The Ramblers wouldn’t exist without the thousands of volunteers who generously give their time each week. Our National Volunteer of the Year Awards honour those who have made an exceptional contribution.
By: Elyssa Campbell-Barr, illustrations: Holy Maguire
With Volunteers’ Week taking place from 1 to 7 June, charities nationwide are celebrating and publicising the wonderful work of their volunteers. And the Ramblers has more to celebrate than most. Across England, Wales and Scotland, an estimated 25,000 volunteers play a part each week in keeping the Ramblers running – or, rather, walking. Leading walks, maintaining footpaths, organising groups, delivering training, producing newsletters, fundraising, campaigning, giving evidence in legal disputes, running social media accounts… There are countless ways in which their expertise and enthusiasm get Britain out on foot and protect the places we love to walk.
Throughout the year, we encourage members to put forward nominations for our volunteer certificates and commendations. Certificates go to volunteers who use their time and skills to make a difference, while commendations recognise outstanding contributions to supporting walkers and walking. Every Ramblers volunteer nominated for a commendation is put forward for our National Volunteer of the Year Awards. And every October, chair Kate Ashbrook has the enjoyable task of reviewing all commendations from the previous 12 months, and the difficult one of drawing up a shortlist of finalists in three key areas: inspiring walkers, innovation and protecting and expanding where we walk. A public vote on the Ramblers’ website decides the winners.
When you speak to our 2019 recipients, what comes across most strongly is their passion for walking and their keenness to share this with others. A close second is their humility. Despite their exceptional achievements, the volunteers don’t see themselves as special.
‘In all honesty, I have never really seen leading walks for the Ramblers as volunteering. I am just out doing something that I love and meeting great people in the process,’ insists Morna mclean, a winner in the innovation category.
‘It never occurred to me that I might be nominated for an award,’ says Graham Allan, another innovation winner. ‘I’m completely gobsmacked!’
A collection of the Award recipients, with president Stuart Maconie, chair, Kate Ashbrook and CEO, Van Griffiths.
This award recognises inspirational volunteers who have encouraged, supported and Inspired others to get out and get active.
Merseyside and West Cheshire Ramblers
‘Friendships come along when you bring people together on walks. You’re breaking down social barriers as well as helping people enjoy the countryside,’ explains Maggie Hems, a walk leader for Liverpool Ramblers for almost 20 years.
As a teacher, Maggie guided teenagers through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and she draws on this valuable experience in her volunteering. ‘I did a mountain leadership course, so my navigation is quite good,’ she says. ‘I like helping people learn how to navigate and read a map, and inspiring them to enjoy the countryside on their own.’
As well as being a walk leader and trainer, Maggie has been secretary of Liverpool Ramblers and now chairs Merseyside and West Cheshire Area, frequently representing local members at the Ramblers’ General Council. She values the respect and gratitude these busy roles bring her, saying that it’s very different from being a teacher.
For all her accomplishments, Maggie says her proudest moments are simply when someone says they’ve liked one of her walks. ‘It’s a real achievement to get people to enjoy a walk together, safely, and at the end to say they’ve enjoyed it and they’ll come again.’
Ramblers Walking for Health
Founded in 2007, the North Somerset Walking for Health scheme now has 120 trained volunteers leading around 300 short, sociable walks every year.
‘Despite public sector cutbacks, we’ve always maintained our preventive agenda when it comes to public health and have continued to help people keep active to support their wellbeing,’ explains co-ordinator Kira Thorpe.
Why has the scheme been so successful? ‘It’s the commitment of our volunteers,’ Kira replies. ‘We have more than 100 supporting us, week in, week out.’
Among them is Marion Davies, an experienced walk leader with Woodspring Ramblers. She attended North Somerset’s first training course for health walk leaders and has led health walks in the Yatton area ever since, alongside three other volunteers.
‘What motivates us is the love of walking and sharing it,’ she says. ‘People join our walks for all sorts of different reasons. Perhaps they don’t get out much, or live on their own, or have health issues or family problems. For all of them, walking is a lovely escape.
‘For all four of us it’s a privilege to be leading the walks. We enjoy the company we can give people and they can give us. It’s a great scheme, and a joy to be part of it.’
This award recognises volunteers who have made changes or tried new approaches to reach more people or achieve Ramblers’ aims more effectively.
Tayside Young Walkers
When Morna mclean moved to Dundee for work in 2014, she thought joining a walking group would be a good way to meet people. A few months later (with a little help from Ramblers Scotland), the keen Munro-bagger was a founder member and the first secretary of Tayside Young Walkers (TYW).
In Morna’s award nomination, the same words crop up again and again: ‘friendly’, ‘welcoming’, ‘hard-working’, ‘much-loved’. ‘We’ve become an extended family thanks to Morna,’ says one group organiser. Others appreciate her ‘sense of enthusiasm and fun’ and say her inclusive approach has helped build a diverse group of walkers.
