A Northampton father, whose Facebook page dedicated to walking has accumulated more than 25,000 followers, is now organising group walks in a bid to combat loneliness.
Dave Askew, from East Hunsbury, announced the launch of the group walks on Thursday (May 20) after receiving a lot of requests for this to happen from walking enthusiasts across the county.
He said: “I've always seen it as the next natural progression, but it's not something I wanted to rush into as I was keen to get it right.
“Quite a few people want to explore our county, but don't feel able to do so on their own so it's a way of allowing them to do this in a safe environment.”
The first group walks will take place on Thursday, May 27 in Harringworth and Friday, May 28 in Piddington with a maximum of 20 people per walk; dogs are also welcome to join in.
Since announcing the launch of the group walks on social media, all spaces on both routes have already been eagerly snatched up by the public.
There is no charge to join in with the group walks but Dave said that walkers are welcome to make a donation, which will help with the development and upkeep of the group and website.
Dave continued: “Our group has always been about wellbeing and supporting each other and the group walks will build on this ethos.
“They will all be sociable strolls where people can just enjoy the countryside and each other's company - we're not going to be rushing anywhere!”
Ramblers are advised to bring good walking shoes, waterproofs, a drink, a bag to carry personal belongings and hand sanitiser because they will be touching gates. The group walks will adhere to government guidelines by maintaining a social distance of one meter when walking.
The walks additionally have planned stops at country pubs and cafes for refreshments so participants are also advised to bring face masks.
Dave set up the ‘Northamptonshire Walks’ website and Facebook page in 2014 after having an honest conversation with his daughter, Emily, about his mental health. She told him to go out, take some pictures and start a blog.
In the last year, the Facebook page’s popularity soared from 1,500 followers to over 25,000 and the website, which lists over 150 walks in Northamptonshire, recorded over half a million visitors in 2020.
Dave has since made appearances on ITV Anglia, BBC Radio Northampton and BBC Look East to discuss his walking blog. He told the Chronicle & Echo that he never expected the group to grow as much as it did.
Talking about why he believes his walking group thrived, Dave said: "No one dreamt a pandemic would happen. I think the one thing I’ve done is work so hard to keep the ethos and feel of the group the same now as when it had only 500 members.
"So kindness, support, encouragement, fun and a real feeling of belonging to a caring environment. All members must have a link to Northamptonshire or be invited by someone in the group. We also try hard to stop any inappropriate comments and negativity."
Dave intends to plan as many group walks as possible throughout summer at different times and on different days so that more people, who want to come along, can.
The launch of the group walks have, so far, been received very well by the public with many praising Dave for the initiative on social media. Amongst those is fundraising and communications lead for mental health charity Northamptonshire Mind, Nick Tite, who claims that the benefits of walking on both physical and mental well-being are well-documented.
He said: “Exercise, including walking, can have a really positive effect on mental well-being. It can help improve mood and reduce stress, tiredness and anxiety.
“Walking with others can also help combat loneliness, particularly in these times where many people have spent long periods at home and missed the company of family, friends and colleagues.
“Here at Northamptonshire Mind, we partner up with organisations, including Northamptonshire Sport, in a Get, Set To Go project for instance, which helps people safely exercise at their own pace and make new friends, enjoy the outdoors and improve their mental well-being.”