Kingston Chamber of Commerce’s much loved networking event gets off the mark in 2024 

Kingston Chamber of Commerce (KCC), “the formally recognised business representative of the local authority”, held its first NetWalking event of 2024 on Friday. The networking event was attended by 21 people who turned up at 9:00 AM for the 2-hour walk from Thamesside car park towards Teddington Bridge before returning. 

The Chamber provides networking, training, advice and business development opportunities.

Ilona Saliev, Events & Engagement Co-ordinator at the KCC, has been organising this event for the past two years and it has been met with a welcoming reception from local business owners.

She said that post-pandemic the shift in working culture where people can work from home on certain days has made a difference.  

“Friday [has] become a day when you can invest this time and activity in yourself doing alternative things to improve yourself and [your] work.” 

The idea of NetWalking came after she met an ‘unconventional’ counsellor at another networking event, Coffee and Connect.

The counsellor told Saliev that she did all sorts of therapy for her clients, tailoring sessions individually, which meant she would sometimes go with them to the gym or even hiking on occasion.

She found that being so accommodating was “really helpful to people to open up”.  

Saliev said: “I came back to the office, and I was talking to one of my colleagues and I said, if the counsellor can take people out to talk? We can do that as well! 

“Then I started reading about it… keeping your posture straight, how it influences your confidence, how nature influences your thinking. We tried it once, people loved it and we carried on.” 

Saliev said that each time, the event is organised in different areas of the borough to encourage more locals to participate.  

Ilona Saliev
Ilona Saliev of the Kingston Chamber of Commerce. Credit: Moiz Saifuddin

Sophie Wynn-Jones, representing Business Clans, a marketing firm based in Raynes Park, said that such events enable small businesses to get in touch with locals and employ the valuable ‘word of mouth’, to develop relations. 

Simon Vine, the director at the Chamber, said that a lot of thought is given to what the Chamber can do to help local businesses and make them feel part of the community.

With regards to NetWalking, he said: “We’re certainly seeing these sorts of events, getting more and more activity. I think people in general, are quite eager to get out and meet the local people where they can.” 

Andy Hoang, founder of Beyond Blocks, a LEGO-inspired consultancy, said that in addition to the benefits of social wellbeing, networking while walking was a more wholesome experience.  

“NetWalking is a completely different type of networking for me. You really go in depth about people’s businesses.”  

He said that in most networking events, there is a tendency to optimise the time spent with each person based on the importance they serve.  

“Often (at) some of these networking events, you feel like you’re trying to extract as much value, in as little time as possible, whereas with NetWalking, it’s a completely different vibe… you’re actually just spending time with people, you know, you’re genuinely going out and just say ‘how is your business going’… you really want to know… and for me, it is about that well-being… it is about saying ‘I genuinely care about how your business is’.”

Maria Sprostranova, founder of GreenWise people, is a trainer for outdoor living and a passionate advocate for incorporating forest school models into educational curricula. 

“This is probably my third networking event. I think, gosh, I really need to go to this. I was 14 years in the field consulting, advising schools working with schools on the ground, in the hundreds and thousands. Last year, I felt that I needed to be more transparent and visible.” 

For Sprostranova, and others, such events not only serve as a basis to connect with local businesses but also to discover the breadth of varied experiences and causes associated with them. That is what keeps bringing them back to these walks time and again. 

The next NetWalking event is scheduled for March 1 at Bushy Park. | + posts

Passionate about interviewing people to feature their stories and ideas. Currently Features Editor at Kingston Courier.

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