A Fife charity worker who runs a walking group to help migrants boost their health, social life and spoken English has been named as the first-ever overall champion of the Scottish Walking Awards.
The panel of expert judges were wowed by Magdalena Augustyn-Lygas’ successful coordination of Sole Sisters community health walk project, run by Fife Migrants Forum.
Magdalena scooped the Community Walking Champion and Overall Champion titles, following more than 160 entries being submitted to ten categories earlier this spring.
Nominations included everything from businesses, councils, land managers and housing associations to the journalists, staff and local volunteers who are inspiring others to step out.
Lee Craigie, who is Scotland’s Active Nation Commissioner and chaired the judges, said: “Magdalena, and the wider Sole Sisters project, champion the impact that walking can have on health, social connection and wellbeing in all that they do. We were incredibly impressed by Magdalena’s focus on ensuring the benefits of walking reach a truly diverse audience, and keeping it going during the pandemic.”
The Sole Sisters project brings together women from the migrant and local community through walks in Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline, providing regular health walks and conversation cafes, enabling participants to make social connections and build confidence speaking English.
During the pandemic, Magdalena has worked tirelessly to keep the project going, organising online workshops and group activities wherever restrictions allowed. Recently, she has supported the Scottish Health Walk Network to translate Paths for All’s health walk advice into nine new languages to reach even more people across Scotland.
Overall champion Magdalena Augustyn-Lygas
Magdalena said: “I am delighted to win this award, for the work we have done through the Sole Sisters walking group. The project has been really important for reducing barriers to walking for migrant women, increasing cultural understanding and reducing isolation, and increasing physical and mental wellbeing.
“While it has been challenging to keep the work going during the pandemic, we are so pleased with what the project has been able to achieve. Sole Sisters is not only about walking, but also about building strong, lasting relationships within the community.”
As well as Overall Champion, ten other outstanding individuals, companies and projects were named as category winners for their efforts to support people to walk more:
- Public Sector Walking Champion:
#DGMilesforSmiles in Dumfries & Galloway. This walking project has received excellent community buy-in and built links with schools.
- Community Walking Champion:
Magdalena Augustyn-Lygas in Fife.
- Business Walking Champion:
Milngavie Business Improvement District in East Dunbartonshire. This project brought together business, council and community representatives to develop and promote walking throughout the town.
- Walking Research / Innovation:
Out There Award across Scotland. Ramblers Scotland’s free award helps 18 to 26-year-olds kick-start their journey into the outdoors, while learning skills, meeting friends and getting active.
- Most Improved Walking Place:
Auchmountain Glen Project in Inverclyde. This volunteer-led project delivered significant improvements for walkers, such as installing walkways while tackling antisocial behaviour to transform a former ‘no go area’ into a community asset.
- Land Manager Walking Champion:
Alcan Aluminium (UK) Ltd in Fife. The company has given significant support to communities to develop accessible routes near its lochs and land that encourage walking and wheeling.
- Walking Champion in Education:
Cara McBrearty, Active Schools Co-ordinator in North Lanarkshire. She has helped teenage girls get walking with her initial project at one school now rolled out to another ten schools,- with S6 girls trained to offer peer support as walk leaders.
- Healthcare Professional Walking Champion:
Dr. Katie Walter in the Highlands. She campaigns and advocates for improved walking across the Highlands and beyond, regularly engages politicians, fellow health professionals and press.
- Social Housing Association Walking Champion:
Cassiltoun Housing Association in Glasgow. The association has worked hard with its community to enhance the physical environment and encourage people to walk and use the greenspace.
- Media / Online Walking Champion:
Ross Cunningham in Fife. He has had great success using his Mountains Mend Minds social media platform to help people improve their mental health through hillwalking, in particular supporting men who can be reluctant to discuss such issues.
Craig McLaren, chair of the National Walking Strategy Delivery Forum, said: “The range of projects nominated for the first Scottish Walking Awards shows that there is fantastic work happening all over Scotland, with community projects at the heart of a movement to get people walking. Projects like these are vital for keeping our communities active and connected and we were so pleased to see so many worthwhile nominations and winners.”
The Scottish Walking Awards are organised by Paths for All, Ramblers Scotland, and Living Streets, in conjunction with the National Walking Strategy Delivery Forum. The winners are announced as part of National Walking Month.
The Scottish Walking Awards judging panel included:
- Lee Craigie, Active Nation Commissioner for Scotland
- Bridget Jones, Strategic Paths Manager with NatureScot
- Jane Gallacher, Sport and Physical Activity Manager with Active Scotland
- Jenny Muir, Behaviour Change Manager at Sustrans
- Brendan Paddy, Director of Ramblers Scotland.
Judges left the discussion if projects or individuals relating to their own organisation were being discussed.
