Kirkby Stephen is a small market town in Cumbria. Many folk from the walking world will know Kirkby Stephen because of the Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk which passes through the town. It is a popular place little tourist town as well as home to around 2,500 people.

Kirkby Stephen
Kirkby Stephen

In November 2019 the chair of Cumbria Westmorland Federation of WIs gave members a challenge to do something which would have an impact on their community and help to combat loneliness. This led to the development of a map showing all the benches on 60 sites in and around Kirkby Stephen, including 6 ‘Happy to Chat’ benches. These short accessible walks give people the confidence of knowing where their next bench is as well as the opportunity to meet others.

The Kirkby Stephen Bench Walk

A Kirkby Stephen Dementia Awareness Day organized by Kellie Bradburn-Sims Cumbria County Council Development Officer (Eden), brought together the groups who became the partners for this Bench Walk Project.

Ann Sandell and her Walkers are Welcome team, arranged three exploratory walks together with our partners and members of the WI in February. They and the Town Council were surprised to find that there are over 80 benches on 60 sites, when it was thought there may be 20 or 30!

The aim of the project is to enable less mobile people in the community to enjoy the benefits of short accessible walks
This led to the creation of the Kirkby Stephen Bench Walk Map. Talented artist Ann Sandell created black and white images of six well known sites around the town on the walk and also the design for the ‘Happy to Chat’ plaque. ‘Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello.’

Decorated Happy to Chat

Since the onset of Covid-19 the need for and the benefits of daily exercise and social interaction, particularly outdoors are now even greater. The Bench Walks Project encourages people to do both. Since the launch of the project, feedback has been very positive from residents and visitors alike. One couple said that the best day of their holiday was doing the Bench Walk.

Eight months of meetings, planning, recording and partnership working, positivity and determination have been the key to the success of this project. It was led by leaders in the local Women’s Institute and Walkers are Welcome but supported and ultimately funded by professional organisations. Meetings at a welcoming local café avoided room hire costs.

The final months of planning took place during the initial Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown. Nevertheless, it demonstrates the imagination, positivity and networking of the Partners.

For more information about the Bench Walk please contact The Kirkby Stephen Walker Are Welcome via their Facebook Page.

Kirkby Stephen Bench Walks
Download the leaflet (PDF).