All Together – The Walking Workout Group in Medway

Sandra Samuels-Allen is the lively founder of ‘Walking Workout with the Difference’ a community based organisation promoting health, fitness and well-being. Initially it started as a way of making friends but now it has grown into a much bigger event and anticipated fixture on the local Medway diary. Offering a wide range of activities to support people of all ages and varying abilities, Walking Workout with a Difference has embraced the whole community while launching lasting friendships. We join the conversation at the beginning, when Sandra Samuels stumbled across the idea……….

Walking Workout with a Difference is such a lovely concept, please explain the idea behind it.

In 2017, I found myself wondering how I can I take myself out of isolation/loneliness and meet people in my new area of Medway. I hatched a plan to see if anyone wanted to walk and talk with some exercises thrown in. As a qualified Fitness Instructor I thought this would be a good idea to help the community by offering physical fitness while bringing the community together by walking and talking with exercise. Walking Workout with a Difference was thus founded as a non-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) by December of the same year.

Did it take time for people to hear your message and join in the walk outs? How many people now take part on a regular basis?

Using Facebook and social media to announce my programme, I had to an initial response of 50 people who expressed an interest in the walking workouts. I then decided to set a date in January 2018 to launch the programme and 8 people turned up. Nowadays about 10 – 25 people turn up regularly for the walking workouts.

Sandra Samuels (second from left) “The group is amazing and we give each other support..”

Who are the walking exercises aimed at?

We get a lovely mix of people at the walking work outs. It is aimed at all ages including children with parental supervision, wheel chair users, slow walkers or anyone with a disability who may just want to walk for 15 minutes, they don’t have to do the full hour.

Loneliness is often the unspoken ‘problem’ that people are scared to own up to. It takes courage to walk out of your comfort zone and do something different.

I was so scared. I never talked about my loneliness to my family and friends. I wanted to put into action something that would help others.

Being single and coming from London, my marriage had broken down. I decided to come to Rochester and start my new life. It was tough, going out on my own and talking to random people in coffee shops. I then got to thinking how many people are in my situation and not in a relationship maybe feeling the isolation and loneliness.

My smile covered my sadness and the more I smile, the more people would talk to me. What helped me through my emotions was music. I sang loud to help myself and empower myself. That worked for me a lot.

 Where do you meet up and who decides which routes to take?

We meet on Tuesdays in Rochester and then on the weekends we go exploring different areas in Kent. The group sometimes say where they would like to go on a Sunday.

In your community group, you also have various instructors offering different activities. Did you meet through the walks?

I source the instructors through my Facebook groups. I get them first to meet by doing the walks. Then I hire them to lead the walks, adding some of their techniques.

You are trained circuit instructor. What were you doing before founding this community group? How did your life choices bring you to this point?

I still work full time for an international rail company in finance and commerce. My life choices have brought me to the point where I can offer my skills to the community and share my life experiences. I now teach fitness, pilates, bounce & burn and circuit classes bringing something different to the community apart from the walks.

The connection between mental health and fitness is becoming more apparent. There is also a social element to your programmes. What other the hidden benefits come from your activities.

We organise social events which work very well. We go on trips to London or listen to live bands or go ‘Mingles’ once a month and listen to soul music and have dance.

The group is amazing and we give each other support including myself. Creating this group has been an amazing journey for all of us. We all connect with each other in different ways.

The Community Stretch

Finally what have you learnt from the walk outs?  Do you intend to expand the programme?

I have learnt how community groups interact and support each other well. We have made friends and go off and do things together. This is a service that is needed in Medway. I have made new friends. My isolation and loneliness is no longer there.

Going forward, I would love to expand but I am looking for funding to help me achieve this.  Significant members of the community are missing out including the elderly and people with disabilities. Greater funding would help me to reach such groups and improve their mental health, Isolation and loneliness. I would love to go full time and employ fitness instructors to deliver the project across the region.