Concept and aims
Conwy Valley and North West Wales Coast Community Rail Partnership (CRP) recognised that the pandemic exacerbated personal challenges felt by many people, including those facing social isolation, loneliness, or anxiety and depression. The partnership wanted to devise a project to address these issues, and as restrictions eased and more people were allowed to meet outdoors, they partnered with the Carneddau Landscape partnership and Conwy MIND to offer a series of guided recreational wellbeing walks.
The walks focussed on the ‘5 ways to wellbeing’ and mindfulness, with walkers encouraged to take part in ‘Connecting, Giving, Learning, Taking Notice and Being Active.’ This approach complemented the three main aims of the project: to reduce isolation; improve mental health and wellbeing; and improve day-to-day functionality in people relying on support services. The aims also chimed with aims of the Future Generations (Wales) Act of creating a healthier Wales, a more equal Wales, and a Wales of cohesive communities.
More than 80 people took part in the walks, including clients of local housing associations, many with learning difficulties, people being supported by MIND for mental health issues, and individuals involved with the military veterans’ charity, Boots on The Ground, which gives veterans the opportunity to walk and talk with their support workers. All walks started and finished at either a railway station or bus stop, and participants used public transport to attend, many for the first time during COVID-19.
The surroundings suited the project perfectly, with participants enjoying access to woodland space and the nature on their doorstep. The group were also strongly encouraged to share their own experiences and knowledge, supporting other participants positive body language and active listening.
The project successfully raised awareness of the mental health challenges people face in everyday life, and 90% of walkers said taking part had made them feel more connected with people, given them a sense of achievement, and left them feeling better able to get things done. They also reported an increase in confidence in using public transport independently.
The partnership also created new social networks and relationships by introducing like-minded individuals and engaging them in positive activity around a common interest that improves both physical and mental health. One participant said: “I enjoyed the friendly, relaxed feeling in the groups – I was made to feel very welcome,” while another added: “I liked having the opportunity to meet other people and enjoyed the sociability of a group walk.”
The CRP has formed a range of new partnerships and stronger working relationships to enhance future projects, and has plans to expand the walking project to engage new cohorts of groups who they feel would benefit from the scheme.