Freshwalks, a manifesto for change.

03 July, 2020

A manifesto for change: demand more for your health and wellbeing.

– Michael Di Paola, Founder.

I hope the Freshwalks community is safe and well.  I know only too well that it’s been a tough few months. Socially and mentally. Physically and financially.

For the outdoors mob, adjusting to an indoor lifestyle has been particularly hard to cope with. From embracing fresh air to feeling like, well, life’s just not fair.

Quite a few of you have managed to regularly engage with the online programme I quickly stitched together at the end of March. Online city tours, weekly socials and virtual mastermind groups. All crafted to continue a sense of community and create a support network, educating and connecting in equal measure. Plenty of you embraced these formats and I’m grateful for your kind feedback.

Hearing how these helped was well worth the effort.

Taking a battering.

I can’t disguise the fact Freshwalks has taken a battering in 2020. I’d liken it to the snowstorm that engulfed us on the moors above Glossop late February. That stopped us in our tracks and so has Covid-19. But we still made it to the pub and had a damn good time.

And Freshwalks will do the same this year.

Nearly a third of the year’s public netwalking programme was wiped out. Every single private walk cancelled in what is usually the busiest period of the year from April to June.

A springtime Lake District tour postponed until Autumn, meaning a planned return visit to Belfast is now unlikely to happen this year. Regional launches and follow-up events in the East Midlands and South Wales on hold. The launch of a brilliant new City Express format kiboshed before it ever really started.

So much time and effort had gone into all of this. And it’s not even the harsh reality of zero income and still carrying overheads. It just felt like Freshwalks was building real momentum and then, in a flash, it was all lost.

Except I know that’s not true.

One outcome from this pandemic is the stark reality that we all have a duty to take greater responsibility for our personal health, employee health and wellbeing, building up our own resilience and immunity. It’s the preventative measure that doesn’t get mentioned enough. Not to mention the time we’ve had to reflect on the immeasurable mental and emotional benefits we all took from getting outside to exercise once a day when access to this wasn’t so readily available. That’s one habit that shouldn’t be left in lockdown.

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The fightback begins.

So, I’m convinced that Freshwalks and everything it represents now takes on even greater significance.

Freshwalks will roar back with a vengeance second half of 2020 and – with the valued support of my colleagues, associates and trusted partners – the brand can help change the way people think about business, work-life balance and personal health, heading into 2021.

After all, we’re on the cusp of a working revolution.

There has been a perfect storm brewing of related factors – all straining under various pressures – now accelerated by Covid-19.

Excessive commuter journeys not only negatively impact air quality and climate issues but deprive people of quality time with loved ones. Hardly productive either.

Technology marches on at a relentless pace and, in doing so, continues its assault on our sense of personal time and space. If we’re not glued, inextricably, to work from dawn to dusk, we’re obsessively using our screens for most other stuff in our lives. It’s time to get back in the room, put the phone away and switch off to the noise.

People are working longer, harder but definitely not smarter.

Because what is the point, if there’s never any time to breathe fresh air and, without distraction, think clearly? About our mental health, our sense of purpose, our future and ultimately our happiness.

Without this, we’re nothing.

But this isn’t just about weighing up the relative benefits of home or flexible working versus the office. Reports of the demise of the latter being well wide of the mark. But it is definitely about consigning presenteeism to the history books. Nobody cares you worked 70 hours last week except your doctor. Value output, not input.

Offices are a great place to be. A definitive separation between a place of work and a place to live is mentally liberating and allows us to switch off more readily. We also need to be physically present with each other – to mentor, to train, to learn, to console, to reassure.

But some of these things also happen on the move. On a Freshwalks, even. And they do.

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This Monday to Friday, 9-5 culture of ours.

Our working hours and patterns need re-setting for the modern world. The human brain simply doesn’t operate at optimum performance for the entire duration of a working day anyway. And evidence continues to mount that a four-day working week only serves to increase productivity. Microsoft recently trialled this in Japan and productivity soared by 40%.

How many of us get stuck in a rut – a vicious cycle of working all day, then getting home and being too tired to exercise properly or prepare food with fresh, healthy ingredients?

I reckon that in a hundred years or more time, we’ll look back at the working practices of this past century and judge them, relatively, in the same way we now view Victorian mills and their cramped, squalid working conditions.

Think about it. We’ve asked people to spend the majority of the week for their entire working lives sitting in one position. Confined to an often uncomfortable chair, hunched over a small desk, peering into a small screen.

Your place of work sentences you to sedentary confinement. For life.

Parole will be granted upon retirement age.

Employee health and wellbeing.

Human beings weren’t designed to operate like this and the obesity statistics are damning evidence of the scale of human impact.

The World Health Organisation has been in the spotlight in recent months for many reasons connected to Covid-19 but on obesity, it doesn’t pull any punches.

  • Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
  • In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese.
  • 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13% were obese.
  • Most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.
  • Obesity is preventable.

I repeat. It’s preventable.

As are many of the mental health issues faced by our working population. Stress, anxiety and depression are all around us, a problem only likely to be exacerbated by increased financial uncertainties as the world continues to feel the economic aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic. Freshwalks helps improve mental health on a number of levels. Though that’s another story.

Networking in the hills - walking through the mist

A rallying call.

If you’re a business leader or involved with decision-making about people within your business, now is the time to act.

An effective health and wellbeing policy is not popping a fruit bowl on reception, sending someone on a Mental Health First Aid course and using lots of hashtags on social media. It needs to be embedded within your culture.

Freshwalks should be at the heart of any such plan given it aligns tangible business benefits with employee health and wellbeing. A business membership package provides a scalable number of places on each walk and can be used on a reward, recognition or rota basis across staff teams with walks for all abilities within our programme.

Not only will it improve employee health and wellbeing but it connects your business to the wider community building brand awareness and business development opportunities.

Though I run occasional weekend events, Freshwalks works best midweek. It protects weekends for personal headspace and precious time with family and loved ones. Neither should be compromised.

So attending Freshwalks might invariably mean an occasional day out of the office and this, really, is the acid test of an organisation’s commitment to its people. Do you:

  • Truly care about employee health and wellbeing?
  • Trust your people?
  • Accept that being present does not equal being productive?

If you do, then please read on.

A group of networkers smiling in the hills - resting on a rock - employee health and wellbeing

Walk the walk.

To lead the way in creating this necessary change, Freshwalks needs more businesses to walk the walk and do more for employee health and wellbeing. Our incredible community has, collectively, already walked around the world (40,075km as of Spring 2019) but once we’ve chalked up 100 million steps, our next big impact vision is to walk to the moon. It’s going to need a few more of us.

Kicking things back off in July, Freshwalks will deliver six classic walks per month in the North West alone (with a growing number of walks in other regions). Formats come in all shapes and sizes. From 5km to 30km. Full day mountain hikes, half-day rambles in the hills, two-hour countryside strolls. Sunset picnics, sunrise walks, family events. What unites them all is the simple notion of walking and talking with like-minded souls within the business community.

Individuals or businesses can get involved by buying ad-hoc tickets, purchasing discounted ticket bundles (pay as you go) or fully engaging with the Freshwalks experience through a membership. Packages range from £50 to £300 per month and can be found here.

It’s time to…

Slow down but still move faster.

Work smarter not harder.

Be healthier and happier.

And for business to take responsibility.

It’s time to get Britain walking. Join me.

Michael Di Paola, Founder.

Email for more information.

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