Laura-Lee's Cotswold Outdoor Belfast Walking Group
Laura-Lee tells us how her walking group brought colleagues from two stores together.
Tell us about your Cotswold Outdoor Belfast walking group.
"It’s really an unofficial mountain group; we call ourselves the Mountain Club. It started with two of the colleagues from the Belfast City store – Lesley and Phil. For his 60th birthday, Lesley decided that he wanted to walk to Everest and then Phil wanted to give it a go too! They started training for that and since I was good friends with them as well as a few others, we started going out walking with them. Some of the colleagues in my store, Belfast Boucher, heard about it and wanted to go walking too, and then customers found out and thought “we could join this group too!”.
It’s very organic in the way it works but now that the guys have successfully been to Everest Base Camp and they’re back from that, the group has continued, and we still go out together. I’m now training for the Fjallraven Classic, one of our colleagues Lesley is doing a hut-to-hut trip in the Dolomites with her son; there are different people doing different adventures and through the group, we’ve just decided to keep the momentum going and just keep walking and enjoying it and doing.
It’s a really lovely shared experience between two of the Cotswold stores. It’s notorious that stores can be a bit competitive with each other but although there’s probably still competition there, when we’re out in the hills we’re all just one team together. We all love the outdoors and we all represent Cotswold Outdoor. We use the kit, we enjoy it and now customers are coming with us as well, it’s just developing into something else. I think we may have to go official with it!"
What do you think are the benefits of bringing store staff together in this way but also allowing the customers to be part of that experience?
"It bridges the gap. It shows that we’re not just staff members representing a company. We’re not just that ordinary company that sells stuff, we also give the advice. We have people from Mountain Leadership backgrounds, and although we’re not going out as Mountain Leaders, to be able to give advice and customers are able to see what we’re wearing or have brought with us, it makes sense. We’re not just trying to sell them stuff because we’re salespeople, we’re selling them stuff because we know it keeps them safe and it gives an enjoyable experience in the hills. That’s what it’s about.
Whenever you hear customers coming into stores and they’re talking about what they’re heading off to do, it can make you feel like you want to do that too! But now, we are doing it together. In a year and half’s time, I’m going to do Dunnalley with one of our really good customers."
What sorts of people do you have coming along?
"The group has everyone from about 19 years old to 65 years old. Age does not come into it at all, it’s just the common goal of enjoying space outside. Conversations go right across all age groups too: we have retired staff from banks, we have students coming in; there’s no ego, it all gets left at the door and everyone just gets on. If you put our group in a room together as strangers, you’d wonder why we’re all together. But when you put us all together in an outdoor environment, it then makes sense. We’re there having a conversation, they’re learning about how the world was in the 70s or the 60s, likewise the older generation is learning from the kids about the latest buzzwords and thinking we’re cool when we really aren’t! So, there’s the Generation X, the millennials, the ‘old people’, silver surfers or whatever you want to call them: they all come together. The younger ones really respond and look up to the older ones because they’re actually the fittest, the strongest and have the most life experience. They motivate the younger ones in the group to want to be like that.
There’s one lady who works with me who we call the mountain goat, because of what she has done; her life experience and motivation are amazing. She works in here five days a week, but her other two days she’s always got something planned whether it’s an overnight camp, a massive cycle or going climbing. On those days where you’re feeling awful, you think, “I can’t just sit on my sofa, Lesley wouldn’t just sit on her sofa, I have to get up and do something even if the weather is bad!”. There is plenty of inspiration within the group and it’s just a really nice, mixed bag of people."
How have people got involved and how can others get involved in the walking group?
"Just ask! Anyone who says they’re interested in going for a walk, every one of us is an admin on the WhatsApp group. Everyone is equal in the group: if I want to invite someone I can, likewise if someone else wants to they can too. If you’re not on WhatsApp and you don’t want to be part of that group, it’s just a text message or phone call or something along those lines. We don’t to make it too regimented that every Thursday we go out walking together. It needs to be one of those things that whenever someone needs to go out walking, we go and if no one’s available through work or family commitments, that’s fine too. But importantly, we know that it’s sitting there in the background, that you’ve always got someone to go and spend time with outdoors."
Where do you walk?
"The walk that we’re on today was my first walk on the Mournes, and that’s the reason I chose to share it with you. It’s the first time I fully fell in love with the Mournes. I’m from the middle of Northern Ireland so I never would’ve travelled to the Mournes because if I was going to go somewhere new, I would go somewhere really far away. But now that I’m living back in Belfast, the Mournes are close, it’s in the neighbourhood. Going there, walking up Hare’s Gap and looking across a brandy pad and down towards the dam, you just stand and think, “this is phenomenal”. It took my breath away and so it’s the first place I like to take anyone who’s never really been in the hills before.
I have a younger cousin and she was always a bit curious about what I did. She’s a gym junkie and she always said she would come out with me some day. When she did, instantly I thought, we’ll go to the Mournes, up Hare’s Gap. It’s not the highest peak for walking but the scenery and the vastness of it, that’s when it takes your breath away. You can go and walk straight up Slieve Donnard and have walked the highest summit in Northern Ireland, but it isn’t as beautiful. Sometimes, going on the smaller routes, you can really see things in a different way."
And when you finish your walks what do you do?
"No matter how much we love the outdoors, by about three quarters of the way through our walk, someone in the group (usually me) will be the first one to say, “Pub?”. We all go to the same bar afterwards, at the foothills of the Mournes; it’s our common place where you’ve got the big open fireplace and we’ll sit there with a beer or a hot drink and we just debrief and go, “it’s been a great day”.
The dogs are with us, everyone’s with us. The staff in the bar will always ask us where we’ve been that day, sometimes they’ll set a bowl of chips in front of us. It’s just that hug after being out, it’s very cosy coming into the bar afterwards and sitting and doing that instead of just getting into our cars and heading off home. It’s lovely to finish off and put a full stop on the day by sitting there round a table and having a summary of our adventure and starting to plan our next trip together. A good walk usually ends up in the pub!"
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