Becoming a volunteer Health Walk Leader saved Jeff's life

Our volunteers are integral to the delivery of over 670 Health Walks across Scotland. Volunteer Jeff Cunningham shares with us his experience of guiding walks in South Lanarkshire

Healthy Valleys deliver a range of weekly Health Walks for people in the local community.

Jeff Cunningham (61), who lives near Douglas, has been a Health Walk Leader since 2018. As a former bus driver, Jeff was medically retired in 2013 following a diagnosis of pancreatic diabetes. With so much newfound free time, however, Jeff wanted to do something productive.

Taking part in Health Walks as a participant and a volunteer has offered Jeff incredible health and mental wellbeing benefits. He previously enjoyed Health Walks as a participant, before being approached by Annette Hall McKay, Project Worker at Healthy Valleys, to become a volunteer. Since becoming a volunteer Walk Leader for the community-led initiative, Jeff has delivered over 288 Health Walks in the local communities of Douglas, Rigside and Lanark.

Volunteer Walk Leaders are valuable members of the community who have received our training to deliver a variety of walks for the benefit of local people and those with health difficulties or needs. Since 2002 we have provided training to over 14,000 people, enabling volunteers to deliver safe and sociable Health Walks in communities across Scotland. Often, like Jeff, our volunteers have joined local Health Walks as participants, and having discovered those benefits the walks provide themselves, want to help others find the same enjoyment.

A group of walkers talk as they walk along a path as part of a Healthy Valleys Health Walk.

Keeping active and spending time outdoors continues to help improve Jeff's lifestyle and physical health. Most importantly, walking regularly and volunteering has helped him regain confidence in himself, his ability, his health and working with others. As part of his volunteering, he assists the Healthy Valleys team with a wider programme of activities through the week including Buggy Walks, social events, and with catering for community lunchtime social meets.

Jeff will often assist Annette and other members of the Project team with the risk assessment and planning of new routes. The process has supported his professional development, with Jeff undertaking additional training in health and safety, first aid and food hygiene.

Physical activity throughout the day, such as choosing to walk for short local journeys, can help reduce serious health conditions, maintain a healthy weight, and builds muscle. For Jeff, an increase in walking has helped to lower blood pressure and manage his sugar levels. As a local resident of Douglas, Jeff prefers to walk to his volunteering duties and for recreation, remarking that staying active regularly keeps his joints supple, has increased his muscle tone and improved stamina.

A group of walkers talk as they walk along a country path as part of a Healthy Valleys Health Walk.

For those who have already completed Walk Leader training, we offer a range of courses including Health Walk Leader training, Dementia Friendly Walk Leader training, and Strength and Balance training. Courses are delivered throughout the year and offer participants the knowledge, skills and confidence to facilitate a wide range of Health Walks in local communities.

Drawing in people from the surrounding area, Health Walks offer an invaluable opportunity to stay physically active and meet new people, from all walks of life. Jeff says,

I think more people should get into it – they don’t know what they are missing.

To join a local Health Walk, explore the available walks near you.

If you are interested in volunteering with us, you can explore our opportunities here.