walk with Ingrid Penny

I meet Ingrid outside the Jubilee Hospital to have a walk and a chat about her work as a Community Health Improvement Advisor in the Upper Marr area. 

She needs to go to the Square, but we take a meandering route to see a bit of Huntly that I haven’t walked through yet. As we walk she tells me about her background, that she started working as an occupational therapist, and then on healthy eating, where she became very aware that diet was matched as a problem by inactivity – that a lot of the people she was working with were totally sedentary and that that was much more of a problem than the food they were eating (even if that wasn’t great).

We talk about her work in the community kitchen in Huntly, running after school cooking clubs, lunch clubs and other groups. Funding cuts mean that she can’t run a regular open session there anymore – the policy is to get things started and then enable volunteers to take over so that the groups run themselves. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t – it just takes one committed person to withdraw for it to fall apart. We talk about the benefits that groups like cooking or walking have – in addition to their primary focus as healthy living activities – that they bring people together and make a safe space for conversation (or sociable quietness).

We talk about food in Huntly (this has been a theme this week!); we talk about the issues around healthy food in rural communities; about the lack of availability of fresh fruit and vegetables, that if you don’t have a car the only thing in walking distance might be a garage (crisps and sausage rolls). We talk about the big supermarkets in Huntly, and how little food they actually have in them. And that they have even less fresh food in them – if you took away all the packaged ready meals there’d be almost nothing left.

We talk about walking in places where most people have cars (need cars), and about the cost of public transport, and how irregular and unreliable it can be. We talk about the cost of food, and how cheap it is to cook from scratch, especially if you don’t use meat (or much meat). We talk about the walking group in Rhynie that Ingrid runs, and the one in Huntly that sort of runs itself now. We talk about attitudes to walking – everyday walking rather than ‘going for a walk’ walking. We talk about the snacks and drinks that mums and kids consume, and about different food cultures across the UK.

We talk about the NHS, and the cost of treating problems (like diabetes) compared to the cost of running preventative programmes like hers, and the difficulty (impossibility?) of demonstrating their success in preventing specific negative outcomes. It’s a beautiful day, warm and breezy. Ruby is asleep in the pram. We arrive in the Square with a little more time before I’m meeting some mums for another walk, so we do an additional loop. We pass a few people that I recognise (already I feel a bit familiar in Huntly). We talk about some very young mums that Ingrid knows of in the town, young women not long out of school.

We talk about motherhood, and older and younger mothers, and how problems don’t necessarily affect the people that you might expect. We talk about people being thrown together with others they would never otherwise have met – and how good that can be for everyone – a wake up call to see a little of how other people live, what they contend with, how they are getting by. We talk about the problems of artists (and others) running short term projects and interventions – that they’re just getting started – just becoming familiar and settling, then they disappear and leave a hole. We talk about the outcomes that I’m hoping to achieve from the project, and how they might have impact beyond the time that I’m here (which is rapidly running out). We talk about ways that she could use some of the mapping and route making that I’ve been working on with some of her groups.

We sit on a bench in the Square for a minute, one of the mums I am expecting for the walk arrives.