Tuesday, 25 October 2011

200,000th Ramblers led walk on walks finder (25/10/11)

We've uploaded our 200,000th led walk onto the online Walks Finder on the Ramblers website. Since 2004, volunteers Brenda Horwill and Chris Percy have been supporting Ramblers groups around the country in putting up walks information onto the website, making Ramblers walks information available to members and non-members alike.

The 200,000th walk was organised by Farnham Ramblers in Surrey's Alice Holt Forest, and they celebrated by swapping their usual picnic stop for a champagne lunch - and the presentation of a plaque to Brenda.

You can visit the group walks finder by clicking here.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Right Way for High Speed Rail (19/10/11)

Ramblers supported a reception for MPs and Peers last night to promote the 'Right Lines Charter', a charter for doing High Speed Rail well. Alongside twelve other organisations including the RSPB, the CPRE, the Campaign for Better Transport, and the Woodland Trust, we were arguing that the Government's present High Speed 2 (HS2) proposals and consultation are unsound.

There are four key principles which the organisations believe High Speed Rail should comply with: (i) it should be set within the context of a national strategy; (ii) different options should be tested; (iii) there should be early public participation; (iv) adverse impacts should be minimised.

People have different views about High Speed Rail - personally, I support it as a way of persuading people out of their cars - but the current proposals are flawed.

One example of where we think they fall short are the proposals (or lack of them) for rights of way. There is a huge discrepancy (in the order of almost 6:1) between the number of rights of way that the Ramblers knows cross the proposed line (150), and the number claimed by the HS2 company (27). Many walking routes will be severed, and it's clear that this hasn't even been identified as a serious problem, let alone acted upon. It is no good the government and the HS2 company seeing rights of way as an afterthought.

For more information on the Right Lines Charter, visit www.rightlines.org.uk

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Ramblers and Surrey Council act in tandem to relaunch Greensand Way route(13/10/11)

I very much enjoyed the re-launching of the Surrey section of the Greensand Way today. The 108 mile route, which takes in two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as numerous Sites of Special Scientific Interest, wends its way from Hazelmere in Surrey through to Hamstreet in Kent. The relaunch includes new signage, waymarking, and mapping, and ten new downloadable web maps. It was a great partnership between the council and the Ramblers - with Ramblers volunteers helping to survey the route and produce the maps, as well as making a contribution to the cost of a leaflet.

The Ramblers is the eyes and ears for footpaths - keeping a watch over them. Sometimes we need to show our teeth, when footpaths are not maintained. But there are many occasions when we can work together with councils - and in these straightened times, we can help councils not only to maintain their footpath networks but also to improve them.

Thanks to all the volunteers involved - particularly Denis Holmes, the former chair of Surrey Area, and the Haselmere and Godalming Group. Thanks also to Surrey County Council for a superb job. You can download the guide and individual maps from: www.surreycc.gov.uk/greensandway

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Celebrating Volunteers of the Get Walking Keep Walking project (8/10/11)

Four years ago, when Get Walking Keep Walking started, our goal was to recruit 750 volunteers to help bring Get Walking to 86,300 people.

Four years later, 910 volunteers have helped 87,600 people to walk more. 1,700 short walking routes have been designed and mapped by volunteers, and 500 12-week walking programmes have been organised - all with the vital help of volunteers.

Today, as the original funding from the Big Lottery Fund and the Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust draws to a close, we held a celebration in Birmingham for 100 volunteers from all the Get Walking locations.

We heard from Salle Dare, who got involved in the Ramblers through Get Walking and went on to set up the Manchester and Salford Ramblers Group; from Terry Howard, long-time from Sheffield Ramblers, about how much pleasure he gets from introducing new people to walking. And we went out on a walk around the canals of central Birmingham, following the route of one of the first walks developed for Get Walking - for the nearby Chinese community.

Get Walking has helped to change the Ramblers. We've shown we can deliver large scale projects; and we've reached out to a more diverse Britain.