‘I am proud of how far the TYW club has come in such a short time,’ Morna says. From a first ramble with just four participants, the group now offers a busy programme of walks, social events and weekends away. Its online Meetup page has almost 700 members.
An annual walking weekend in Glencoe, held with Aberdeen Young Walkers (AYW), has become a popular fixture. ‘I am particularly proud of leading 30 members of the TYW and AYW over the Buachaille Etive Mor – a double Munro,’ says Morna.
Ten years ago this group was rather moribund, with some fractious individuals arguing,’ recalls Graham Allan. ‘So the task was to bring people together, encourage them to do things enthusiastically and help move things forward.’
During his decade as chair of Penrith Ramblers, he addressed all these challenges and more, overseeing steady growth in membership, volunteers and activities. ‘There’s been an increase in the number of members doing more than simply walking – moving into leading, understanding map and compass work, developing social activities and trips, securing better finance and doing more footpath work, which has all come on apace,’ he says proudly.
Graham also introduced new types of walks, from easy-paced strolls for graduates of the Walking for Health scheme to challenging long-distance routes broken up over several summer weekends to make them more accessible – with certificates of achievement for those who complete every section.
Asked what he enjoys most about being a Ramblers volunteer, Graham replies:
‘Being part of a group of enthusiastic individuals who get pleasure and enjoy life through a very simple and forward-looking pastime. Also encouraging others, who might sometimes be leading difficult and stressful lives, to get out and relax among friends.’
Protecting where we walk
This award recognises volunteers who go above and beyond to make sure the places we love to walk are protected, expanded and maintained for future generations.
Many footpath secretaries look after one or two parishes, but Peter Seed oversees four – in two different local authorities on the Sussex coast. An active Ramblers volunteer for 16 years, his award-nomination describes him as ‘modest and self-effacing’ but also ‘a formidable adversary’, with an impressive track record of campaigning against path closures and badgering councils and corporations about illegal obstructions and unwarranted diversions.
So what’s Peter’s biggest success? ‘The reopening of a stretch of footpath [Telscombe 12A] set to become part of the England Coast Path, after decades of closure, when the public was diverted onto a main road,’ he says. ‘This was achieved with the help of many organisations and individuals.’
With his in-depth knowledge of rights of way legislation, Peter has also become a key member of Don’t Lose Your Way Sussex. As the 2026 deadline for recording historic paths approaches, he’s investigating lost rights of way locally and lodging claims to safeguard them for the future.
‘Peter’s greatest asset is his tenacity,’ say his fellow Sussex Ramblers. ‘He personifies the finest in Ramblers’ footpath volunteers.’
West Wiltshire Ramblers
As footpath secretary of West Wiltshire Ramblers from 2011 to 2018, Brian Micklam ‘worked enthusiastically, tenaciously and creatively to protect and improve our rights of way,’ explains his award nomination.
As well as being a member of the weekly footpaths working party and walk leader, Brian is a dogged campaigner. Successes include persuading the local council to spend £25,000 on saving a footpath at risk of being washed into the River Avon, and a three-year campaign to get Wessex Water to provide a track to a safe crossing place across the busy Westbury-Warminster road.
‘As a footpath secretary it is quite impossible to make an impact on rights of way maintenance and improvement on your own. You need support,’ he says. He secures this not just from fellow group members, but from councillors, rights of way officers, organisations, local press, the Ramblers’ legal team… Anyone who can help.
‘Most people think footpaths are a good thing and want to protect them. However, there’s also the thinking that it’s somebody else’s job. That needs to be changed,’ he says.
James Williams joined the Ramblers 16 years ago, very quickly getting involved in volunteering for his local Lampeter group.
‘When I retired, I had a great interest in helping the Ramblers with their footpath volunteering team – building bridges, putting in new gates and boardwalks. It’s brilliant and I enjoy doing it.’
But his volunteering efforts don’t end there – he has been Chair of Lampeter Ramblers for the past eight years, has been involved with surveying and trail-marking the Cambrian Way and has helped coordinate two Big Welsh Walks.
‘James is more than happy to help out on a Ramblers Cymru project,’ explains his nomination. ‘Without his help coordinating the council staff for the Big Welsh Walks, we would not have had such well-waymarked routes for walkers to follow. James also avidly walked, surveyed and trail-marked the Cambrian Way across all of Ceredigion.’
What makes it all worthwhile? ‘It’s taking people for a walk over ground that I’ve contributed to opening up and improving. It’s satisfying, seeing the faces of people enjoying the walk and knowing I was part of the team that made it possible.’
Step up and volunteer
Apart from their love of walking, the thing all our winners share is their ‘can-do’ attitude and willingness to give things a go. The Ramblers has so many volunteering opportunities – from leading walks and maintaining footpaths to creating publicity material and campaigning for walkers’ rights. If you want to put your skills to good use – or learn new ones – find out more.