As part of the Country Living Loneliness Campaign 2020, we are looking at how to overcome loneliness in the countryside, starting with community initiatives. Here, we explore how one walking group is doing all they can to put an end to rural isolation.
The countryside, despite all its loveliness and postcard-perfect views, can be an incredibly isolating place. Away from the buzz of city life, those that live on the outskirts can, at times, feel completely alone. And that’s exactly how Sandra Samuels-Allen found herself feeling, after she took the move from London to the pin-drop-quiet outskirts of Rochester, Kent, in 2017.
Leaving the life behind she knew so well, Sandra found herself in an achingly lonely place. “About two years ago I thought to myself, well, how am I going to meet people now? And if other people are feeling isolated and lonely, what can I do to help?” she tells Country Living.
Desperately wanting to change her situation, Sandra turned to Facebook, writing a status inviting others to join her on a country walk. Much to her surprise, she had an overwhelming response. “I was so nervous to ask people, but couldn’t believe how many were in the same situation as me,” she tells us.
Not long after she reached out for help, Sandra launched Walking Workout With A Difference – and she hasn’t looked back since.
What is Walking Workout With A Difference?
Walking Workout With A Difference is a small but mighty gathering on a mission to end loneliness. Members meet twice a week to talk, soak up the beauty of nature, exercise and meet people.
“Deep friendships have formed because of the group,” Sandra tells CL. “I met these fantastic people and we just walked and talked. They’ve empowered me and I’m empowering them.”
There are now 750 men and women of all ages in the Facebook group and around 30 regular attendees on any given walk. They meet every Tuesday and Sunday.
“Some of the members are in relationships but still experience loneliness and isolation,” Sandra explains. “Some of their partners have disabilities, so it restricts them going out often. Some members have anxiety, others have depression, but when they come to the group, all of that goes.”
One of the walkers, Nikki Parsons, cares full-time for her disabled mother in Kent. “I live on my own with my cat and care for my mother during the day. It was evenings where I found myself sitting down not really doing anything. I also wanted to get active a bit more, but didn’t have the confidence to go on my own,” she recalls.
“People have formed real friendships because of it. It’s the sort of group where you can just call out for help.”
“Being in the open air has such a positive effect on people. The air quality is different, we can talk and feel relaxed,” explains Sandra, who is also a personal trainer so offers the group easy-going exercises during the group walking sessions.
The team’s favourite work-out? “I always ask them to hug the trees,” she says. “There’s a big benefit to heading outdoors. You listen to the birds, you see the bluebells, you see the lakes, you hug a tree — it makes a huge difference.”
Walking Workout With A Difference also aims to tackle mental health issues and promote positive thinking. Regular member Sue Murphy, who has been on her own for five years, explains that the group has revived her confidence and expanded her outlook on life. “Since joining the group I don’t feel so isolated and know that there is a life for me outside of my four walls. It is not only the walking workouts we do, Sandra also arranges social activities for us, she listens to our concerns and tries to help us.”
With inner confidence back on her side, Sue is urging everyone to get out there. “To those that are feeling lonely and isolated, please try and take that first step,” she implores. “I know how hard it is to do that. The first step is always the hardest, but it does get easier the more you persevere. Life is better with friends than on your own.”
Following its success, Sandra wants to take Walking Workout With A Difference on the road. “I’d love to hit all over the UK and get people involved with helping the lonely. It’s really important for me that whoever helps has the same passion as me to help those feeling lonely and isolated.” We’re sure it’s only the beginning of something wonderful.