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Harrow mum takes strides to support thousands of new parents

A mum from Harrow has transformed her passion for outdoor walks with her baby into Blaze Trails, a pioneering social enterprise.

This new venture encourages new parents nationwide to engage in physical activity to support their mental health. In line with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme, ‘Movement: Moving more for our mental health,’ Katy O’Neill Gutierrez, from Harrow, is actively promoting the benefits of walking.

Blaze Trails, founded by Katy, has rapidly expanded into a community of 10,000 members with 70 walking groups in just three years. Initially struggling to find a parent and baby walking group after her first daughter’s birth in 2018, Katy’s frustration led her to leave her senior role at a national children’s charity following the birth of her second daughter in 2020. She then established Blaze Trails to offer support and connect like-minded parents through walking groups.

Harrow mum takes strides to support thousands of new parents Harrow Online
Image: BlazeTrails

Katy said: “There’s a lot of evidence that postnatal mental health issues were increasing before Covid but they went through the roof afterwards because a lot of the existing support systems fell away and haven’t come back.

“As lockdown partially lifted, it very quickly emerged that walking was the only thing that any of us could do. I created a parent and baby walking group that would allow parents who were in desperate need of connection and support to come together in a really difficult period. Within two months, more parents around the UK contacted me for support with setting up their own local walking groups”

Blaze Trails is now taking over the country with 100 volunteer organisers running groups from Yorkshire to Devon and an online community of parents supporting each other and accessing information for getting out into nature with babies.

Katy said: “New parents in our community often talk about feeling overwhelmed or lonely when looking after their baby primarily at home. We know that getting outside, even for a short while, can do wonders for our mental health and ability to cope. We encourage parents to leave the dishes and the four walls of home behind. Go out for a couple of hours with your baby. It will do you a lot of good, it will do your baby good, it will do your family relationships a lot of good.

“You don’t need a big hiking bag or lots of fancy kit to get started. Make sure you and your baby are comfortable and protected from the elements. Put some shoes on and just get out of your front door – start small even if it means you only go down to the end of the road. You’ll soon be able to achieve longer and more adventurous walks.

“Babies often like being outside, they may sleep or be occupied by the sights and sounds of nature. When they get a bit older and can look around, it’s really good stimulation. And then as they get to toddlerhood, you have nurtured in them that love and comfort in the outdoors which has great physical and mental health benefits for them too.

“A massive part of walking for our community is the social nature of it without the pressure of traditional indoor baby groups. A lot of people have said it has helped them find their community. They have made friends for life, been on camping holidays together and been to each others’ weddings.

“For some people, as they finish formal support for serious postnatal depression, Blaze Trails has helped them almost reintegrate into society. Others have said that being part of a Blaze Trails walking group has helped support their more positive mental wellbeing so that they haven’t needed to seek formal support ”

Harrow mum takes strides to support thousands of new parents Harrow Online
Image: BlazeTrails

Katy was able to scale up her parents walking group thanks to £18,000 funding from UnLtd, a charity which funds and supports social entrepreneurs tackling the key issues facing society. The funding Katy received was part of their Movement for Change programme run in partnership with Sport England.

Katy added: “Working with UnLtd and Sport England through Movement for Change just feels right. The funding has completely changed our trajectory. It came through at the perfect time to ensure we can keep offering parents and babies the support that they need to keep moving for good mental health.”

Mark Norbury, chief executive of UnLtd, added: “Social entrepreneurs from our Movement for Change programme are tackling inequalities and mental health challenges with inspired wellbeing solutions and activities. They are making a powerful difference in communities – at a time when so many of us have been struggling. We’re excited to support many more social entrepreneurs with Sport England.”

For more information on Blaze Trails visit: www.blazetrails.org.uk

To find out how you can apply for the Movement For Change fund go here: www.unltd.org.uk/awards/movement-for-change

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