The Kingston branch of the Ramblers Association, an active walking group, celebrated its diamond anniversary on Saturday (November 11), at Kingston Quaker Centre.
Around 70 people attended the event, and the hall was abuzz with warm smiles and the camaraderie borne out of the shared passion for walking and love for the outdoors.
The formal meeting was run by out-going chair, Paul Draper.
“In my 11 years since attending these AGMs, I have never seen a competitive election or a negative vote”, quipped Draper to the amusement of the audience before officially announcing the election of Barbara Crow as the new chair.
Draper and Ramblers regional engagement officer, Vanessa Slawson, then presented certificates and souvenir mugs to the more active members of the group as a token of appreciation for their efforts.
In her brief remarks, Slawson thanked the Kingston Ramblers for inviting her and drew on her experiences whilst managing 134 walking groups in the south-east region of England.
“I have been a scout all my life and so walking is second nature for me. I was a scout recruiter and manager for 12 years before joining the Ramblers Association a year ago,” said Slawson.
She went on to say that joining the Ramblers “was the best thing” she had done, giving credit to the warm and welcoming atmosphere in walking groups and the fact that she got to discover “new footpaths and cutaways that (she) didn’t know existed.”
In the afternoon, the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Richard Thorpe arrived at the event along with the Deputy Mayoress and spoke about the benefits of walking and appreciated the group’s work towards that end. This was followed by a cake-cutting ceremony and the service of refreshments to the entire party.
Some of the attendees have been walking with the group for more than three decades. Among them was Trish De Villiers who started in 1988 and has not stopped since.
“Walking is much more than a mere ‘stroll’. Especially, walking in a group is a wonderful way to de-stress and take in the outdoors in congenial company of like-minded people,” said De Villiers.
She said that she started walking to combat the stresses of work. From her childhood, her parents had instilled a habit of walking in their children, which has stood her in good stead.
Within a year from joining, De Villiers started to lead walking groups and continues to do so. She said the three-decade long association had made it possible for her to sustain an active lifestyle.
John Dixon, one of the organisers shared what the group has been doing to make the walks more accessible for everyone particularly when it is difficult for people to get to the start.
“Most of our walks are accessible by public transport. However, we have also initiated a car-sharing scheme on a WhatsApp group. Any member going for a walk will post a time and location for pick-up with the number of seats available. This has made a difference in the numbers of participants.
“We also distribute information flyers and printouts to the few members who are not acquainted with the internet.”
He said they also encourage parents to come on a walk with their children to instil an interest.
Slawson said the Ramblers also had specialist subgroups catering to youngsters, working people and the disadvantaged.
The incoming chair of the Kingston group, Barbara Crow, has been leading weekly walks for the mental health charity Mind.
She said it initially had a comparatively modest turnout, but with continued efforts over the past two years, she has been able to get a consistent group of 10-15 people for each weekly walk.
The work of the Kingston Ramblers extends beyond the walks themselves.
“An important element in the work we do is advocating for maintaining footpaths,” said David Cooper, Footpath Secretary of the group.
The group has adopted sections of the London Loop–a walking trail that encircles London–to report problems to the relevant council.
Additionally, work parties during the summer have tried to control the growth of Himalayan Balsam, an invasive species that threatens the area’s biodiversity.
“We have been doing that for the past four years with a certain level of success,” said Cooper.
Going forward, the group continues to look to recruit new members, especially youngsters, and spread the word about the importance of walking through advocacy and outreach programmes.
The Kingston area is a wonderful place to walk with access to Richmond, Bushey and Home Parks, the footpaths along the Thames towards Hampton Court or Richmond. The Kingston trails website offers some short routes within the Borough.
Kingston Ramblers offers a variety of walks from four to 10+ miles on Wednesdays, some Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.