We chat to Lucy Psarias, of North Yorkshire Sport, about life during COVID, what their mission statement is and getting out and walking in the countryside
What is the ethos behind North Yorkshire Sport?
We are a charity that champions physical activity, movement and sport. We want everyone to be as active as they can be and to build as much physical activity into their day as possible. Any movement is good.. more is better! We want people to be less sedentary generally both at home, work and during their free time.
As a charity we use sport, physical activity & movement as a driver for positive change, to help tackle inequalities in society and barriers to being regularly active, such as health, deprivation, environment, disability & ling term conditions.
Are you keen on promoting exercise, however little people may take on?
We want people to be as active as they can be, to whatever level is manageable and what’s enjoyable to them. As an example, for people living with long term conditions we would say be active on your good days, just because some days it’s not possible doesn’t mean that should stop people completely. For some people, running 10k’s or half marathons is very achievable for others walking to a bus stop or getting up to answer the door is a struggle. Building movement and physical activity into your day and reducing the amount of sedentary time is really key.
Do you think people don’t realise the many benefits of walking?
I feel the physical benefits of walking and general exercise are greater understood by individuals such as walking to manage weight, keeping your heart strong and reducing blood pressure etc. I feel many often under estimate the psychological benefits until they take up walking activity such as assisting to reduce factors such as loneliness and isolation, developing increased feelings of happiness and enjoyment in particular through the many friendships that are created through these walking groups.
How did you attempt to spread the message about the physical and mental benefits of walking during lockdown?
The COVID pandemic massively impacted the way we lived our lives for a significant period of time. This included the ways people played sport, stayed active indoors (gyms/leisure centres etc) and outside (organised sport and informal use of parks & open spaces). We did a range of things in lockdowns including supporting clubs and organisations to access resources & funding to survive, we helped many providers take their face to face activities online to platforms like Zoom / Teams to help people stay connected and active in their own homes, we collated and signposted people to a wide range of activities they could do at home, as a family and in spaces available to them at the time (both online and in their own gardens etc) under the banner of #stayinworkout.
We also spent significant time reminding people that the best way to stay happy and healthy during those trying times was to incorporate some movement into every single day. Listening to HM Government recommendations was obviously crucial at that point in time, and safety always came first… but it was (and still is) important to remember that adults over the age of 16 need 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every week to maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle, and children and young people (between the ages of 5 and 16) need 60 minutes each day.
With other local charities (North Yorkshire Youth & Rural Arts North Yorkshire we formed North Yorkshire Together) and began identifying people and families across North Yorkshire who were shielding and we felt would benefit from some additional support. Activity support packs were designed to help people improve their physical and mental health, and they were distributed to those most in need in North Yorkshire.
The packs contain practical examples of ways to stay active at home and tailored exercises, along with items to help people take part in physical activity more easily and to maintain positive mental health such as exercise bands, cones balls, skipping ropes, chalk etc. Packs were made for families, teenagers and older people and we distributed over 4000 packs during lockdown which we were really proud of.
As an organisation, how tough was that period for you?
It was a really tough time for us all, both personally and professionally. Our charity was supported hugely by Sport England and other funders to maintain our operations and functions and to be able to continue to support others to stay active and build activity into their days and routines. Our staff were amazing and worked tirelessly to continue to do the best we could for the charity despite some personal and family challenges we had with home schooling amongst other things. While it was tough, we came through it a stronger organisation and we learned a lot about just how much impact our work can have.
How long has the Ramblers Wellbeing Walks North Yorkshire been going for?
Ramblers Wellbeing Walks had their National launch at the start of 2022. Within the County, we have since formed Ramblers Wellbeing Walks North Yorkshire ( RWW North Yorkshire ) partnership, which includes a number of walking groups. Some of these groups have been operating for a long as 15 years, whereas some are very new and have recently been set up to attract a variety of walkers to get active within their local communities.
How taxing are the walks?
Ramblers Wellbeing Walks North Yorkshire are support group walks led by trained volunteer walk leaders. All walks are 30-90 minutes long and over easy ground, so they are ideal if people are new to walking.
Do you get to see some beautiful sights on the walks?
Absolutely! We are fortunate within North Yorkshire to have some amazing outdoor space and wonderful scenery. Many walks (for example in Craven, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Masham) operate within the picturesque countryside. Walks often take place near historic sites and along river areas. There are also coastal paths (for example in Scarborough) that are regularly explored through which walkers can soak up some breath taking sea views.
Do you build friendships through these walks too?
One of the main benefits of wellbeing walks is activity takes place as part of a group. These walks are a great way to meet new people and generally every walk is finished up with a cuppa and chat in a local café.
What else is North Yorkshire Sport currently promoting?
There is always things we want to push and promote! Generally the messaging about being active every day and reducing sedentary time is one that will never go away. We are soon to be walking the Yorkshire 3 Peaks as a team to raise funds for our mental health focussed work. The walk will take around 12 hours and cover 24.5 miles up the 3 iconic climbs of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. We are particularly passionate about the positive affect that being active can have on our mental health and this is the focus of our fundraising efforts. Donations will support the creation of new projects to tackle mental health, or even to provide training to the workforce of coaches and volunteers to recognise and support those with mental health challenges who take part in their activities.
We are delivering an Active at home programme to help people who have deconditioned as a result of inactive this last 2 years or so, where a targeted intervention can help improve their mobility, strength & flexibility. It’s a National Lottery funded initiative for 3 years and we are working with local referral partners to make sure that people taking part will benefit the most.
Together Fund – we are actively looking for new organisations and charities to work with on this project. The Together Fund was set up in April 2020 as part of Sport England’s support package to help the sport and physical activity sector through the pandemic. We have funding available to help groups that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and where the last 18-24 months has significantly impacted their ability to be physically active. The four priority audiences are: Lower socio-economic groups / Culturally diverse communities / Disabled people / People with long-term health conditions. We are really interested in hearing from organisations in North Yorkshire & York who support the above priority groups and where we may be able to support them.