Clare joins Walkers are Welcome network
- Credit: Archant
A town has become the first west Suffolk community to gain accreditation to a national walking scheme.
Step by step, the Walkers are Welcome initiative is striding out across Suffolk - encouraging local people and visitors alike to enjoy the county’s landscapes, heritage and wildlife while boosting local economies with much-needed extra revenue.
The county can now boast two Walkers are Welcome communities - Clare having received full accreditation in the fast-growing national scheme to follow in the footsteps of pioneering Shotley. Eye will be Suffolk’s third accredited community and several others have already set out on the same path.
Clare, a community steeped in history and nestled in stunning Stour Valley countryside, celebrated its accreditation last week with a formal launch at the town’s Bell Hotel and, inevitably, a stroll around some of Clare’s many key heritage assets.
The community has joined the Walkers are Welcome initiative having established a firm foundation of walking interest in recent years.
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Derek Blake, chairman of the thriving Clare Walkers group and a driving force in establishing the community as a Walkers are Welcome town, said the accreditation was “born of Clare’s wonderful country park.”
The community had taken ownership of the park in recent years and the move had given impetus to Clare’s already strong focus on the benefits of walking.
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“Local community ownership of the park has totally re-energised it and there is great affection for it. There is a strong community spirit here and walking has really caught the mood in Clare.
“Our Walkers are Welcome accreditation’s been worked for for about 18 months and we’ve been in partnership with our local business association, the town council and others and there is great support for it. We are delighted to join the charity as the first place in west Suffolk to do so and only the second place in the whole of Suffolk.”
He added that Clare had staged a “Walkers are Welcome coup” thanks to a “one-woman crusade” by its county councillor Mary Evans. Thanks to her efforts, three Walkers are Welcome signs would be displayed on roadsigns on the two A roads and the B road leading into the town, he said.
The launch was attended by about 60 people, including South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge and representatives of Ramblers, One Life Suffolk, Nordic Walking East Anglia and other partner organisations.
Mr Cartlidge, recently appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, spoke of the health and wellbeing benefits of walking. He told the launch that the debate about such aspects of the NHS as funding and staffing levels was “incredibly important” but “sometimes we do not hear enough about the preventative agenda.”
Initiatives such as Walkers are Welcome helped to promote healthy lifestyles, offering benefits for mental and physical health. “I am really keen to endorse it and to get involved in it,” he added.
In a message to the launch, Walkers are Welcome patron Kate Ashbrook said: “I send mu sincere congratulations to Clare on becoming the first Walkers are Welcome town in west Suffolk and the second in Suffolk, joining the growing alliance of East Anglian towns.
“With your Walkers are Welcome status you will help to pit Suffolk on the walkers’ map as a county of immense beauty, variety and interest - for its wildlife, history and fine landscapes.
“By encouraging people to visit and walk your paths you will help to keep them open for all to enjoy.”
Walkers are Welcome status is awarded to towns and villages that support walkers by meeting national criteria such as producing leaflets, maps and other information, organising walks, helping to maintain footpaths and ensuring that cafes, pubs, shops and B&Bs give walkers a warm welcome. The national self-governing scheme is run by the charity Walkers are Welcome CIC and began in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, in 2007. It now has a membership of more than 100 towns and villages.
Clare’s launch was preceded by a meeting of the Suffolk Walkers are Welcome Alliance that includes Snape, Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds, who are working towards accreditation, as well as Shotley, Clare and Eye. The meeting, facilitated by the Green Access Team at Suffolk County Council, heard that Eye had just become the third location in Suffolk to gain the award.
For more information about the initiative, visit www.walkersarewelcome.org.uk