Why they were nominated:
Step Out Sheffield started in 1999 as a pilot scheme between the Ranger Service and the Medical Centre. People with various medical conditions were given 'prescriptions' for a weekly walk by Rangers trained by Walking for Health. In March 2016 the funding for Step out Sheffield was cut and the scheme lost its council-employed co-ordinator. The future of the scheme was uncertain but thanks to the determination and dedication of the 120 volunteers involved, Step Out Sheffield is still in existence and continuing to flourish, leading around 24 health walks for 550 people each week.
What does a typical day of volunteering look like?
I volunteer almost every day – and there’s no such thing as a typical day! I might be leading walks, meeting with partners and doing book work, like writing the chair’s report. Every day is different and to be honest my days don’t always pan out as I think they will: even if the walk I support is the same as last week, the weather and the make-up of the group will differ. It’s the unpredictability that makes volunteering so much fun.
What made you want to volunteer?
I was the council employee who worked on Sheffield’s health walk scheme from 2003 until, due to austerity cuts, the post was made redundant in 2012. My exit strategy was always to volunteer after I retired. When the Ramblers took over from Natural England to run Walking for Health I retrained as both a volunteer walk leader and as a cascade trainer. I made many friends during this period of my life and saw so many heartening improvements in people’s wellbeing that I knew I wanted to continue volunteering.
How do you feel you and your volunteers make a difference?
If I had to choose one attribute that would describe our volunteers, of which there are around 130, it is that they all really care about the people they walk with and look forward to meeting them week on week. They have the ability to make the walkers feel special. We have all witnessed the benefits of walking – whether physical, mental health or social. Walks are particularly good for the socially isolated – those re-located or recently bereaved, people with mental health issues, rehabilitating after hospitalisation or illness, with long-term health conditions or cancer. One gentleman once told me that he thought his life was over after his wife died, but he came to the walks and made friends and it gave me a huge amount of pleasure to watch him start to enjoy life again and begin to really live again.
When did you discover the joys of walking?
I grew up in Staffordshire on a farm with a playground of 500 acres on my immediate doorstep! I have loved walking, nature and being out in the fresh air for as long as I remember. My husband was the only boyfriend I had at Cardiff University who loved walking as much as I did – that’s why he was the one for me.
Why do you love walking / how has walking changed your life?
I love to explore new places or visit my favourite places in different seasons – we are extremely lucky here in Sheffield that there are lots of walking opportunities on our doorstep. A love of walking has very much broadened our horizons. It’s taken us exploring abroad and in particular to Nepal where we now have strong ties of friendship; in September 2016 we returned for the wedding of a friend, Ashok who was one of the porters on our very first trek in 2001.
Why should other people take up walking?
Walking doesn’t need any special equipment. It can be done at a pace to suit yourself and it is free! What better way to enjoy nature? And I’d champion volunteering too. It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, have a good chat and, at the same time, enjoy the parks and green spaces in your local area. If you like walking this has got to be the ideal volunteering opportunity whatever your age or level of fitness.
If you could change one thing about walking, or the walking environment, what would that be?
Replacing stiles with gates would be great for some of the people on our walks whose mobility isn’t great!