May is National Walking Month, which celebrates walking and encourages more people to take it up. We caught up with Jacky, a Hertfordshire Health Walk Leader and Ambassador with Countryside and Rights of Way Service, to learn about her experience as a volunteer and also the benefits of walking.
I am a Hertfordshire Health Walk Leader and Ambassador in the Watford and Three Rivers areas. After being made redundant at an age it was difficult to find work, I decided to look for an opportunity where I felt I could give something back to the community. I saw a notice for Volunteer Walk Leaders with Hertfordshire Health Walks and as I am keen to help people keep active and look after their health, I decided to find out more. I was pleased to find that this activity was free and anyone could join a walk.
I did my Walk Leader training in April 2015 and completed a First Aid course soon after, which was optional. I completed a few walks with other leaders and was then asked to help with another walk that was short of leaders. I was not certain of helping with this walk as it was a Grade 1 walk, which is a short walk at a slower pace than I was used to, but once I met the walkers and saw the benefit they gained, I stayed with them and took over running this walk.
I was so enthusiastic about the benefits and started telling everyone about them, putting leaflets in as many places as I could and started attending events to promote and give presentations on the benefits of health walks. The group I was leading in Cassiobury Park became quite large and there were walkers that wanted First Step Walks, as well as others requiring Grade 1 and Grade 2 walks, which meant I needed help. I started recruiting more leaders and was quite successful, so I now also encourage people to train as Health Walk Leaders, even if they prefer to be back markers instead of leading as any help is always useful in giving the walker’s attention.
As my interest is in helping people keep healthy, I am always linking with other organisations and provide the information to the walkers so that they can experience other activities during the week.
Many of the walkers are pleased to have the social contact when walking as well as enjoying the health benefits of walking in the fresh air with a group of people, knowing there is a leader and back marker which gives them confidence to walk in areas they might otherwise not walk through.
I get the benefit of keeping fit but more than anything I get the pleasure of seeing so many people enjoying walking and socialising. I have seen many with health problems improve and even lost some walkers, as their health improved enough for them to return to work. Others have improved in strength and moved up to the Grade 3 walks which are longer and go further. As the walker’s health improves, it keeps them out of GP surgeries and keeps them active in the community.
If anyone is interested in volunteering as a Hertfordshire Health Walk Leader or Ambassador, I can highly recommend it as it will help them keep active and it really makes a difference to the lives of the people who join the walks. If anyone would just like to join a walk, please do come along as you will be welcomed by the Walk Leaders and introduced to the other walkers.