Over the past two years, many of us have rediscovered the joy of walking – whether in our local parks, out in the countryside, or even just going for a walk down the street. At times it was one of the few opportunities that we had to be with other people from outside our own households. And it’s all free! But for some, particularly those who have been isolating, going out for a walk can still be something that feels like a big thing, particularly on their own.
This is part of what led Alison Muir and Robert Thomson to set up a weekly “Walk and Talk” group in Irvine. Alison and Rob are pioneer missioners in the town. Alison works with Crossing Together, who are establishing a new intergenerational worshipping community in Bourtreehill. One of the key needs in that area is for community spaces where people can come and meet with one another, and so the Crossing Together are beginning their work by creating some simple gathering spaces in the community. Robert works with Active Connections, whose aim is to encourage people to engage in more physical activity together, and so to encourage one another in faith.
Both projects are seeking to connect with people who have lost their church connection, as well as those who have never been in the habit of going to church. Walk and Talk offers an invitation to such people, and the team have found a diverse mix of people coming along, aged from 2 to 87, unchurched and churched together. “It is so effective to just be present with each other and take in creation” says Alison. “We have supported people who have recently been bereaved as well as those who are celebrating achievements. We intentionally did not talk about faith initially, but those conversations have naturally started as we chat.” Rob adds, “when you’re walking side by side you can talk about things you might not say if you’re face to face.”
The group has also become a contact point with local services. “We can signpost people who share a need” says Alison. “And we have let local health and wellbeing services know about our group, so they can send people our way.” Recently a council officer joined the walkers, as part of his consultation on the development of the local park, to hear their views on the local community. As part of his consultation, he has found that local people are interested in walking groups, which has been an encouragement to the Walk and Talkers.
Thrive Stewarton have been along to visit the Walk and Talk group in Irvine. Thrive are looking to connect with local people in their 20s to 40s who have no church connection. Peter Anderson, mission pioneer with Thrive, says, “we surveyed residents on what they felt was needed in the local area. There was a significant interest in wellbeing activities. Over half of those who responded said they would be interested in a walking group, so now we’re setting up our own Walk and Talk.”
The practicalities for setting up a group are straightforward, and it’s a great opportunity for people to get involved in mission for the first time. All you need is a couple of people willing to lead the walk and a place to gather at the end for a cuppa. Alison and Robert’s group stop at the end at the Crossing Together building, but you could meet at a local café. This offers a place for anyone to join who isn’t up for a walk, but still wants to come for the talk.