FROM finding a new social group to changing jobs, some of the benefits to participants joining in the Southampton health walks have been quite unexpected!

There are a number of weekly free walks running at various locations across the city, and Jacqueline Tuson, who voluntarily runs a walk on Southampton Common on Tuesday afternoons is soon to launch a new Sunday walk, which she hopes will appeal to those who find themselves at a loose end at the weekend.

Jacqueline, 70, from Bassett, Southampton, began volunteering as a walk leader almost as soon as she retired from her job as a lecturer in business studies and HR, around two and a half years ago.

"I'd always had a very busy working life and I used to walk to work every day," she says.

"I didn't want to feel cooped up and started to put weight on so volunteering seemed like killing two birds with one stone – it gave me a reason to get out and walk on the Common, which I think is Southampton's biggest asset, and also to meet people and be sociable."

Jacqueline says that although she had lived and worked in Southampton for a long time and already had a group of friends, the walks have opened her up to a new social circle and helped her to feel more connected to the city and its community than ever before.

She now hopes that the new Sunday walks, which begin on July 1, will help more people to enjoy the dual benefits of increasing their exercise and sociability.

"Weekends can be difficult for people, perhaps because they are working in the week but find themselves at a loose end at the weekend, or because they don't work and there aren't the same sorts of things on offer to do at the weekend, or they can't afford to pay to do something regularly," she says.

"A lot of people can look at the weekends with a sense of dread. These walks are free, they're central, we have a brisk stroll for an hour and then go and have a cup of tea and a cake, so everyone has a chance to chat."

Recent research has shown that more than a third of us report feeling lonely at least some of the time, while 40 percent of older people say that television is their main form of company.

"Loneliness and isolation are an epidemic of the 21st century," says Jacqueline.

"I think a lot of people feel the urge to get off of social media and meet people in real life. I don't believe that friends on Facebook are the same as friends in real life."

Jacqueline is keen to stress that the walks are for anyone who wants to have some exercise and meet some new people.

"It's great for helping to develop a sense of community," she says.

"It's a great hub for finding out about things that are happening or to find someone to tag along with to something.

"Some people who come to our walks have had dramatic lifestyle changes as a result. We've got people who have changed their careers having talked to someone about their job and friendship groups have sprung up, with people doing everything from going to the cinema to going on holiday together. We haven't had our first walk wedding yet, but you never know!"

For details of free walks in Southampton, visit