The power of walking and talking

Skirrid Fawr, Brecon

Time to Talk Day, held annually on February 2, is run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. Talking about mental health isn’t always easy, but a conversation has the power to change lives. Here Barrie Llewelyn talks about her own experiences of walking and talking.

“Walking and talking with people who are new to Wales and learning English has become a big part of what we do within the Speak to Me project,” said Barrie.

“During the easing of lockdown restrictions in 2021, going on walks, hikes and trips with people seeking sanctuary, refugees and local English speakers was the only way we could safely meet in person. Although groups such as Café Chit Chat (a women’s group of English learners and English speakers who met online throughout the restrictions) had been successful, it seemed essential that we all got together.  So, we started walking. 

Walk and talk | Barrie Llewelyn and Mike Chick | Skirrid Fawr

“What I have learned in walks in the Brecon Beacons, Bath, Cardiff Bay, Tenby and London is that when we walk together, we also speak to each other in a less formal and scripted way.  During online sessions and in classrooms, my purpose was to explore ways of using English in a creative way. To help everyone involved feel comfortable with this new approach, I planned activities that focused on the good things we have in common, topics like celebration, friendship and food.

“When walking, though, people shared their stories and it happened organically, without any prompts from me. On a walk up Skirrid Fawr in Abergavenny, I remember H telling me:

'In my own language I had a lot of banter and it was fun flirting with boys and chatting with my friends.  Now I am in Wales, I have to communicate in English, as a learner. I don’t sound like myself anymore. I’ve lost my personality and people do not know me.'

“This resonated with me. I, too, have been new to this country and had to make new friends.  But oh boy! I didn’t have to learn a new language in which to communicate who I am.  All I had to learn was the nuance between American English and British English and what ‘cwtch’ means.

Walk and talk | Barrie Llewelyn and Mike Chick | Skirrid Fawr

“When walking together other stories were shared, some of them about the journeys people have undertaken, frustrations with the asylum system and legal processes in this country, and the worry for family members who have been left behind.

“I’m sure that there is something (dare I use the word) liberating about moving forward (walking) and not looking directly at each other that allows us to say things about ourselves we otherwise wouldn’t.  Also, as a language learner, the lack of direct eye contact means, I think, that we are less likely to worry about grammar and word choices – and the judgment of those we are speaking to.

“It reminds me of the driveway moments I have had with one of my children, my husband, my mother, my best friend.  That moment when you pull up and park, but stay in the car and the two of you carry on the conversation you started during the drive.  Not looking at each other is a real good way to solve problems, find understanding and remember the importance of finding a time and a way to talk.”


Barrie Llewelyn, thumbnail photo, Creative Writing lecturer and researcher 

Barrie Llewelyn is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at University of South Wales.  Her current research is focused broadly on creative writing for wellbeing and to aid language acquisition for people seeking sanctuary in Wales.  The Speak to Me Project which includes Walk and Talk outings depends on local English speakers joining in.  If you would like to hear more about upcoming walks and get involved, please contact [email protected]