An RAF veteran is helping the older generation of her community to get more active in her role as the chair of the local community sports hub.
Morag Lightning from Turriff in Aberdeenshire has been supporting sheltered housing residents to get out for regular local walks around the town.
Morag is a community champion in the truest sense. Having served in the RAF for more than 20 years, including tours to both Iraq and Afghanistan, she now devotes her time to voluntary service in the local community. Her volunteering spans much further than the community sports hub, taking on many voluntary roles across the community.
As a result of her efforts, Morag was recently recognised in the King’s New Year Honours list for her services to the community of Turriff, being awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM).
Having become the chair of the local community sport hub back in 2022, Morag identified a real lack of activities in the area for the older generation. After brainstorming ideas, she pitched the idea about an organised walk with a trained leader for local sheltered housing residents.
Turriff community sports & wellbeing hub is part of the national sportscotland Community Sport Hub (CSH) network that brings sports clubs and community organisations together to improve the contribution sport and physical activity has within communities across Scotland.
Morag said: “It’s great that there are loads of opportunities for the community to get involved in sport and physical activity, however I felt we were missing a trick in catering for the older demographic.
"With two local sheltered housing complexes in the nearby area, there was a real need to help get them more active, outside in the fresh air and interacting with other people.
“I connected with Paths for All and went through their Health Walk Leader training to be able to run an organised walk. After undertaking the training, I managed to establish a group that welcomes around six to ten regulars attending each month.”
Organised Paths for All Health Walks only exist because of the dedication and support of volunteers like Morag, with volunteers leading and supporting regular health walks up and down the country. The main role of a Health Walk Leader is to provide a safe, supportive, and welcoming space for participants of all abilities to enjoy low-level activity, meet new people and enjoy their local community more.
A typical walk for Morag consists of meeting the walkers at their housing complex, risk assessing the route, going through the register, asking the group where they want to walk to, then supporting the participants to walk the designated route, while making it as enjoyable as possible.
Through funding received from Live Life Aberdeenshire and Sandlaw Windfarm, a coffee stop was introduced halfway through the walk as an incentive for the participants.
“When I first tried to sell the idea of the Health Walks, the residents of the sheltered housing didn’t show much interest. I changed my tactics and asked them if they would like to go for a walk to the coffee parlour for a cuppa, which gained a lot more interest.
“They initially thought they were going out for a cuppa and a scone, not realising that they had taken part in a health walk to get there and home again. On our second walk, whilst having our coffee, they started talking about going for longer walks, which we now do.”
On talking about their health and wellbeing, Morag said: “Often some walkers say they aren’t sure if they are up to a walk that day, so we suggest a shorter walk. Once they are actually out walking, you can see their energy burst into life and they then say they want to walk the longer walk after all.
“Without the encouragement, they would have stayed at home and because we walk at the slowest walkers pace, and the walks are completely walker driven, you can see the distance we walk creep up. They are getting fitter and stronger without really realising it!
"The camaraderie between them has also grown and they are speaking to other residents they may not have previously spoke with.”
Audra Booth, community sport hub officer for Live Life Aberdeenshire said: “Having a volunteer like Morag is really important as they have an understanding of the local community’s needs and challenges. The benefit of having that personal connection, as well as local knowledge, helps identify and organise activities that will encourage residents to get active and adopt healthier lifestyles. Thanks to Morag, more people are getting out and getting active!”
Many hands make light work
Morag has managed to encourage a husband-and-wife team to also go through the Health Walk Leader training. After recently retiring, and enjoying walking, the pair recently were looking for ways they could help locally.
“It’s great having them involved now, as we now have a contingency plan that we can send those who want a longer walk with one walk leader, and those who want a shorter walk can go with another walk leader. However we haven’t needed to do this yet!”
There are also plans in place to connect with the local high school pupils at Turriff Academy. They will join the housing residents on the walks and create an intergenerational type walk where the school pupils will teach the housing residents how to take pictures with their mobile phones and use them to create something visual for back in the home, while the residents can also share some history about the area and tell the pupils what they did in their younger years.