Spotlight on our Group - Dog Walking
Fylde Family Support Group started their weekly dog walking group in the summer of 2017. The group runs as a spoke (using Rethink Group Hub and Spoke model) and is led by coordinator Joanne Fletcher. The Group will be celebrating its second anniversary soon has a regular group of 9 walker and 10 companion dogs
“We meet at the Visitor Centre in Stanley Park (Blackpool) at 10am every Wednesday morning and walk round the park usually following the same route which can take an hour to an hour and a half. Most of the time our dogs are off lead, enjoying their freedom and they integrate very well accepting new dogs quite happily. Max and I and a few of the core group walk regardless of the weather, be it howling gale, sunshine, hail, rain and yes snow. The dogs love it and we all feel the benefit after.”
The success of the dog walking group has led to volunteer from “Friends of Stanley Park” getting permission from Blackpool Council to open the park’s visitor centre for dog walkers (and their companions) on a Wednesday Morning from 9.30pm to 12.30pm and providing refreshment for a nominal donation.
Group members have shared that the group is the 'highlight of my week walking with the Group’ and 'I enjoy walking in the company of people who accept me as I am' and 'without walking in this group I wouldn't have the confidence to go out and chat with people'.
Jo shared the story about one group member who joined the group after being discharged from hospital ‘quite modestly attributes her successes to the support and acceptance of the group and unconditional love of her dog’
‘One lady had been in a mental health hospital for three years being discharged in January and joined us in August just as we began. She didn't have a dog but loved them. She wouldn't make eye contact, very rarely spoke but walked with us nearly every week and very slowly began engaging with us and the dogs more, more so the dogs initially. Fast forward seventeen months and she now has a dog of her own, chats quite freely with us and talks to people she meets out and about. She has been abroad on holiday and is now studying to be a Mental Health Nurse at University of Central Lancashire'.
Another member of the group joined the group with his mum and their dog, “they were both extremely shy and struggled to engage. However, as we let them interact and engage at their own comfortable pace, they now join us most weeks. The young man chats and shares jokes and his mum now knits dog sweaters to order for people to buy”
Jo’s go onto say “we are not a large group as such, but I think that this is the reason it is successful. Within the group we provide peer support and a sympathetic/empathetic ear along with some advice as we all have lived experience of mental health. It can become rather intense at times which proves to be challenging so we share our concerns coming to an agreed solution.”
The future plans for the group are to raise some funds to buy some T-Shirts and high-viability jackets for the dogs with the group’s logo on it, to promote the dog walk and wider group activities. They have already had some fundraising success with pamper afternoons, where group members received free hand massages, facials and make-up makeovers. A raffle at these events raised over £70 which will be used to buy the jackets for the dogs.
The Dog Walking Group has provided an opportunity for people to come together, do some light exercise and give and receive peer support to each other. Some group members having joined the group for the dog-walking have gone onto join the other group activities.