I used to hate walking. I’ve got vivid memories of me as a child, struggling, falling, sometimes being mocked because I’ve got an unusual gait. As a teenager walking was a chore, a way of saving bus fare or being with friends when we didn’t have anywhere particular to go. Never an activity of choice. Somewhere, somehow that attitude changed, I can’t remember exactly when but it was probably around the time I moved to Manchester in my mid 20s. I had a whole new city to explore and walking was the best, and easiest, way to immerse myself and experience Mancunian thrills.
Walking helped me feel connected to my new home and I grew to love wandering around, discovering new places and this helped me feel like I belonged. I found my city through walking. Around this time I was also growing concerned about gentrification, commodification and securitisation which were having a negative impact on the urban landscape. I got really interested in psychogeography, using attentive walking to spark your imagination, and help uncover hidden stories on the streets.
In 2006 I founded The LRM (Loiterers Resistance Movement) a psychogeographical collective, free and open to anyone and everyone, who walk together on the First Sunday of every month. We use different creative walking techniques each time, dice, DIY maps, themes, sensations, or games. I’ll write more about The LRM in a future blog, but in essence walking together helped us to make new connections between each other and the places we wander. I also joined The Walking Artists Network and became aware of many brilliant walking artists who inspired me to develop my own performance walks and tours. During the pandemic my attitude to walking changed again and The LRM have used digital tools to stay connected.
I’m really lucky that I have been able to incorporate my love for walking into my work. I’m a part time lecturer at The University of Liverpool where I teach Human Geography and much of my focus is on urban geographies, equality and access. Thinking about how and where people walk can help students work through issues around planning, the environment and who cities are for. My PhD research explored women’s experiences of walking in Manchester and thought about the issues that stop women walking. These include material factors but also harassment and fear, often linked to racism, ageism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, transphobia and other factors which intersect with gender.
I’m passionate about breaking down barriers that stop people walking well. I think we need to take a holistic approach and work in a lot of different ways. This includes improving infrastructure such as pavements alongside facilities such as benches and public toilets. It means encouraging planning and design for people rather than cars. It also encompasses preserving and protecting rights of way and asserting the rights of everybody to be in public space. We also need to be clear that walking includes assistive technologies such as wheelchairs, mobility scooters, orthotics and sticks. I hope Walking Publics/Walking Arts can contribute to this step change towards a more expansive and inclusive definition of walking. I am so glad it is a collaborative project and I’m thrilled to be working with colleagues, partners and advisors who are all active in supporting creative walking. It’s going to be very interesting seeing where the project takes us.