Although the original funding is drawing to a close, Get Walking lives on. A new project has recently started in County Durham, and with the help of Leicestershire and Rutland Ramblers, we'll be starting Get Walking Leicester early next year. We hope to use our experience to take on Walking for Health from the government.

The Ramblers General Council this year approved a resolution calling for Get Walking to live on, and we're determined to make sure that happens. All Ramblers Areas and Groups can help by lobbying their local councils to work with the Ramblers to bring Get Walking to their area.

A heartfelt thank you to all the 910 people who have given their time and energy to help others take up walking through Get Walking. I hope you will stay involved for the next chapter, too.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Ramblers trains civil servants in the art of developing walking routes 7/10/11)

We've been hosting about 15 civil servants from the Department for Transport, who are taking part in an away-day to spend time in a voluntary organisation.

After a morning’s training with staff, they've been helping to develop four walking routes in central London, between key public transport destinations. We’ll be using the routes they develop to promote walking as a healthy, cheap and interesting way of getting from A to B, as an alternative to public transport. With visitor numbers due to swell next summer, leading to pressure on public transport, we think these routes will be a hit with Londoners and visitors alike. My thanks to the team from Department for Transport for volunteering to support our work to promote walking.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Liverpool Link good for boaters and walkers (6/10/11)

Today the transition trustees (of which I'm one) of the new charity being established to tend 2,000 miles of canals and rivers in England and Wales from next April have announced that it will be called the Canal & River Trust (or Glandwr Cymru in Wales).

One of those canals it'll be responsible for is the Leeds-Liverpool canal, and on Tuesday evening I went on a walk along the new Liverpool canal link, which has been built to take boats from the previous end of the canal through a new section running right in front of the so-called Three Graces, two of which are the Cunard and Liver Buildings, into the historic Liverpool docks (including the Albert Dock). The centre of Liverpool has changed so much for the better over the past decade - partly because of the European Year of Culture which it hosted recently. This new link is one of the projects which was completed in time for that, and has really helped to transform the area - for those in the boats, and those along the waterside.

It's become a really good place to walk. Walking the tow-paths of the Leeds-Liverpool canal has always been hugely popular. People love to walk along the side of water. But now it's possible to follow the canal right through this iconic stretch of Liverpool waterfront. British Waterways currently manage it, but it will transfer to the Canal and River Trust next April, along with the walkway along the side of the Mersey for about four kilometres from that point.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Let's walk and talk about mental health (28/9/11)

This afternoon, on the Ramblers behalf, I signed a pledge that we'll raise awareness and get people talking about mental health; support an end to mental health discrimination; and promote the mental health benefits of walking and green space.

I'm proud that the Ramblers is one of the first national charities to sign up to this 'Time for Change' pledge, run by two mental health charities, Mind and Rethink.

1 in 4 people will experience some form of mental illness at some point in their lives. Statistically, in Ramblers terms, that means about 30,000 members, about 5,000 volunteers, and about 20 members of staff. And yet, so often, mental health is not talked about - a taboo subject, in the way that cancer used to be a generation ago. At the Ramblers we can play a small role in changing that.

One of the things that has struck me when I join Ramblers groups on walks is how many people come up to me and say they joined the Ramblers when they were low - through bereavement, or depression, or loneliness, or stress. They tell me, time and again, that the Ramblers "changed my life". I believe that there are many other people who could benefit from the walking and talking that the Ramblers offers, and we shouldn't be shy about promoting this.

In a recent survey of some of the 75,000 people who have taken part in our Get Walking Keep Walking programme, 86% said that taking part improved their mental wellbeing, and over half found that it had improved their social wellbeing.

So what practical things could we do? Perhaps make contact with your local Mind to publicise your walks. Or put on some special nature-themed walks. Or emphasise the social and mental benefits of walking in your recruitment literature. Best of all, talk about and recognise mental health. Let's us at the Ramblers play our part in bringing mental health out of the shadows.