Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - 15:00

Today the Eden Project hosted a celebration for the 10th anniversary of its weekly health walks for people with breathing difficulties.

Since 2005 a group of people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), have been meeting at Eden each week to walk between half and one and a half miles around the site. In that time around 120 group members have benefited from taking part, along with their partners or carers.

Members of the group suffer from a range of lung diseases which cause shortness of breath and limit their ability to exercise, including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Some of them were unable to take more than a few steps without oxygen when they began, but have made great improvements, and are spending less time in hospital.

The initial programme was developed by Eden, the Met Office, the NHS and The Core Fitness and Well-Being Centre in Falmouth.

Eden was chosen as a venue for the group because it offers a challenging yet protected environment. The paths are of varying gradients, yet they are accessible by wheelchair and scooter, and the group can call on an onsite paramedic and minibus if they need to.

There are lots of points of interest along the way to keep the exercise fun too, such as wildlife, flowers in bloom, storytelling, exhibits on site and Eden staff to chat to.

The initial pilot programme ran for a core group of 12 patients which soon increased in number.

In both 2013 and 2014 there were almost 950 walks recorded by a regular group of walkers. Additional members have visited as well for either a specific event, for lunch or simply for pleasure.

Now there is a weekly average of 25 members attending each Tuesday and if the weather isn’t good they can continue their walk in the Mediterranean Biome.

Karen Dawkins, Project Coordinator and Walk Leader at the Eden Project, said: “It has been a pleasure to help and support the COPD walking group that has been coming to Eden over the years for their weekly health walks. Over the 10 years, there have been thousands of individual walks and members who attend come rain or shine.

“When someone says ‘I really didn’t feel like coming in to walk today [due to their symptoms] but I’m so glad I did,’ you know that you’re part of something special. In addition to the numerous health benefits of regular walking, there is a wonderful camaraderie amongst group members and new joiners are always welcome.”

Tim Noble from St Austell, who is one of the original members of the group, said: “People have come and gone for various reasons, but there is a nucleus of us who have continued regularly throughout the years. It’s a bit of a social thing because we are all similar; we understand how we all are.

“I am afraid to say if I didn’t have something like this then I would be very much closed up. It just makes life easier by actually doing something physical. A set walk like we do is really beneficial and the setting makes it for some of us, it really does.”

Helen Tite, from Core Health Consultancy in Truro, said: “I was originally involved in setting up the very first walking group 10 years ago and the only person who could deliver it was a fitness professional, which was me at the time.

“From day one they have been phenomenal and by the sixth week they were already blowing our statistics out of the water and within 12 weeks some of them were walking 20 steps to 5,000 steps, so they made a significant difference to their own health.

“Ten years on and there are still here and they are still walking. Some of the patients who are attending need that social contact and to them this is the highlight of their week. It’s beyond walking - it’s a whole walking experience and a tremendous legacy.”