Linda Walmsley is a health and wellbeing facilitator for survivors at anti-trafficking charity City Hearts.
Having struggled with her own mental health during lockdown Linda has embraced running to beat the blues.
Linda, who is currently working from home in Hoyland Common, Barnsley, is 39 and lives with her three children Callum 19, Jasmine 16 and six-year-old Jada.
“I returned to education later in life to study Education, Childhood and Culture at the University of Sheffield,” explains Linda.
“I became a mature student ambassador and the first-ever student to have a work placement at City Hearts. When I graduated three years ago, I continued volunteering at the charity alongside my job as a temporary supply teacher. Just before the first lockdown, the health and wellbeing co-ordinator encouraged me to apply for a role at City Hearts. I was thrilled to be successful, but had to delay my start until July because of the pandemic.”
So many people’s mental health has been affected by lockdown, it is unsurprising that those who have already been held captive against their will became even more traumatised when they could not leave their safe houses.
“I see every day how my role really makes a difference,” says Linda. “Even something as simple as going for a walk with a client increases their wellbeing – and helps me too.The isolation of some clients caused them to have suicidal thoughts. Decisions about whether they could stay in the UK or would be sent back to their country of origin have been slower or up in the air with the various agency staff working from home. Clients struggled with the uncertainty without people to talk their fears through with, especially if there was a language barrier.”
Telephone calls, though important, were just not the same, so when Covid guidance allowed two people to walk together, Linda decided to go for walks with some of the people helped by the charity.
“Clients said our walks became something for them to look forward to. A reason to get dressed and make an effort. One of my clients had twins and even in the rain, she would wrap her babies up and off we would go. I was fortunate to be classed as a key worker, so my little girl could go to school and had a letter of permission in case we were stopped.”
Back in the first lockdown, Linda admits her own mental health dipped.
“At that time we were only allowed one activity per day and I had kids at home to look after and school. I found I had slipped into getting up late, so I decided I would start running. A friend at church called Kayla Kavanagh founded a virtual group called Mothers Runners to get fitter and do a Mud Challenge. She invited me to join and before I knew it, I had started setting a 6.30am alarm on my phone to go for a run before the kids were up.
“At first we put our virtual runs on Facebook to prove we had gone out. I started with the Couch to 5k programme and took pictures of my activity using the Strava app on my phone. When we could meet outside again as lockdown regulations relaxed, we started running in twos and now sixes. I can’t thank Kayla enough for setting up the group, she has helped so many people who were just stuck in their house.
“I feel so much better in myself, running and getting fitter has really boosted my confidence. At Christmas I even did my first ever competitive fun run. I used to be always on the go, overdoing things for others. I have realised it’s not selfish to look after ourselves. Keeping my mental health strong, helps my clients and kids too. I’m trying to get my son and friends to join in now”.
Like many people, Linda noticed in this third lockdown that her motivation to run had reduced.
For the next two weeks, City Hearts’ supporters will be embarking on a two-week virtual journey of 103,488 steps to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to raise fund for the Sheffield charity.
“When I heard about Sofa to Summit, I saw it as a great way to reclaim my mojo and raise money for a vital cause. I was encouraged when many of my friends at Mothers Runners got involved or sponsored me towards our goal of £62,000, including our inspiring founder, Kayla,” says Linda. “Every day I see how the money we raise can make such a massive difference in our clients’ lives.”
City Hearts’ head of development, Phill Clayton explained where the money will be spent.
“A cross-section of our staff came up with the idea of a ‘Restoration Hub’ in our new innovation group, basically a storehouse from which we could provide packs which give people back their dignity. We’re aiming to raise a total of £62,000, which will cover the costs of the hub set up and running for the first year.”
Linda adds: “They usually arrive at the safe house with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. When they are sufficiently recovered to leave, the new Restoration Hub will provide things they need to begin a new life in society, so they aren’t starting with nothing.
“As a mum myself, I have cried that there are mothers we know who are sharing their mattress with two kids, doing without basic things like a hoover or microwave, things we take for granted. Every penny our supporters help us raise will make a massive difference in our clients’ lives while they get fitter. It’s a definite win-win.”
Founded 15 years ago, over the past five years alone, City Hearts have supported over 3,000 men, women and children who are the victims of modern-day slavery.
750 have been helped by the charity’s Safe House programme.
1,950 are receiving help and support from the charity’s outreach programmes.
260 survivors have transitioned from City Hearts’ safe houses into the community through the charity’s Integration Support Programme.
42 survivors have been supported into work through the Bright Future employment programme, which is partnered by the Co-op and City Hearts.
80 women with life-controlling issues such as alcohol or drug addiction, OCD and eating disorders, as a result of being forced into modern slavery, have been cared for in residential programme.
Over 14 days, from April 19 to May 2, City Hearts supporters will be virtually climbing 49 miles to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro
The best individual fundraiser will receive a year’s supply of chocolate from sponsor, Tony’s Chocolonely.
To find out more, visit https://cityhearts.enthuse.com/cf/sofa-to-summit
To sponsor Linda https://cityhearts.enthuse.com/pf/linda-walmsley