Case Study: Lincolnshire Wolds Walking Festival
The success of the Lincolnshire Wolds Walking Festival Partnership, currently hosted via Heritage Lincolnshire (HL) has been heavily dependent upon a wide partnership of organisations including East Lindsey District Council, West Lindsey District Council, Lincolnshire Wolds Countryside Service, Lincolnshire County Council, East Lindsey Heart Support Group and the Lincolnshire Ramblers.
The Steering Group has had an excellent track record in securing external funding to ensure the continuation of the Festival, including welcomed contributions from LEADER, the local Healthy Walking programmes and the AONB Partnership (Lincolnshire Wolds Joint Advisory Committee). The Group has developed its own robust Business Plan to help explore new avenues of funding, including reviewing charging for some activities and developing on-line giving and corporate sponsorship.
What was done
The annual Lincolnshire Wolds Walking Festival comprises a programme of events run over two weeks during May-June and has just completed its 12th consecutive year. Typically, the Festival offers upwards of 100 walks each year and attracts between 4,000-5,000 participants. It begins with a Festival Launch event and concludes with a Finale with a suite of walks offered from a particular venue, and additional attractions provided during the day.
The Festival is one of the largest and well attended events of its kind in the UK – delivering 16 days of inspirational walking activity across the Lincolnshire Wolds AONB. It offers a great way for everyone to discover and enjoy a beautiful landscape with its rich wildlife, culture and heritage. The LWWF Partnership has been keen to reach out to new audiences and questionnaire feedback is invited from all the participants, walk leaders and event organisers to help regularly review the programme. In any given year 1000+ forms are returned so evaluation is time-consuming but very important in terms of assessing performance and generating fresh ideas.
The Partnership is keen that EVERYONE should be able to take part so a number of the walks start and finish using public transport, others try and make full use of ‘access for all’ opportunities, including trialing an all-terrain hopper in 2016. Volunteers and landowners play a key role in both organising and promoting the Festival. A wide range of walks and activities are offered to cover for as many different ages and abilities as possible. A number of events are marketed as ‘talking walks’, to help promote and inspire interest in the wide range of special qualities of the area – for example the many deserted medieval villages found across the Wolds or the area’s strong links to the Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Other walks may include activities such as stream dipping from one of the many Lincolnshire Chalk Streams; mini-beast and plant spotting along one of the Wolds many green lanes or peaceful churchyards; or geocaching trails for the more technically-minded.
The Steering Group includes volunteer healthy-living representatives and this has been invaluable in tailoring specific events to help publicise and promote specific healthy life style choices. These have included:
- the setting up of blood pressure testing and the provision of free fresh fruit at key events
- promoting the benefits of walking as a means of increasing daily exercise, including access to more strenuous walking through for example tasters for Nordic style walking
- the mental and social benefits that come from a support network – leading to increase activity through regular walking either informally or via local Healthy Walking networks and programmes
- promoting the benefits of healthy eating – including access to locally produced good food via Tastes for Lincolnshire/Select Lincolnshire branding.
This has included regular farmer-led walks to help promote the importance of sustainable farming in the context of the Lincolnshire Wolds.
The Lincolnshire Wolds Walking Festival was one of the first such initiatives to be developed and has grown into a valued part of the AONB’s calendar – for businesses, residents and visitors alike. Since its inception in 2005, there have been over 37,000 participants.
A large proportion of walks are delivered by volunteers, with additional input from local authorities and a large number of partner organisations such as the National Trust, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and the Louth Navigation Trust. The Festival programme is largely devised from the proposals of walk leaders, with additional elements (such as ‘access for all’) developed by the Steering Group. Annual Spring Social and September Meetings ensure that volunteer leaders meet and exchange ideas and experiences, contributing directly to the year on year development of the Festival.
Festival feedback is high, with typically around 25% of participants responding per walk. Invited to rate their walk experience, in the last three years around 85% stated that it was Very Enjoyable, with a further 12% stating that it was Fairly Enjoyable. Only 1% state that their experience was Not Very Enjoyable. About three quarters of respondents state that they have attended previous Festivals, demonstrating that the event attracts return visits; but in turn also indicating that our marketing continues to be effective in attracting 25% new attendees each year.
The event successfully engages older people, with around 45% aged 61-70 and a further 15% aged 71 and over. Around 50% of participants are ‘leisure walkers’ comfortable walking 3-8 miles, with a further 40% who regard themselves as ‘experienced walkers.’ Only 10% are less able or confident to walk up to 3 miles, but anecdotal evidence shows that participants use the Festival to build their confidence and stretch themselves from short to longer walks. Other walkers are proud of their achievement in walking, typically, 130 – 150 miles during the Festival.
Most of the walks are free, although a number of them invite donations for local charities and projects. The Festival annually generates around £42,000 secondary spend on local businesses, not including fuel or overnight stays.
The Festival benefits from a very stable infrastructure, with long-term support from Steering Group partners and similar investment from volunteer walk leaders. The commitment of volunteers is crucial to the success of the Festival, providing administrative and practical support for the event in addition to developing, planning, promoting and leading the walks.
Without the volunteers’ support, enthusiasm and fresh ideas we wouldn’t have a Festival that can continue to go from strength to strength or one that is willing to take new risks – for example experimenting with offering cycle rides and continuously seeking new ways to engage younger people, families and people with special needs.
The project aims to be as democratic as possible, and the annual September Meeting provides a forum for reviewing annual feedback, identifying challenges and discussing future plans. Walk leaders also have a direct line of communication with the Festival Co-ordinator, who sends out regular updates, advice and reminders.
The opportunity for participants to discover and share in some of the hidden delights of the Lincolnshire Wolds, in the company of experienced and knowledgeable walk leaders, is enhanced by the social aspect of the Festival. Time and again people return to take part, meet old friends and discover new ones. A sense of camaraderie always pervades, particularly when it’s raining!
Quote from project manager:
“The Lincolnshire Wolds Walking Festival attracts tremendous support and appreciation from participants and effectively contributes to the health agenda by promoting the benefits of walking, whilst also providing lifelong learning experiences in the realms of landscape and heritage” – Nicki Jarvis, Festival Co-ordinator
Quote from participant:
“As always the Festival was brilliant and well organised – met nice people, I’ll be back”.
– LWCS Annual Review 2014-15
Key search words: Health and Well-being, Festivals, Lincolnshire Wolds, Walking / Recreational Activities
Photo Credits: Lincolnshire Wolds AONB Partnership, Bob Wayne