The fresh air, bouncing off the choppy river, is a welcome relief after a morning spent in front of a computer screen – and clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so.
“It’s easy to forget how many scenic locations Sheffield has a stone’s throw from the city centre,” muses my walking companion as our small group strolls alongside the canal at Victoria Quays.
I couldn’t agree more. I’m one of eight people who have shown for up Aizlewoods Mill’s weekly ‘walk while you talk’ event, and – just 10 minutes into the half hour trek – I can see the appeal.
Lunchtimes at the business centre, on Nursery Street, have just got a whole lot healthier, thanks to the fresh air get-togethers which encourage staff to step away from their desks and join their colleagues on a rousing jaunt around the local area.
The new scheme, which aims to help boost fitness and interaction among the Mill’s staff, is the brainchild of business centre managers Kate Levick and Cath Beatty.
Kate explained: “We have 35 businesses and about 200 people working under one roof at Aizelwoods and our staff were often telling us that they spent their lunchtimes eating a sandwich at their desks and were not having the opportunity to mingle with other tenants during their work day. This can be quite tough, especially for those who work alone or in small numbers.
“We approached the council’s Inmotion team with our idea for tenants to mingle and get fit with lunchtime walks and they immediately offered support under their Walkboost scheme.”
The conventional lunch hour is certainly no longer commonplace in British workplaces, according to Activity Sheffield, who were sent in by the council to organise the walks.
According to their figures, the average UK worker spends just 29 minutes eating lunch, with 60 per cent of those eating at their desks while they work.
Kate, who, along with Activity Sheffield, launched the walks at the beginning of the year, added: “It was tough going at first, trying to prise people away from their desks – especially when it was icy and raining – but gradually the word is spreading and we’re getting a better turnout every week.
“It’s wonderful to see people getting to know each other better, developing useful business contacts, and it’s especially great when we get reports that staff are feeling productive after a good, active break. It’s so easy to say you haven’t got time and just work through, but I think most of us could spare 30 minutes just once a week if we really put our minds to it.”
One lady marching up in front of the pack is Helen Cousins, office manager at HC Stack, who has worked at Aizelwoods Mill for 21 years.
“I’ve always made the effort to get out and walk on my lunch breaks, so this scheme makes complete sense to me,” said the 48-year-old, who works in an office with just two other people.
“It’s been lovely to meet some of my colleagues in the last few weeks and get out walking with other people. I’ve got to know more people from the building in the past two months than I have in the past two decades – it’s fantastic.”
Ben Saxton, a senior associate at Andy File Associates for the past six years, is a newcomer to the walking group. The 35-year-old, of Crosspool, says he also makes the effort to get away from his desk at lunchtime when he can, as it helps him to feel less sluggish in the afternoon.
“This is my first time making it out on the weekly walk, but I always try and leave the building at lunchtime, even if it’s just to grab a sandwich. I find it makes me much more productive in the second half of the day and, if I’ve not managed to get out for some reason, I find myself hitting a wall by about half past three in the afternoon.
“The fresh air clears my mind and I often come back with new ideas, which is great. It’s been really good today to have a chat with other staff from the building and do a bit of networking.”
Todd Micklethwaite, from Inmotion partner Activity Sheffield, is the Walkboost contact and has been leading the Mill walks since the start of January, along with partner Nikki Greenfield. Todd said: “Aizlewoods Mill were the first company to take up the business Walkboost programme in Sheffield and they have been great in helping us to develop the scheme. We’re already working with five other Sheffield companies to implement similar health-networking walks.”
And Todd is adamant the benefits of getting away from your desk for a 30-minute walk at lunchtime can be marked. “Experts suggest walking 6,000 steps a day to improve health and 10,000 steps a day to lose weight. Brisk walking also helps reduce body fat and lowers blood pressure,” he said.
“More than that a break and fresh air, combined with the exercise, has been proven to reduce stress and improve mental and emotional health.”
Walks are held every Wednesday, meeting at Aizlewoods Mill reception at 12pm.