Why I Volunteer – Karen Stow – Elmbridge Healthy Walks
Karen Stow, Volunteer For Elmbridge Borough Council’s Healthy Walks
Back in 2002 I was going out for several walks a week for health/keep fit reasons but it was always to Bushy Park because I felt safe walking there on my own. I saw an article in the local paper asking if anyone was interested in joining a Walking for Health scheme Elmbridge Council was planning on starting up. As I was getting a bit bored of my own company in Bushy Park, I phoned and enquired. I was immediately asked if I would like to become a walk leader. NO!
The first walks Elmbridge put on were mainly led by the Countryside team who knew lots about the areas we were walking in, making them interesting as well as healthy. I really enjoyed walking with different people in different places each time, getting to know more about Elmbridge and so after a couple of months I agreed to train as a Volunteer Healthy Walk Leader.
Getting Started As A Volunteer Walk Leader
In September 2003 about 20 of us attended Elmbridge Council’s first training session at the Civic Centre. It was a one day course run by a Walking for Health trainer who gave us all the tools we needed to lead or co-lead walks of our own.
I was thrown in at the deep end the next day when I turned up at Oxshott Heath to go on one of the Countryside team’s walks. I was asked, as a now fully trained leader, if I would like to lead the walk. Gulp. But at least I didn’t have time to panic about standing in front of a group of people (thing of nightmares for me) and telling them about the walk I was going to take them on! Luckily it was a route I had done several times.
What Walk Leaders Do
As a leader, I’m expected to recce and risk assess each walk, welcome everyone especially new walkers, explain what we should expect from the walk, including any hazards ie tree roots, branches, roads, muddy bits etc.
I’m lucky, I have an in-built sat nav and have never (yet) managed to get us lost.
I lead 2 to 4 walks a week but some of our leaders prefer to put on maybe 2 or 3 a month. There’s no pressure. We choose when, where, what we want to lead or co-lead.
My favourite areas to walk are Esher Commons, Whiteley Village, towpaths and Bushy and Richmond Parks. I love to pick up or look up bits of information about my routes, share them with my walkers and let them think I’m very clever and knowledgeable!
About The Elmbridge BC Healthy Walks Programme
We have walks and cycle rides just about every day of the year including Christmas and Boxing Days. They range from 30 mins to a couple of hours, some have refreshment stops in the middle, some at the end and speeds to choose from are very slow, slow, moderate and brisk. Something for everyone.
The Elmbridge Healthy Walks, Cycle Rides and Nordic Walks programme can be picked up from libraries, G.P surgeries, clinics, day centres and the Civic Centre or accessed on line at elmbridge.gov.uk/healthywalks.
The walks are also published for each month on the Healthy Walks Page (where you can see a great selection of photos Karen has taken) on the All About Weybridge website, which is in the News & Events section.
The Pleasures & Benefits Of Walking Outdoors
Over the years I’ve realised that walking, especially in a group, isn’t just good for you physically but is very important for your mental health too.
Being out in fresh air, in lovely surroundings, seeing beautiful and interesting things while chatting to like minded people just has to be good for your mind, body and soul!
Personally, a big thing to come out of walking all year round is how much I appreciate nature now. A tree was a tree, a flower a flower, but nowadays I notice so much more.
Who knew I’d get excited about the first frog spawn of the year, blossom, fungi or Egyptian goslings? Not to mention lichen or mosses!
New Interest In Scenic & Nature Photography
While I’m out walking, whether on my own or with a group, I always have my phone with me which serves as my camera. I’m always snapping away at anything that makes me go aah, ooh, wow or sometimes yuck.
I can take hundreds of photos when I’m on my own but not so many when I’m in charge of getting a group of walkers back on time of course.
My walkers know the type of photo I like to take and often call me back to something I’ve missed!
Muddy Boot Photos
A year ago I started making my photos into greetings cards and selling them in local day centres, cafe’s and fairs. If you could see my walking boots, you’d realise why I chose Muddy Boot Photos as my company name. You can see some of my photos and information about where I’m selling my cards on the Facebook Page for Muddy Boot Photos.
The Best Thing I Ever Did
I love being a Volunteer Walk Leader. I’ve met so many people, lots of them I am very happy to call friends. I’ve discovered nature, local places I never knew existed, a love of photography
..and have gained a company and a website….something I never in a million years thought I’d say!
Why not come on a walk, get healthier, make friends, see gorgeous views, flora, fauna and fungi and if you enjoy it all why not consider becoming a volunteer walk leader too?
Its the best thing I ever did.
Thank you for reading.
If You Would Like To Volunteer
If you like the idea of volunteering as a Walk Leader, here are the contact details for the Health Team at Elmbridge Borough Council:
Phone: 01372 474574 please mention the All About Weybridge website.