Walking by social prescription and reaching out to the community
With the 70th Birthday celebrations of the NHS in full swing, an unusual NHS present that is being enjoyed by the community in St Austell is Social Prescribing. This is when, instead of medicalising problems, the healthcare practice prescribes a walk, a coffee morning or even time on an allotment.
Holy Trinity in St Austell is championing the service by becoming part of Walking for Health and organising weekly walking groups from the church.
Walking for Health
Their Walking for Health programme started at the beginning of this year by former churchwarden Heather Batho, a keen walker who has completed two sections of the Camino de Santiago, minus celebrities and a BBC camera crew.
“I was searching to know what to do next, then spoke to a friend who was leading people who had been prescribed walking by their GP’s social prescriber. I knew straight away that was what God had planned for me.”
Heather’s first task was to recruit some walking leaders. “You don’t have to be super-fit or even an enthusiastic rambler. It’s just about gently coming alongside your neighbour, walking with them and encouraging them to better health, physically and mentally, by making connections.”
Once the eight leaders were on-board, the walkers came by prescription, as Heather explains. “The scheme of social prescribing is really helping to combat the biggest problem that so many in our community face, loneliness and isolation.” And it’s good news for St Austell Healthcare who attribute the innovative scheme to reducing GP consultations by 50%, helping them to provide more appropriate care for patients through social approaches.
As Heather says, “For us as a church community it’s marvellous. It’s simple, it’s outreach and it’s a fantastic way to show how uncomplicated loving, serving and nurturing the community can be.”
Walking for Health offers different levels of walking, from slow to fast. At Holy Trinity, they offer faster walks of up to one and a half hours, but there is always the option to do a slower, shorter one as well.
“We have lovely walks from here, within minutes you can be on a network of footpaths and out in green countryside. It’s been so encouraging to see people who could barely manage 45 minutes of walking progress to striding out for up to an hour and a half.”
The walks can take the groups on the clay trails around St Austell, towards Wheal Martyn, and another can be to Menacuddle Well, a recently restored ancient monument with a waterfall.
Treading lightly and making connections
Many of the walkers hadn’t stepped foot in Holy Trinity Church either. “We’ve been very careful to tread lightly, we really wanted everyone to feel comfortable and find out that the church is a welcoming place for everyone, no matter what their beliefs. We don’t shy away from that fact that we’re Christians, and will offer to pray for anyone with particular needs as we walk and talk, but we’re not on a mission to secretly evangelise! It’s about being there for people.”
We don’t shy away from that fact that we’re Christians, and will offer to pray for anyone with particular needs as we walk and talk, but we’re not on a mission to secretly evangelise! It’s about being there for people.
Heather says that the groups have grown in confidence with their walking as well as each other. One gentleman now brings his woodcarvings to share with the group, and another invited everyone to a birthday party at his family’s Indian restaurant. “They might sound like small things, but it’s a big deal – it means that connections are being made where before there were none. People are beginning to form lasting relationships with others that previously they would never have encountered – and that’s brilliant,” says Heather.
Walking for Health is a shining example of how churches can help their local communities with nothing more required than open hearts, time and a love of being outside and chatting to people.
Helping people feel valued, by each other and by themselves
“It’s not about a bunch of Christians walking together – that’s great of course, but that’s not what this is about. It’s simply about getting outdoors – we go out in all weathers – and helping people feel valued, by each other and by themselves.”
If you feel that you would like to start something similar in your church, do get in touch with Heather or the Walking for Health organisation. Let’s get Cornwall walking, connecting and celebrating improved health and well-being. As Heather says,
You don’t have to be super-fit or even an enthusiastic rambler. It’s just about gently coming alongside your neighbour, walking with them and encouraging them to better health, physically and mentally, by making connections.