Chris Manley

#walkwithme campaign encourages open conversation

Somerset-based Nuffield Scholar Chris Manley launched the #walkwithme campaign to improve wellbeing through walking and to encourage more open conversations around mental health.

As the son of an East Devon farming family, former Chair of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs and an experienced agricultural manager, Chris is all too aware of the challenges the farming community faces around mental health and wellbeing.

“One of the biggest obstacles farmers face is isolation,” says Chris. “If you’re having a tough time, spending most of the day on your own with few people to talk to, makes it even harder. This, coupled with the unpredictability of farming, means farmers are dealing with a pretty unique challenge when it comes to mental health.”

Having faced his own struggles with depression, Chris found going for a walk every day had a positive effect on how he was feeling. “Outdoor exercise and being out in nature are well known to have a beneficial impact on mental health. For me, a daily walk really helps, and while it may not solve every problem, it certainly plays an important role in my mental health journey.”

Chris was inspired to share his experiences in the hope it might help others, and led him to launch the #walkwithme campaign. The campaign challenges people to go for a walk every day, either on their own, with family or with friends. #walkwithme is about creating time and space for people to be more open with each other, starting a potentially life-changing mental health journey.

“Farmers typically spend much of the day on their feet out on the farm, so may think it’s counterintuitive to go for a walk, but I really encourage them to give it a try. It could be an opportunity to check something around the farm or the chance to catch up with a neighbour or friend; the idea is just to make time for a regular walk and talk. The conversation can be about anything, it doesn’t have to be about mental wellbeing or farming, it’s just about being open and honest.”

As part of the campaign, Chris is also suggesting people create and share their own #walkwithme videos or post photos of their walk on social media: “This not only encourages people to take part in the campaign, it also helps normalise talking about mental health and wellbeing.

“In the farming community there is still a stigma around mental health, and we all need to be responsible for breaking this. Even small steps can play a large role in changing perceptions.”

This is something Chris hopes to address as part of his current Nuffield Farming Scholarship. “My scholarship is about ‘Taking agriculture to the leading edge: What can we learn from the best leaders inside and outside agriculture?’ and I’m particularly focusing on personal leadership.

“I’ve been exploring how people can become better leaders and the role of mental wellbeing. I’ve found that understanding how to look after your own mental wellbeing makes you a better leader, while also sending a message to those you are responsible for, encouraging them to do the same.”

Chris will be presenting his full findings and recommendations at the Nuffield Farming Conference in Exeter later this year.

To join the #walkwithme campaign, share a video or photo on any social media platform using the #walkwithme hashtag. If you feel able, share your reasons for walking or what mental health means to you. Encourage others to join in too. This is an inclusive campaign so if you prefer another type of activity, every contribution is equally valid.