A Challenging First Year at Walx Preston

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Through the lens of acceptance and gratitude we can see that 2020, our first year as Walx Preston, was a success.

It’s very easy for us humans in this modern world to look at things negatively or from a perspective of fear because sadly that is how the media conditions us.

It is certainly not been a “walk in the park” with all the uncertainty and upset caused by the whole Coronavirus situation and we are extremely sad for all the losses we have experienced collectively. As essential as the lockdowns have been to ensure our NHS has not become overwhelmed we notice an increase in not only mental health problems as a result of us becoming even more disconnected from physical contact with others and the natural outdoor environment.

Walx Preston utilises walking as a vehicle for delivering multiple outcomes. We’re not “just” a walking group. We’re not just a “fitness business”. The thriving community at Walk Preston that has developed from the 5-year foundational work of Nordic Walking Preston  is way much more than any of that. We are a place to connect with others, to connect with nature, to connect more deeply with ourselves. Individually and collectively we support each other maintain a healthy, happy and proactive life(style).

So, what did we do as Lockdown 1 was forced upon us? We did what we do best – we continued to facilitate contact and communication between our members. We went online. We developed Virtual Walx. We set up Zoom room cuppa catch ups. We shared our individual walking efforts with our fellow members in our 1000 Friends free Facebook group.

It worked. Our members loved the fact that they could at least connect and communicate with each other online, if temporarily not able to meet up face-to-face on our group walks.

The bread and butter of what we offer is the group walking experience – an opportunity to meet other people of different ages and abilities from varied backgrounds and life experiences. You’re never bored. You always feel welcomed. You feel safe and you know that you are not going to get lost.

Obviously in all 3 lockdowns we couldn’t offer this group walking experience, but at different times throughout the year we have been able to motivate and support our members in a variety of different ways.

We set up an internal group using the World Walking platform. Collectively we have walked all the way around the Earth. It has provided a lot of excitement and engagement.

We devised Buddy Walx and have facilitated WhatsApp groups for our members to connect with each other and suggest when and where to meet for walks together in pairs, where that has been permissible. We have 4 groups for 4 zones across the wider Preston area so our members are not travelling too far to walk.

Most recently we have created the Walk of the Week – a concept that utilises online mapping software and an “ethical bribe” of a bonus gift for those who complete the walk and let others know about it.

And brand-new this month we have introduced a new member to the Team; a qualified and highly experienced Mountain Leader and navigation expert who will lead both online navigation training, in-person practical development of these simple but useful navigation skills aimed at the general public, and lead a series of more advanced walks for our established members.

This means that now our “vehicle” of walking allows us to bring onboard people from their 20’s through to their 80’s, with levels of health and fitness from the couch through to extremely advanced.  In fact some of our 80 year olds put many of today’s 30 year olds to shame with their levels of fitness.

As an insured Covid-secure business operation offering professionally organised, managed and led walks and classes we have continued throughout the year to offer online classes, one-to-one walks, small group walks with up to 6 people, and larger group walks with up to 30 people depending on the month or Tier restriction we have been in.

It’s very rewarding to see the bookings flying in via our proprietary online booking system with its in-built health and Covid questionnaires that our members complete each time they book. Even more so is seeing how happy our members are to get outdoors walking and talking with each other, exploring the tracks and trails in the 50+ locations around Preston, South Ribble and Chorley areas that we walk in.

We have a Wellness Walx cohort of members in their 80’s and for the majority it is a lifeline for them as they live alone. To be able to simultaneously boost their fitness on a walk, cheer themselves up in the fresh air, and to communicate side by side with someone on a walk really does boost their wellbeing.

In December we have always met up for a group meal to celebrate Christmas, the end of another year of looking after our health and fitness, and to review the memories we have collectively built up through the year.

As the founder of the group, Matt Gibbs couldn’t even attend the 2020 Christmas walk (obviously no meal this year owing to Covid) as he had had to isolate owing to a family member testing positive for Covid, albeit fortunately without any symptoms. Testament though to the success of the group through the challenging year, our expanded team of volunteer Walx Guides facilitated two walks for a combined total of 50 people. The systems and processes and the team now in place allow these excellent “adventures” supporting many peoples physical health and mental wellbeing to go ahead without the founder even being there.

Matt says “It’s simply marvellous to see how so many people now are building their fitness, confidence, social networks, awareness of all the green spaces around wider Preston, and desire to keep on coming back for more thanks to a crazy vision I had back in 2014 when I began walking with individuals and simply visualising what has now materialised.”

Our success though is not just down to this vision alone. It is a collective effort. A volunteer team made up of members of the group who themselves have benefitted from the experience of being involved. Connection to the national network who provide so much support, not just with their trainings and the online booking system, which will soon become an App. But also to our members who have bought into our #strongertogether ethos and who support each other even when the going gets tough, like throughout the last year.

As rough and tumble as it has been in 2020 we are EXCITED for what we will experience together in 2021.

If you feel inspired to get involved either as a walking member or a collaborative partner then founder Matt is always available for a walk and talk.

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