A Fife charity worker who runs a walking group to help migrants boost their health, social life and spoken English has been named as the first-ever overall champion of the Scottish Walking Awards.

The panel of expert judges were wowed by Magdalena Augustyn-Lygas’ successful coordination of Sole Sisters community health walk project, run by Fife Migrants Forum.

Magdalena scooped the Community Walking Champion and Overall Champion titles, following more than 160 entries being submitted to ten categories earlier this spring.

Nominations included everything from businesses, councils, land managers and housing associations to the journalists, staff and local volunteers who are inspiring others to step out.

Lee Craigie, who is Scotland’s Active Nation Commissioner and chaired the judges, said: “Magdalena, and the wider Sole Sisters project, champion the impact that walking can have on health, social connection and wellbeing in all that they do. We were incredibly impressed by Magdalena’s focus on ensuring the benefits of walking reach a truly diverse audience, and keeping it going during the pandemic.”

The Sole Sisters project brings together women from the migrant and local community through walks in Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline, providing regular health walks and conversation cafes, enabling participants to make social connections and build confidence speaking English. During the pandemic, Magdalena has worked tirelessly to keep the project going, organising online workshops and group activities wherever restrictions allowed. Recently, she has supported the Scottish Health Walk Network to translate Paths for All’s health walk advice into nine new languages to reach even more people across Scotland.

Magdalena said: “I am delighted to win this award, for the work we have done through the Sole Sisters walking group. The project has been really important for reducing barriers to walking for migrant women, increasing cultural understanding and reducing isolation, and increasing physical and mental wellbeing.

“While it has been challenging to keep the work going during the pandemic, we are so pleased with what the project has been able to achieve. Sole Sisters is not only about walking, but also about building strong, lasting relationships within the community.”

As well as Overall Champion, ten other outstanding individuals, companies and projects were named as category winners for their efforts to support people to walk more:

  • Public Sector Walking Champion:
    #DGMilesforSmiles in Dumfries & Galloway. This walking project has received excellent community buy-in and built links with schools.
  • Community Walking Champion:
    Magdalena Augustyn-Lygas in Fife.
  • Business Walking Champion: 
    Milngavie Business Improvement District in East Dunbartonshire. This project brought together business, council and community representatives to develop and promote walking throughout the town.
  • Walking Research / Innovation:
    Out There Award across Scotland. Ramblers Scotland’s free award helps 18 to 26-year-olds kick-start their journey into the outdoors, while learning skills, meeting friends and getting active.
  • Most Improved Walking Place:
    Auchmountain Glen Project in Inverclyde. This volunteer-led project delivered significant improvements for walkers, such as installing walkways while tackling antisocial behaviour to transform a former ‘no go area’ into a community asset.
  • Land Manager Walking Champion:
    Alcan Aluminium (UK) Ltd in Fife. The company has given significant support to communities to develop accessible routes near its lochs and land that encourage walking and wheeling.
  • Walking Champion in Education:
    Cara McBrearty, Active Schools Co-ordinator in North Lanarkshire. She has helped teenage girls get walking with her initial project at one school now rolled out to another ten schools,- with S6 girls trained to offer peer support as walk leaders.
  • Healthcare Professional Walking Champion:
    Dr. Katie Walter in the Highlands. She campaigns and advocates for improved walking across the Highlands and beyond, regularly engages politicians, fellow health professionals and press.
  • Social Housing Association Walking Champion:
    Cassiltoun Housing Association in Glasgow. The association has worked hard with its community to enhance the physical environment and encourage people to walk and use the greenspace.
  • Media / Online Walking Champion:
    Ross Cunningham in Fife. He has had great success using his Mountains Mend Minds social media platform to help people improve their mental health through hillwalking, in particular supporting men who can be reluctant to discuss such issues.

Craig McLaren, chair of the National Walking Strategy Delivery Forum, said: “The range of projects nominated for the first Scottish Walking Awards shows that there is fantastic work happening all over Scotland, with community projects at the heart of a movement to get people walking. Projects like these are vital for keeping our communities active and connected and we were so pleased to see so many worthwhile nominations and winners.”

The Scottish Walking Awards are organised by Paths for All, Ramblers Scotland, and Living Streets, in conjunction with the National Walking Strategy Delivery Forum. The winners are announced as part of National Walking Month.

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