People who walk the walk while they talk the talk

Globe features writer, author and community activist LESLIE MITCHELL meets kindred spirits with a purpose in life – the members of Gosport’s Walkie Talkie Walking Group – who are soon to celebrate their 10th anniversary

THERE are several groups of walkers to be seen around most towns but one seems to be rather different.

If you are out and about in Gosport and surrounding area you may have come across a group of around a dozen, or more citizens. mainly of mature years walking along some of the streets and shortcuts on Tuesdays and Fridays.

They are members of the Walkie Talkie Walking Group and I sat down with the organiser, Kelvin Hardy, to learn more about it.

“In 2012, after 39 years working for the same company, I was made redundant and, being under retirement age, I duly turned up at the JobCentre,” Kelvin told me. “I needed some assistance to find new employment and I was advised to go to the Wheatsheaf Trust at St George’s Barracks.

“Apart from their core aim of helping people with job application and interview skills, they had been given funding by Gosport Borough Council for a one-year project to improve general health, wellbeing and fitness levels in various ways.

“Trish Jerrard was seconded by the council to run various groups there including, walking, cycling, healthy eating and cookery groups. Trish and I were friends in our secondary school days and we recognised each other at once. I have always enjoyed walking and have been living in Gosport since I was seven years old. I have a good knowledge of the town so that was my choice.”

‘As we walked we chatted and I noticed that people seemed to open up to each other’

“The walking group started with just three or four people and the number fluctuated as some left when they found work or lost interest and others joined. As we walked we chatted and I noticed that people seemed to open up to each other about our situations, our hopes and worries. When the year was up the funding stopped, Trish went back to the Town Hall and we were told that the groups would all finish.”

Undeterred by the council decision regarding funding, they decided to carry on meeting and walking together as a voluntary group. Kelvin took over organising, named it the Walkie Talkie Walking Group and, with the aid of his family, posters were made and displayed in the Information Centre, Discovery Centre and some local cafés.

On April 16, 2012. they held their first official walk. Since then each Tuesday and Friday, members meet up at an agreed starting point at 10.30am and walk for between about 60 to 90 minutes (three to four miles on average) with a cup of tea or coffee mid-way or after the walk.

Starting points vary and include the Gosport Ferry gardens, the White Hart pub in Stoke Road, Privett Park, Lee-on-the-Solent, Stubbington and Fareham. The walks cover many different routes very often using short cuts and alleyways. Those more used to driving discover hidden gems of places they had never realised existed in a town they had lived in for many years.

Kelvin contacts members by text in advance to let them know where the next walk will be starting. “Just get in touch if you are not coming,” he says.

Who are the group? Some of the members have retired early on medical grounds, have part time jobs and others have earned their free bus passes being over retirement age. A basic membership form giving details of name, address, contact details and next of kin (in case of a medical emergency when with the group) is completed and kept by Kelvin or whoever is leading the walk. There is no membership fee.

“Our oldest member, Dennis, walked regularly with the group until the week before he died at the age of 95 years,” Kelvin told me. And Trish Jerrard, now retired, is an enthusiastic member.

The group sometimes ventures further afield and for several years has enjoyed a summer day trip to the Isle of Wight where some members enjoy a longer walk while others use their bus passes to explore the island meeting up later with the rest of the group. Last summer they also enjoyed a day out in Weymouth (as pictured).

There is a social side, too, with barbecues and picnics as well as a Christmas meal together. Many of the members live alone and the group is a valued part of their lives for much more than the physical and mental benefits of walking. They support each other through bereavement, periods of ill health, personal crises etc.

‘Companionship helped my wife and I through the most dreadful 10 years of our lives’

Some of the members are keen to point out the benefits they have experienced through being part of the Walkie Talkie Group. Arthur said: “The group gives me increased motivation, health benefits and opportunities to socialise.

Jack told me: “Companionship helped my wife and I through the most dreadful 10 years of our lives. I owe my sanity and probably my life to these wonderful caring people.”

Lizzy was happy to tell me that she was part of the original Wheatsheaf group, in 2012. “I joined to get out and meet people like me who were lonely. The group has gone from strength to strength. We are a very friendly group and help each other when needed.”

Jenny added: “It is good exercise, while making friends.”

And Lillian declared: “The Walkie Talkie Group gives us so much, company, laughs, friendship and it keeps us moving.”

Tony shares produce from his allotment and gardening advice and other members are a fountain of knowledge about local history etc.

It is impossible to complete a picture of this group without mentioning Bostin’s café in Stoke Road, a favourite venue for after walk refreshments and, for some of the group, Sunday lunch, too. The group are made to feel very much at home there even when they troop in wet and bedraggled if they have been caught out by a heavy shower.

With such a real wealth of life experience this group has become like a big extended family to its members and it is a family always ready to welcome new members. As they prepare to celebrate their 10th anniversary in April the group hopes to attract more members. Please phone or text Kelvin Hardy on 07794625927 for details.

PICTURED: Group enjoy trip to Weymouth last summer.