On 1 May, a group of 20 exercise referral clients in Ceredigion took up the challenge to virtually walk the Welsh coastal path. Some people did it by walking around their kitchens, some in their gardens and some when they went out locally for their daily exercise.

Earlier this year, Dawn Forster, Ceredigion Actif’s Walking for Wellbeing Co-ordinator, was beginning to set up walking groups across the county. The groups had to be suspended when lockdown was announced. To overcome the challenges of lockdown, Dawn invited clients from the National Exercise Referral Scheme (NERS) to be part of a virtual walking community. To keep everyone motivated, Dawn sent weekly updates telling everyone how far their collective steps had taken them and shared pictures and quotes sent in by particpants. Dawn said: “The response has been amazing, people have loved feeling part of this group during the tough times of lockdown. Many have overcome personal challenges such as getting fitter, losing weight and most importantly it has helped improve their mental health.”

All group participants recorded their steps on a pedometer, phone or Fitbit. As the weeks passed, more people joined the challenge. After just four weeks of starting the challenge, the group had successfully clocked up a total of 1,404 miles; exceeding the length of the Welsh Coastal Path. It was soon clear the challenge was motivating people to be active and people enjoyed feeling part of a bigger group despite the challenges of lockdown. So, with one challenge accomplished, participants were eager to tackle the next; to complete the distance all around the British Isles.

In eight weeks, the team of over 40 walkers had achieved amazing results and had made it all around the British Isles. Not wanting to stop there, participants were eager to step up to the next challenge, but the question was, where was the next virtual trip going to take them? Dawn said: “With the Welsh coastal path completed virtually in May, around the whole of the British Isles in June, we came up with the idea of taking on the world in July. For this, we knew we would need more walkers to help achieve this ambitious target and invited other Exercise Referral teams across Wales to join us. Now it’s an all Wales challenge; 11 counties are taking part.”

All the current participants of the challenge are clients of the NERS, coordinated by Ceredigion Actif and the West Wales Walking for Wellness Project. NERS is a health intervention scheme which incorporates physical activity and behavioural change techniques. Clients are referred by their GP and then supported to make lifestyle changes to improve their health and well-being.

One participant reflecting on the virtual step challenge said: “I try every week to beat last weeks and excelled this week, thank you for the inspiration. Thanks for encouraging me to keep walking.”

Members of the public who are not currently on the NERS scheme can also join in the ‘Walk around the World’ all Wales challenge by emailing Dawn on Dawn.Forster@ceredigion.gov.uk for more details.

For more details on the NERS contact Paul.Jones@ceredigion.gov.uk. The West Wales Walking for Wellness Project is a new project established to set up walking groups from community hubs; for more details visit www.westwaleswalkingforwellbeing.org.uk.