‘Not Lonely This Christmas’ – Walking away from loneliness and social isolation.

Many of us are counting down the December days until Father Christmas starts his epic global journey – and others are currently sporting tasteful festive jumpers. Some of us might have already photocopied our derrière at the office party, but that’s not how it is over the Christmas break for everyone. Christmas can be a particularly painful time for people who experience loneliness.

And loneliness – that thing most of us have known at one time or another – isn’t just an abstract concept. It has real-world implications. The Office for National Statistics has a: ‘Loneliness Measurement Landscape’. The UK has a Loneliness Minister. Tackling loneliness and social isolation is vitally important for all of us. The data is stark:

  • Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 26% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015).
  • The number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6 (Campaign to End Loneliness).
  • A 2019 Action for Children survey reported 24% of parents said they were always or often lonely.
  • Loneliness and social isolation puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia (Campaign to End Loneliness).
  • While higher percentages of older women report loneliness compared to men, a greater number of older men (50+) report moderate to high levels of social isolation (Campaign to End Loneliness).

So it’s with the above in mind, that three blokes from North Yorkshire are aiming to do their bit this festive season to combat loneliness and social isolation, by staging walking events at various inspirational spots across the north. The walks kick-off on Thursday 16th December – and currently the last one is planned for Sunday 2nd January.

The three: aged 50, 25 and 20, started talking back in August about making this Christmas brilliant.

Colin, Dan and Gabe Petch are keenly aware of the emotions involved with the Christmas period:

“While we always try to make the holiday happy – our last couple of Christmas’s have been shocking” explains Colin, who along with his son’s Dan and Gabe, are still adapting to being a family unit that is missing a key member of their team.

“We initially considered booking a holiday, just to get away – but that only transfers how each of us might be feeling to another location” says Dan, who like his younger brother – is what you might describe as an ‘outdoor type’.

But it was a Sunday walk in the Dales that got these blokes thinking seriously about loneliness and isolation.

In September we were in Malhamdale and were eating our sandwiches on the top of the Cove, when we became aware of an individual who was sitting very close to the edge – and it looked as though there might be a problem. It’s difficult to know whether to intervene, because you don’t want to intrude, or get it wrong.” Dan and Colin were then approached by a young family, who were also concerned – and one of the members took the brave step to engage with the person in question. Thank goodness he did, because that intervention prevented a suicide attempt.

Colin: “The enormity of the situation was further hammered home as we passed a sign fastened to a gate on the Cove,  from The Samaritans charity – there to reach-out to anyone who might need to talk. I know we walked back to the car in silence – processing what we’d just seen”.

That event – and an understanding that at any one time, there are many thousands of us who feel alone – especially at Christmas, has prompted the three to take action.

The initial idea was to host a single walking event, on Christmas Day, for anyone who was filled with dread at the prospect of either being alone, or being trapped in a ‘walking-on-eggshells’ situation with family. Although the blokes have backgrounds in mountain leadership, competitive endurance mountain biking and climbing – the priority is to do something that’s ‘accessible to all’.

“We’d talked about the idea with friends and family and quite by accident, the plan has had to change. Dad has been contacted by lots of people asking if there are other dates available – so that’s why we’ve now got nine days, with walks from Roseberry Topping in the east – to Formby Dunes in the west”. Gabe is quick to point out that his enthusiasm for the project, isn’t only as a result of freshly-cooked sausage butties (vegan or traditional) – and ‘Boozy Hot Choc’s’ for everyone on each walk, although it is a factor.

Numerous studies have confirmed that ’getting out for a walk’ gives us an extra boost when done in natural environments and helps to reduce feelings of anger, fatigue and sadness. There’s masses of evidence too that confirm having strong, healthy and supportive relationships with those around us is important for our wellbeing, but for our three Yorkshiremen it’s slightly more straight-forward:

Colin: “For us, it’s just about saying: You don’t have to feel lonely. You don’t have to be sad. You are allowed to have fun. You don’t need to have all the gear, or be super-fit. It’s just a gang of mates who haven’t met each other yet – having a laugh – and enjoying themselves. We’re kicking loneliness into the long grass this Christmas.”

Places on each walk cost £25, with £5 headed straight to The Samaritans charity. Snacks, liquid refreshment and a hot lunch are all included. Walking boots and warm/waterproof clothing are the only requirements.

The walks are between 5 and 8 miles and other than the Roseberry Topping event – which is ‘challenging’ – are all ‘moderate’ in the effort required.

The team are also keen to here from anyone who finds either the cost or location of the events might make participation difficult.


Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/NOT-Lonely-This-Christmas-103372002194025

Instagram:  it_wont_be_lonely_this_xmas

Email:          notlonelythischristmas@gmail.com

Colin works in education and youth engagement – and also sometimes writes stuff.

Dan is a Law graduate, working in UK Defence – and is set to climb Mont Blanc in the New Year.

Gabe is a Graphic Design Undergraduate – and counting down the days until the 2022 MTB Enduro season starts.

Christmas Routes:

Sutton Bank and The White Horse at Kilburn.                   Thurs 16th Dec

Start and finish: National Park Centre, Sutton Bank. YO7 2EH

8.3 miles

Grade: Moderate

Formby Dunes Circular, Merseyside.                                    Sun 19th Dec

Start and finish: Formby village. L37 2EB

5.8 miles

Grade: Moderate

Roseberry Topping and Captain Cook’s Monument.        Fri 24th Dec

Start and finish: Great Ayton village. TS9 6NB

5.5 miles

Grade: Challenging

Malham Cove/Goredale Scar.                                                Sat 25th Dec

Start and finish: National Park Centre, Malham. BD23 4DA

4.5 miles

Grade: Moderate            

Chipping Circular, Forest of Bowland AONB.                      Sun 26th Dec

Start and finish: Car park, Chipping village. PR3 2QH

6.5 miles

Grade: Moderate

Appletreewick and Trollers Ghyll.                                        Tue 28th Dec

Start and finish: Appletreewick village. BD23 6DA

6.6 miles

Grade: Moderate

Formby Dunes Circular, Merseyside.                                    Fri 31st Dec

Start and finish: Formby village. L37 2EB

5.8 miles

Grade: Moderate

Malham Cove/Goredale Scar.                                                Sat 1st Jan

Start and finish: National Park Centre, Malham. BD23 4DA

4.5 miles

Grade: Moderate

Chipping Circular, Forest of Bowland AONB.                      Sun 2nd Jan

Start and finish: Car park, Chipping village. PR3 2QH

6.5 miles

Grade: Moderate

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