We know all about the social benefits of reading. Add in the health and environmental benefits of walking and you’ve got Walk ON. Walk ON sessions let our libraries in Fife, Scotland play a role in building healthier and happier communities and takes activities outside our physical spaces.
By combining these two activities: walking and reading, you get the opportunity to build a reading and a walking habit. Anyone can take part – no matter their age or fitness level. We’ve aimed to change attitudes towards walking by showing the variety of easily accessible walk routes in our communities. By encouraging regular walking and reduced car use, Walk ON is the first step to increasing activity levels and boosting confidence and mental health.
We aim to provide a safe and welcoming space where existing library users and new users are able to meet in a supportive setting. We are tackling social isolation and promoting reading as a social activity and it’s clear to see the benefits gained from sharing reading experiences.
Walk ON promotes our libraries as the heart of their communities; connecting people with the outdoors and each other. There is evidence that people taking part and increasing their physical activity, build a walking habit and use cars less.
Why Walk ON works
The groups are informal, friendly and supportive and the social benefits of being part of a group are as important as physical activity and reading. People who report finding it difficult to join social groups told us they felt comfortable coming to Walk ON sessions.
“One gentleman in particular is getting a lot out of coming to the group. He was depressed before and hadn’t left the house for a year before coming to Walk ON and it is helping with his confidence: ‘I don’t see many people during the week and don’t usually feel at ease talking in front of people but I feel comfortable with the group as they are so friendly.”
– Comments from staff member and participant.
“I have problems with my health and Walk ON is really helping me with my walking and overall wellbeing. I love coming along and chatting to all the new friends I’ve made. I also like the fact that I can walk at my own pace and don’t feel rushed. I see people in the High Street and say hello now, I don’t feel so isolated.”
– Comments from participant.
Inclusivity is one of the most important elements of Walk ON. All sessions are free to attend and the format means everyone can participate.
Walks progress at the pace of the least able walker and since some group members use mobility aids, it’s important each walking route is planned to make sure they are accessible.
“People in the group really talk about things that are either bothering them or that they would like to share during the walk. This week there was a lady with a ‘walker’ who is absolutely delighted to be part of the group. She had to force herself to come along as she has lost her confidence due to bereavement and ill health. She was happy that she could walk at her own pace and that everyone made her so welcome. This is one of the real successes of Walk On.”
– Comment from group facilitator.
The book chat is based on a very informal reading group session, without anyone needing to commit to reading anything beforehand, otherwise, non-readers can find this intimidating. There is a range of reading abilities and interests, including one participant who is unable to read but loves taking part and borrows audiobooks. Each session is themed and usually involves an activity like a quiz to encourage people to join in.
“Like the discussion and views of others on books and subjects I hadn’t thought about and I speak to others about it my daughter, wife etc.”
– Comment from participant.
“Helps me to interact with others and gets me out of the house on a bad day.”
– Comment from participant.
Session leaders are noticing the fitness levels of regular attendees has improved. Those who were often slower are now able to keep pace with the faster walkers.
“Look at …, for example, see how he’s come on. He’s also going to a keep fit class since joining Walk ON. He’s loving the company and the chat.”
– Comment from group facilitator.
Confidence and a willingness to take part in group conversations and discussions have also increased as groups get to know each other better. The groups are very supportive and new members are welcomed with open arms.
“I’ve recently moved into the area and made myself come along to the group as I was feeling really lonely and didn’t know anyone in the area. As you can see, I walk with my ‘walker’ and it took a lot of courage for me to come along but I’m so glad I did! Everyone’s so friendly and the staff are nice. I’m grateful to everyone for making me feel so welcome.”
– Comment from group member.
Best foot forward
In 2017 – 2018, 113 sessions took place with 1187 participants attending.
Walk ON started with just two groups. We now have 6 with funding to allow expansion of three further groups in 2019. Also in development is a Mindfulness Walk ON session to launch during Mental Health Awareness week in May 2019, and Workplace Walk ON – shorter sessions that fit into lunchtime.
25 staff have been trained as health walk leaders and several staff have received Dementia Friendly Walk leader training. For people living with dementia, walks provide a safe way to maintain a connection with the outdoors and retain a sense of adventure.
We now offer Buggy Walks – with parents, babies, and toddlers joining in a gentle walk.
Walk ON sessions are truly changing participant’s lives. We’ll let one of our attendees sum it up for us:
“I’d like to thank the ONFIFE team for starting the Walk ON initiative. My mother and I have both enjoyed meeting new people and seeing parts of Cowdenbeath that we’ve never seen before. Even though we’ve lived there for over 20 years, lol. For myself, it gives me a reason to get out of the house. I have had problems with depression and anxiety for many years and due to recent health problems have become lonelier stuck at home. Walk ON gives me an activity where I can keep mobile which pleases my Doctor, but also the company of other people to talk to. The warm cup of tea and book club talk after the walk are an extra benefit. The library is one of the few places I feel comfortable going to due to my anxiety problems. I don’t think people realise how important a library is too the community. I hope in future more people do.”
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