HOW do most office workers spend their lunchtime?

It’s a fair bet to say they make a quick dash to the sandwich shop or bank, and back.

But in Bradford there is a growing band of people who leave their computer screens and head out to walk around the city, discovering places they may not have visited before.

“We recently walked around Little Germany and through the grounds of Bradford Cathedral, learning a little about the history of both places,” says Victoria Sayers-Snowden of Bradford Council’s health improvement team, who leads a group of colleagues on walks during their lunch breaks. “

The walks, which are organised by Council employees, have helped towards the local authority gaining Walk Friendly Workplace accreditation.

This month saw the Council officially recognised as a Walking Workplace. This month it will train up 12 employee walk leaders and following this there will be more employee-led walks.

Working in partnership with UK walking charity Living Streets and West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s £60million CityConnect programme aimed at encouraging more people to walk and cycle, the Council is urging staff to get more active and walk more during their working day.

From workplace challenges to led walks, walking maps and even on-site improvements, Walk Friendly Workplaces strive to make travelling on foot an easy and convenient option, support staff to be more active and have staff championing walking and its benefits.

This may involve, if possible, walking or cycling as part of the commute to work. Says Victoria: “I used to drive into Bradford from Keighley every day. Some days, in heavy traffic, the journey could take up to 90 minutes. My husband and I each had a car but when I changed jobs we decided that we could manage with one. Now I walk or cycle to the station, take the train, and walk to the office at the other end.

She adds: “I also walk during my lunch break. I definitely feel a lot healthier - I am meeting my 30 minutes of physical activity just by walking.”

The Government recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as cycling or brisk walking, every week.

The Council has held two ‘walk doctor’ events in Council offices, in which staff from Living Streets spoke to employees about the possibilities of walking to work.

Walking meetings are also seen as a way forward. Says Victoria: “You don’t always need a meeting room. You can talk as you walk, maybe around City Park.”

Bradford’s four GreenLine Mile routes - mile-long circular routes aimed at encouraging more people to walk, jog or run around the city - can also be used for exercise.

“It is about changing behaviour,” adds Victoria.

Since being awarded accreditation the Council will this month train up 12 employee walk leaders and following this there will be even more employee-led walks across the Council this year.

Naina Shah, a senior Learning and Development Technician with Bradford Council, also walks to work. “I have always walked into work from the day I started about 17 years ago, whether it’s raining, snowing or sunny,” she says. “I used to drop my children off at the local primary school and head straight towards town, instead of the bus stop. As they got older I got used to walking so I carried on. Waiting for the bus and getting into town takes me 30 minutes and if I walk it takes the same time. It is good exercise and I feel fresh when I arrive at work.”

With support from the CityConnect team, Bradford Council has organised guided lunchtime walks for staff and hosted events offering expert advice to employees about how walking can benefit their health and wellbeing.

Councillor Sarah Ferriby, portfolio holder for healthy people and places, said: “We are already seeing staff taking up this initiative as several lunchtime walking groups have been set up.

“Staying well starts with living well and physical activity is a great way to stay healthy and feel better.”

Cycling too is included in the initiative. “It is thinking about the environment,” says Victoria Victoria Sayers-Snowden. “Since I have stopped travelling to work by car I am much more aware of pollution and clean air. It brings it to the forefront of your mind.”

Cllr Kim Groves, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Committee, said: “Walking can help reduce the risk of preventable diseases, inspire creativity, and reduce stress, as well as reducing travel costs and improving air quality.

“Encouraging more people to walk all or part of their commute, or during lunch breaks, can also help maintain a happy, health and collaborative workforce, which benefits businesses too.

“It’s great to see Bradford Council joining other organisations across our region doing their bit to encourage more of us to build walking into our daily lives.”