Brits are walking more in lockdown, finds WaterAid, as they launch ‘Walk for Water’ with support of walking-enthusiast celebrities

Posted by
Maya Verber
2 March 2021
WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Simon Reeve and Amanda Mealing share the walks that have got them through the pandemic

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Simon Reeve and Amanda Mealing have shared their favourite walks and walking tips in support of WaterAid’s Walk for Water campaign, as the charity reveals that a third of Brits are walking more in lockdown, with many of us planning to keep up our daily walks permanently.  

Through its new fundraising event, the international charity is encouraging people to increase the distance they walk each day in solidarity with millions of women and children who walk every day to get the water they need to survive. 

WaterAid’s survey of 2,000 people in the UK found that the average Brit has spent 45 minutes walking each day in the last year, an increase of around 11% compared to the previous year. Young people were most likely to have increased their step count, with half of adults aged 25-34 walking more during the pandemic compared to just a quarter (26%) of respondents aged 55+. 

The increase was driven partly by a need to stay local and a desire to explore surroundings. A third of people (33%) said they take lockdown walks to support their mental health, and 2 in 5 (42%) walk to support their physical health. One in three people (36%) said working from home has meant they have more time or flexibility to go for a walk. 

But with the pandemic limiting our activities, 1 in 4 (23%) said they are walking less than before, so WaterAid’s Walk for Water is a great way to start getting active again while raising money to help the 1 in 10 people who don’t have clean water close to home. 

To help inspire people to get walking, WaterAid has teamed up with some familiar faces, who have each shared an insight into their daily walks during the pandemic, and the way in which this has impacted their lives.  

Food-writer and broadcaster Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s favourite place to explore is the tangle of bridleways, footpaths and country lanes around his farm in East Devon, where he enjoys spotting wild flowers. His walks have become slower and more deliberate, taking on new meaning over the last year. 

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: 

“My surroundings can be explored in various loops and circles, depending on how long I have and what I am hoping to see. It’s the ‘never the same twice’ factor that I love about it. Or rather, always the same, but always different too. Different light, new things I haven’t seen before, and old familiar features, like trees and streams and stone walls and gate posts, which are always there but change with the weather and the seasons. 

“I’ve always enjoyed being outside, but in the past year I’ve valued that time more than ever. Walking soothes me and gives me hope. I love that WaterAid’s Walk for Water will give people hope too, as they gain access to clean water, and all the potential that can come with this – whether that’s being able to grow your own vegetables; go to work or school – it’s a great incentive to get walking this March.” 

Writer and broadcaster Simon Reeve has forged a career from walking, whether that’s through minefields, over epic landscapes or more recently, along the south coast. He says walking with his dogs Lyla and Obi is what has got him through lockdown, and encourages others to get out and about. 

Simon Reeve said: 

“I’m a huge advocate of the act of walking. You start walking and you lift your gaze, move your body and you start finding a direction and purpose for yourself. It’s what I do when I am struggling with mental health; I start walking and the answers start to come. 

“If that’s not a good enough reason to sign up for WaterAid’s Walk for Water challenge this March, walking to change the lives of those who have to walk mile after mile every day just to find water, it most definitely should be.” 

Similarly, actress Amanda Mealing – who is best-known as Connie Beauchamp in the BBC dramas Holby City and Casualty – enjoys a 2-mile stroll over fields near her home in Lincolnshire most afternoons these days.  

WaterAid ambassador Amanda Mealing said: 

“Living in the countryside, I’m really lucky to have huge fields to walk in. I leave my house, and within 30 metres I am exposed to all of the elements. The sky seems huge and reminds me that I am just a tiny, tiny part of something incredible. 

“I’ll stroll along with my headphones on (more to protect my ears from the chill), listening to some jazz or a Radio 4 play, but watch for hares or deer that often scatter past but mostly I soak up the sky. 

“I used to live in Soho, and would walk everywhere so fast. I was walking down Old Compton St once when I heard this bellowing scouse voice screaming at me. It was Paul O’Grady. He was howling with laughter saying “you walk like you’re furious; like a mother about to have a scrap with another mother in the laundry room about her scraggy kid!” 

Money raised as part of WaterAid’s Walk for Water campaign will help people like Majory, 37, a mother of three from a mountainous village in Zambia who has to do a strenuous uphill trip around six times a day to collect water for her family.  

Majory said:  

“I descend the hill and walk to the water source. It takes me 40 minutes to draw water. The journey is harder when returning home uphill while carrying a bucket full of water. Clean water is life and I'm sure our lives will be better with it.” 

Across the world, the burden of collecting water falls mainly on girls and women who walk spend up to three hours each day (or walk 20,000 steps) on this task alone, often missing out on school or the chance to earn a living. Amanda Mealing visited Ghana in 2019 with WaterAid, and saw first-hand the experiences of those who live and work without clean water close to home.  

Amanda added: 

“I have seen for myself what it is like for those who have to walk to collect water each day. At some of the health centres I visited in Ghana, the midwives had to spend precious time on finding water instead of being there to treat their patients.” 

WaterAid is inviting people to Walk for Water this March, challenging supporters to walk either 4km, 8km or 12km in solidarity with the 785 million people globally who have no access to clean water close to home. Find out more at  


For more information, please contact:  

Maya Verber, Senior Media Officer, [email protected]  

Or call our press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected]  

Notes to Editors 

Survey Methodology
The research was conducted by Censuswide, with 2,000 General Consumer respondents in GB. The survey was conducted from a random sample of UK adults.  Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 27 million people with clean water and 27 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at

  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[3] Prüss-Ustün et al. (2014) and The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2018)

[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage