‘When I took over, I realised that a lot of the walks were longer and fast-paced,’ says Mary Gough, chair of Bicester and Kidlington Ramblers. ‘There was a need in the area for shorter walks during the week for people who had retired.’ Mary became chair in 2013. Since then, she has revitalised the group by setting up a popular range of walks and events – and attracted many new members.
Making everyone feel welcome is at the heart of her approach. ‘I try to learn one thing about somebody when they’re new and then see if I can match them with somebody who has got similar interests,’ she says. ‘We get a lot of people who’ve been recently widowed or who’ve moved to the area to be near their children. It’s important to make them feel wanted.’
Among Mary’s other innovations are open evenings for Ramblers members at local Cotswold Outdoor stores, where members can get extra discounts, and an annual themed walk in London at Christmas. ‘This came out of someone saying they would like to take photos of London at night,’ she says. ‘The Christmas lights seemed like an ideal opportunity.’
Mary also takes time to support walk leaders, organises social evenings to help them share ideas, and offers mentoring and guidance.
‘When I first started, I was very apprehensive about leading a walk. I was worried about getting lost. If we get a new walk leader, I make sure they’re not left by themselves until they’re confident.’
Mary is inspired by sharing her enjoyment of walking in the countryside with others. ‘I love the countryside; it’s forever changing. You can do the same walk different times of year and you see different things. Part of the enjoyment is seeing other people enjoy themselves; that’s my reward.’
During Volunteers' Week we’ll be publishing interviews with our volunteer award winners, like Mary, and you’ll be able to read them on our Volunteers' Week webpage.