Further quotes from category winners
- Public Sector Walking Champion, #DGMilesforSmiles
Gillian Brydson, Director Skills, Education and Learning with Dumfries and Galloway Council said: “We are delighted that our Active School and Community Sport team have received national Paths for All recognition for the #DGMilesForSmiles project. As part of the Education and Learning Directorate in Dumfries and Galloway, the team launched the virtual lockdown challenge in January to our schools and community.
“We are continually working to improve the health and wellbeing of our pupils and families, and this physical activity project provided our communities with an opportunity to set their own challenge and to work towards achieving their recommended levels of daily exercise. It was great to see so many of our young people, families and staff from within our schools taking part and sharing their activities and progress using the project hashtag #DGMilesforSmiles.
“I am very proud of our Active Schools and Community Sports team – I know it has been hard for many of us during lockdown and the team have been creative in motivating us to get out and enjoy exercising. #DGMilesForSmiles was a great idea – so many pupils and staff joined in, exploring new places and sharing their photographs. I am delighted in their success in bringing this national award to D&G."
Participants said: “#DGMilesForSmiles gave us a reason to go out and stay out longer than we usually would. It helped with routine during this lockdown. We all enjoyed spending some time together and found something we all enjoy doing as a family. Just brilliant.”
“We saw some lovely places while out on our adventures as part of #DGMilesForSmiles, places we’d never have visited without getting involved in this”
- Community Walking Champion, Magdalena Augustyn-Lygas
Participants said: "During lockdown, like many, I was working from home and I was walking and moving less. I regularly received messages from Magdalena, Sole Sister Walk Leader to go out for a short walk during my lunch break. Whenever I did manage to get out of the house, sometimes for just 30 minutes, I slept better that evening and mentally felt more positive the next day.’’
"I felt a little apprehensive as I had mostly walked on my own at my own pace. Now I enjoy the company and getting to know my fellow walkers, as well as the exercise and fresh air.’’
- Business Walking Champion, Milngavie Business Improvement District
Thomas Glen, East Dunbartonshire Council's Depute Chief Executive - Place, Neighbourhood and Corporate Assets, said: "We're delighted that Milngavie BID has been recognised as part of the first-ever Scottish Walking Awards. The Business Walking Champion Award is fitting recognition of the excellent work being carried out by the BID in the town centre, backed by East Dunbartonshire Council - in conjunction with traders, firms and local organisations - to develop and promote the area's many great assets for residents and visitors.
"The Council continues to support Milngavie BID, now in its successful second term, as a key organisation delivering improvements and boosting vitality - tying in with our town centre, economic and active travel strategies."
- Walking Research / Innovation, Out There Award
Sam Knight, Ramblers Scotland, said: “We’re honoured to be in such great company in winning this national award and grateful to the Scottish Government for their support. Now coronavirus restrictions are easing, we’re looking forward to helping even more young adults from all backgrounds develop the skills, confidence and walking pals they need to enjoy Scotland’s great outdoors.”
- Most Improved Walking Place, Auchmountain Glen Project
Councillor Michael McCormick, who chairs Inverclyde’s Environment and Regeneration committee and attends the group’s meetings, said ”Auchmountain Glen is an example of what can be achieved when the community, local authority and most importantly hard working volunteers work together with a common goal.”
- Walking Champion in Education, Cara McBrearty, Active Schools Co-ordinator.
“This programme has made a great impact in the school as it has brought similar pupils together and created new friendships. These girls are now taking steps to becoming more physically active and reaping the rewards that comes with being more active. Through the engagement with our amazing S6 Mental Health Ambassadors the young girls attending the club have role models and support around the school where they have a safe environment and opportunity to talk to the Ambassadors and gain benefits to their mental health whilst getting out and walking around their local community.”
- Healthcare Professional Walking Champion, Dr. Katie Walter
“I view my job, as a GP, to help empower people to make lasting changes for their health and wellbeing - and walking is one of the most accessible and most achievable changes that people can make. Walking is not just good for you as an individual for physical and mental health, it's good for your community and for the environment as well. In these times of climate change we can feel powerless to do anything - but walking instead of getting in a car is one really important thing we can do.
“Every patient who comes back to see me to say, "do you know, Dr Katie, not only am I walking regularly, but I’m enjoying it, I've met people, I've seen the seasons change, I'm doing my bit to help reduce carbon emissions, I've been on adventures" is a patient empowered and connected and helping their community.
- Media / Online Walking Champion, Ross Cunningham
“Hillwalking gave me a focus at a time when I was really struggling with my mental health and it really helped me. Walking made me feel happier during a dark time and now through my Mountains Mend Minds project and online videos I’m hopefully inspiring others to hike the hills as well.
“It’s slightly unbelievable to win a national award like this and it makes me even more motivated to continue doing what I’m doing.”