“Listen to the hum of chatter behind, that’s what it’s all about.”
A buzz of conversation, a spot of gentle exercise, natural, lush green surroundings and a safe space for people to be themselves and connect with others. Add in some delicious home-made cakes and a cuppa and #runwalktalk was officially back.
Having been put on the backburner thanks to good old Covid, we were delighted to secure some new funding from Sport England to hold two new pilot #runwalktalk events – one at Sinfin Moor Park in Derby and the other at Holmebrook Valley Park in Chesterfield which have both taken place over the past few months.
With Peak Running having been heavily involved the last time we held these, it was especially nice to now be officially hosting them as one organisation along with a wealth of other partners including Walk Derbyshire, Derbyshire Mind, Derbyshire Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Team, Move More Derby, Chesterfield Borough Council, Derbyshire County Council, Chesterfield FC Community Trust, Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Livewell Derby.
A safe space for everyone
The idea of the events is fairly simple – providing a safe and inclusive environment where absolutely anybody – people with mental or physical illness and without, runners and non-runners, service staff, patients and public – is welcome in one place. Breaking down barriers which might otherwise keep these groups separate.
The activities – a walk, run/walk or run – provided the catalyst for comfortable conversation as people set off side by side, introducing themselves to each other and sharing as they went. Across both events many people commented on how much easier it is to talk alongside someone, without the need for eye contact or without a physical barrier like a table.
Connecting with others
For 71-year-old John, the walk at Sinfin Moor Park connected him with someone going through a difficult time not dissimilar to his own. John was left with physical issues caused by cancer treatment which prevent him from being able to run.
He said: “I was walking with a gentleman who’d just come out of cancer treatment. It was a cancer I’d had 14 years ago so we could compare and I could reassure him. Tell him that I’m still here, cancer free, following a second cancer.
“So many people were just open to talking. I know the benefits of it and opening up, just to complete strangers, it doesn’t matter. Nobody’s judgemental. There’s sympathy and empathy. It just comes naturally when you’re walking and you don’t need the eye contact to open up.”
Activities to suit all abilities
The inclusivity of the event and the different levels of activity meant there was something for everyone.
70-year-old Barbara, who took part in the run/walk group at Holmebrook Valley Park was used to running alone but found the intimacy of a small group perfect for chatting as she ran.
She said: “This has been quite nice as a different experience going out with a group and interacting with other people. I felt that because it’s quite a small group as well that I could talk as I ran.
“Doing the jog and the walk doesn’t put as much emphasis on having to run a long distance and I felt it was alright to do it at my own pace, I wasn’t being pushed to do too much. There was an understanding that we took it easy.”
Conversation, cake and a cuppa
As the groups – timed perfectly to arrive back together – reconvened back at the start there was the opportunity to grab a cup of tea or coffee and some cake and continue the conversations kick-started by the run or walk. Refreshments were gratefully provided by the wonderful Friends of Sinfin Moor Park in Derby and the café at Holmebrook Valley Park.
In Derby we got chatting to 56-year-old Jean Docherty – who enjoyed it so much she joined us in Chesterfield as well.
She said: “I do walk/run. I’ve done just run before and I get all achey and that so I prefer to run/walk. I like to travel and I like to meet people and other runners, the social side of it.
“It’s been brilliant, I’ve loved every minute of it. The run/walk, there was no pressure. That and the people, that’s what made it.”
“Since my mental health has been on and off, I did my running and I found that it helps. And walking. Being outdoors improves my mental health a lot.”
Connecting people and services
People were also able to chat to local services – before, during and after the activities – to find out about everything from mental health support to local walks, jogging groups, wellbeing activities and hobbies with some – like John – heading off a newly discovered walk with Derbyshire Mind the very next day.
At Derby we also met the fabulous Andre – who was there demonstrating his juggling skills and allowing others to have a go. As we gathered for a wider group conversation, Andre shared his story with everyone. After struggling with his confidence at school, a passion and talent for table tennis and juggling turned his life around. He now runs his own business – Introverted Moves - helping others to do the same.
He said: “I lost all my confidence in secondary school. My self esteem was low. I thought I was worthless. I didn’t know who I was. And I was made to feel different. As much as I wanted to fit in I didn’t want to be like everybody else. So I was in a very weird place in my life.
“Doing the table tennis gave me a reason to get up in the morning, gave me focus and discipline.
“Last year I pulled a ligament in my right hand and I didn’t think I could play table tennis for a while. I started to become a recluse. I was very emotional. I was very withdrawn. Didn’t want to talk to anyone. Go out to work. Do anything really.
“My mum encouraged me to go to the table tennis club. Just to talk really and get out the house. So I did that, and as awkward as it was to talk to people prior to going, it felt so easy once I was at the club. It was just like being at home, like a second home. So the next day, I decided, I’m going to learn to play with my left hand. And that saved me. It brought me out of the sunken place I was in.
“What I do is very centred around mental health. Through my experiences is why I’ve started the business. Just seeing the joy it brings to people, smiling and having a good time, being impressed by what I’m doing and wanting to give it a go themselves it really is rewarding.”
Wellbeing for everyone
As participants began to leave and partners packed up their equipment, there was a feeling of positivity hanging in the air. Connections had been made, both between individuals and services but also between services who hadn’t even known of each other’s existence until that day.
For some, the benefits crossed both personal and professional boundaries. At Chesterfield, Stand To – a charity supporting veterans throughout Derbyshire with anything from alcohol support to mental health support were there not only to network with other organisations, but also for their own wellbeing.
One of the team said: “There are 33,000 veterans in Derbyshire and a lot of them are hiding away still. I think if they found a way out the door to take part in activities like this it’s good for their mental health and their physical health.”
Another stated: “It’s good for our wellbeing as well. Instead of us meeting in the office today, we’ve met outside.
“We ask people to do things that are uncomfortable every day, things that are out of their normal so for us as a team I think it’s important to feel a bit uncomfortable and do things that are a little bit outside of our comfort zone as well. I think it’s good team building as well.”
Evaluation and feedback from the events will help shape future events going forwards. If you’d like to get involved with future #runwalktalk please get in touch.