around me. It is good physically and for my mental health. I enjoy the chatter with the exercise. I would urge others to give it a go.”

Skipton Walkers group walking over a canal bridge in Skipton

A focus of the county council’s public health and stronger communities teams is supporting people to live healthy and independent lives.

The county council’s executive member for stronger communities, Cllr Greg White, said: “There is a strong appetite within North Yorkshire’s communities to support each other, backed by the will and skills to make that happen. This funding is benefiting people across the county, thanks to the efforts of North Yorkshire Sport and the dedicated individuals within these walking groups.”

Since forming the partnership, North Yorkshire Sport has seen the number of people joining Rambler Wellbeing Walks increase, along with the sharing of good practice and peer support across the groups.

David Watson, chief executive of North Yorkshire Sport, said: “Even a small amount of walking will give your health and wellbeing a significant boost if you are currently not active, as many have found out. Before the pandemic lockdowns, people may not have been out walking much, but joining Ramblers Wellbeing Walks North Yorkshire has given them new purpose.

“The walks are a great way to meet new people, walk in good company, and to give your health and wellbeing a boost. Maybe you need some support to experience the joys of walking. Everyone is welcome, so give it a try.”

North Yorkshire Sport’s current focus is looking at opportunities to establish new walking groups in the Ryedale and Selby districts. Anyone who would like more information can contact Lucy Psarias, active communities manager, at Lucy@northyorkshiresport.co.uk

Learn more about existing Ramblers Wellbeing Walks in North Yorkshire.