Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Village GP started group to help older people keep fit

A WALKING group in Sonning Common is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

A WALKING group in Sonning Common is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Sonning Common Health Walks was started by Dr William Bird when he was a GP at the village’s health centre to encourage older people to keep fit.

Over the years, hundreds of people have taken part, walking various distances throughout the year.

Dr Bird, who also set up Sonning Common Green Gym, conceived the idea in 1995 and held a meeting at the village hall to garner interest.

He then contacted fitness instructor and villager Val Lunn to help supervise the first walks in 1996.

Mrs Lunn, 64, of Churchill Crescent, who still takes part in the walks, said: “Dr Bird did research on the benefits with Oxford Brookes University.

“People were asked to come to the health centre and have their fitness levels tested before and at the end of so many months.

“Dr Bird designed the routes around the area and then approached me, so I came in to get it started.

“There were a lot of people on those first walks. There was only about seven per cent men and the rest were women.

“There were more 40- to 50-year-olds on those walks but now there are people in their sixties and seventies so we’re desperate for some younger people.”

Andrea Davies, 74, from Peppard Common, worked at the health centre with Dr Bird when the group was being set up.

She said: “Dr Bird was going for these walks and then started thinking it would be of benefit to his patients.

“He devised around 10 walks and did them himself.

“They’re supposed to make you breathless and more healthy and not be easy.

“It’s about socialising and wellbeing, both physical and mental.”

Today the group has about 150 active walkers who take part every week and each session has a leader.

All the walks are categorised by their difficulty and vary in length. The locations and routes change through the year but most walks are in Sonning Common or Peppard with some in Shiplake and Rotherfield Greys.

For each one a leader will set off before the group, laying out arrows to indicate the route.

Another leader will stay with the walker at the back of the group to make sure everyone finishes the walk safely.

Mrs Davies’s husband Colin leads the Thursday morning walk of about two-and-a-half miles in the grounds of Greys Court.

He said: “All of it is within the grounds with most of it on the public footpath so anybody can walk it.

“We’ve been coming here for a number of years and it’s our most popular group.”

About 30 people take part in this walk and there’s a separate 1km walk led by Mrs Davies.

She said: “I take more challenged people — those with walking sticks or with breathing difficulties who are in their eighties.” Members of the group take part in the walk for different reasons.

Ruth Bowyer, 77, of Birch Close, Sonning Common, said: “I live in the countryside yet I did not know it at all.

“I joined about 12 years ago. It’s a good way for older people to keep active.”

Judith Howles, 72, from Peppard, said: “You just feel so much better after a walk. I try to do three sessions a week. As you get older you stiffen up and I find the walking makes movement easier.”

Hilda Garnham, 74, also from Peppard, said: “The company is good and it’s nice to go to places you might not go on your own. It’s great for meeting people, especially if you’ve just moved to the area or have just retired.”

George Pritchard, 73, from Emmer Green, said: “My wife and I started coming when we retired. There are obvious health and fitness benefits and I play golf so the walking helps with that.”

To mark its 20th year, the group is to host an afternoon tea at Sonning Common village hall on April 24 at 2pm. Visitors are invited to take part in a social walk on one of the original routes before returning to the hall for 3.30pm.

Displays of photos of walkers through the years will be on show. Food and drink will be available and Dr Bird and Mrs Lunn will give speeches.

For more information, visit www.sonningcommonhealthwalks.co.uk

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