diamond geezer

 Monday, December 17, 2012

What's going on with Walk London?

That's the ten-year-old organisation charged with developing, improving and promoting London’s top seven walking routes. From the Capital Ring to the Jubilee Walkway, someone has to keep the paths waymarked, diversions logged and ensure that the public knows where each route goes. There are signposts to check, downloadable leaflets to update and promotional activities to undertake. Just, it seems, not so much lately.

The Walk London website was revamped last year, from a fairly bespoke site to something that wouldn't need updating so often. All the pages for all sections of all walks were set out identically, with generic links banished to a left and right margin. Printable maps were hidden behind a link that said "leaflets", and route directions became available as a separate pdf. Where proper (glossy) section-by-section leaflets had once been sent out by post, these were discontinued and a series of bland overview leaflets made available instead. Now even these have faded away, partly because paper's a thing of the past, but also to save a large chunk of money.

The website used to have a news section, but that completely disappeared in the revamp. Walk London used to run weekend rambles, about fifty different walks three times a year, but those haven't restarted since January. Lots of fresh information was posted when the Jubilee Greenway was launched in the summer, including a full set of innovative video descriptions. There was a flurry of Olympic walking activity, indeed the Walk London website had all the most accurate information about which parts of the Greenway and adjacent footpaths would be closed when. But nobody's been back and updated the information since, and the lengthy spiel on "Temporary diversions" is now weeks and months out of date.

Walk London's Twitter feed last tweeted over a month ago. There were just two tweets in September and three in October, compared with, say, 28 in March. It's as if whoever was responsible for the account has lost interest, or isn't even there any more. More of the action switched over to Facebook, which is the new default option for public organisations who can't be bothered to maintain their own web presence any more. But even that stuttered to a halt in the middle of last month, with not a single promotional message since.

Walk London used to employ a number of staff. I met a few at the Thames Festival several years ago, back in the days when public bodies made an effort at this Mayoral event. They had people to spare, and leaflets-a-go-go, and a positive perambulation message to impart. I wonder where all those people went. There again, the campaign's always officially been an offshoot of Walk England, a group of professional nationwide encouragers, and they're still going strong. And TfL still contribute a non-zero part of their budget to support the campaign, so all should be well.
"Outcome monitoring on the Walk London network is undertaken annually to assess the effectiveness of TfL's investment and to confirm progress against the 2012 delivery deadline."
But where are they now? I'm not complaining, merely asking. Did they make everyone at Walk London redundant? Did whoever's in charge of marketing lose interest? Is there no more money left? Did everything peak for the Olympics? Or have we just entered a long seasonal void where it's assumed nobody goes walking any more?

Most importantly, is anybody still out there, paid or otherwise, keeping an eye on London's 390-mile long network of strategic walks? I had a lovely stroll along one of them at the weekend, and I probably wouldn't have thought to go, nor followed the right route, without Walk London's extended input. The capital's best walking project could easily fade away without due care and attention. It would be such an easy thing to lose. Fingers crossed that won't be happening any time soon.

12 noon update: Hurrah.

Indeed, double hurrah.

3pm update: Not so hurrah. In the comments, Rob says, "Poor old Walk London has had its budget and staff slashed. I think they are doing the best that they can on the resources available. I used to be a volunteer Route Ranger on the London LOOP but last year we were all told that they could no longer afford the public liability insurance to keep us on. A great shame, but it seems walking for leisure has dropped way down TfL's priority list."

Tuesday update: A response from Amanda Searle at Walk England
Thanks for raising the question 'What's going on with Walk London ?'! We're delighted to say that last week Walk England and TFL agreed the 2012/13 contract. From March 2012 until this point Walk England have been managing the website, social media channels and email enquiries as a gesture of goodwill. The budget to March 2013 has now been confirmed. It is reduced from previous years but happily we are able to put on a free walking weekend in January. We are also delighted to say that meetings have been arranged with TFL in January to discuss next year's budget. We are optimistic. Covering another of your points: The Boroughs are now responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the routes. We pass any problem reported to Walk London on to them. I hope this goes some way to shedding light on the situation. Thanks.

Friday update: The list of 33 Winter Wanders guided walks is now available. There'll be several short strolls in town, some meatier suburban hikes, plus a special booking-required look inside Crossness Pumping Station. Stick the 26th and 27th of January in your diary.

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