Health Walks in the Derbyshire Dales
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By Helen Milton, Health Walks Coordinator
We all know that walking is good for us, we are bombarded with information about its benefits to our body and mental wellbeing, all of which are true but still aren’t enough to overcome the barriers which prevent a lot of people from doing it on a regular basis.
It is also a truth that the Derbyshire Dales is one of the most beautiful places in the country and is accessible to a massive swathe of the country for a day walk. But what does accessible really mean? If you are a fit healthy confident individual or group, you may well come out into the countryside and have a walk but living near Bakewell, my observation would be that most people just don’t know how to do it and coming to a pretty town in the countryside and walking along the river for 10 minutes might be a far as it goes.
Health Walks are one way to get our local people walking, feeling confident and making connections with others. It is a scheme, coordinated by me, Helen Milton, and I am employed by Derbyshire Dales District Council. Our walks are low level, at a very steady pace and are more about the journey than getting from A to B in a fixed time. Our 80+ walks every month start at 30-60 minute round a park, many are a very steady 2-3 miles in about 90 minutes, right up to our top walk which is 5-6 miles in 3 hours – this walk is for fit walkers and goes up hills and down dale. Most of our walks includes hills – we do live in the Derbyshire Dales after all, and a lot of our walkers have walked these hills in everyday life for all their years – but they are taken steadily, with as many stops as is needed to happily get up.
My role is to find, train and support local volunteer walk leaders and then enable these walk leaders to lead regular free walks at a low level. The walk leader training is a half day accredited course which focuses on the practical issues of leading walks. It allows plenty of time for discussion about the what-ifs and, in combination with shadowing a walk and finally leading a walk, enables the walk leader to be insured leading a group.
I have about 50 volunteers leading walks for my scheme, we always have needs for more walk leaders on existing walks, each walk should have multiple leaders, not only to deal with any incidents that may occur but also to allow leaders to go on holiday and not feel burdened with volunteering. There is a well recognised mental health model called the five ways to wellbeing which I believe in. It says that to have good wellbeing we need to do 5 things:- connect (with others), keep learning, give (of your time), take notice (of your surroundings) and be active. I would say that being a volunteer walk leader actually ticks most or all of those boxes.
Once trained, each walk leader finds their own comfort level of contribution. Some leaders help to devise routes and are happy being in charge of the register and risk assessment, some are more happy always being the back-marker and some groups mix and match the roles. There is room for everyone and we value them all. I am always there for support of any kind.
Once trained initially I offer ongoing training. First aid is not mandatory but I offer first aid refreshers for those who want a reminder. I have offered courses in ‘living with dementia’, discussions with mountain rescue, and intend to have a talk on safeguarding vulnerable adults and also on visual impairment soon. All this training is meant to make walk leaders feel more prepared and make ours walks as inclusive as possible.
Because of the breadth of talent we have attracted as walk leaders we are able to offer bespoke walks, such as wellbeing walks for those with difficulties with their mental health and dementia friendly walks where those living with dementia and their carers come and have a walk and get a lot out of sharing experiences within this peer group.
Post Covid we have seen more and more people join us for walks. This may be because they feel less confident to walk on their own or more often than not because they are lonely. The walks are definitely as much, if not more, about the community they form as the exercise. It is richly rewarding to see people coming out of their shell and coming week after week to walk and talk with their group.
I hope that anyone who would like more information about volunteering to lead low level walks in the Derbyshire Dales would contact me for more information and a chat on Helen.Milton@derbyshiredales.gov.uk.
Health Walk Coordinator, Derbyshire Dales District Council
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