Happiness is finding a healthy balance

Phil Wade is a Non-Exec Director of Socius with over 30 years of experience delivering some of the largest and most complexed mixed-use projects, including Ebbsfleet, Chapelfield and TresAguas.

Phil shares his experience of ‘giving back’ and why he believes that striking a good work-life balance is vitally important to everyone’s health and happiness.

I’ve always had a love for the great outdoors and moving to the beautiful New Forest has undoubtedly had a huge impact on both my physical wellbeing and mental health, massively benefiting my work-life balance and creating a positive state of mindfulness.

Working part time has allowed me to explore a long-held desire to do more work in the community and I have been lucky enough, through an organisation called Community First Wessex, to find something I can do that meets both my passion for the outdoors and giving back to my local community.

Having researched local volunteering opportunities, I found an advert for a walk leader post, to re-establish a group in a local town, Fordingbridge, which had disbanded due to the Covid lockdowns and had not been restarted. The programme is called Healthy Walks and it provides an opportunity for predominantly older people to have a weekly walk as part of a group, with the walk leader responsible for choosing the routes, doing a risk assessment, promoting the walks to the local community, leading the walks, keeping records of attendees and reporting quarterly on how many people have attended.

Funding for the programme is provided by Sport England and New Forest District Council, and the initiative is driven by the walk leaders, who are tasked with encouraging as many people as possible to get out into the countryside. The key benefits that we promote to community members are the huge impact that our walks can have on their health and mental wellbeing. Covid has created a real sense of loneliness for many older people, as demonstrated in the recent theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and the walks provide them with an opportunity for social interaction, as well as improving their fitness.

On completion of my training, I was very excited to be let loose on the unsuspecting population of Fordingbridge and attracted a grand total of one person to my first walk! However, since then, numbers have been steadily growing and we’re now in double figures. Although I doubt we will reach the previous heights of 30+ people, I am very happy that we’re managing to attract new walkers every week and helping to make a difference to their lives.

It takes between 5 to 6 hours a week to plan, promote and undertake the walks, which run for a couple of hours every Friday. I choose different destinations every week, as people seem to appreciate being able to see something different. Usually, there is a small stop en-route, but mostly we stop if we see something interesting: a herd of deer, bird of prey or to take in the spectacular scenery.

It's fair to say that I never really saw myself working with older people when I thought about volunteering, I always thought I would work with young people in some capacity. However, now I do it, I have realised that the older generation still has so much to give and so many amazing stories and experiences to tell (to say nothing of the fact that the closer I get to retirement, I would like to think someone will do the same for me someday soon!), that I feel incredibly valued and I am very happy indeed to be able to give something back to them.