A Welwyn Garden City woman who was once too nervous join a walking group has now set up her own local group to encourage people to go outside and talk about their mental health.

Nikki Vasco, a 41-year-old based in Panshanger, explained how mental health wellness became one of her priorities after going through a difficult time.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: The group on a walk around Stanborough LakesThe group on a walk around Stanborough Lakes (Image: Nikki Vasco)

She said: "Like most people, my mental health has gone up and down throughout my life.

"I’ve had a lot of support for my mental health and I’ve become really interested in finding out more about how my brain works and how to support myself."

Nikki joined Mental Health Mates, a network of peer support groups run by people who experience mental health issues who meet to walk, connect and share.

However despite knowing about MHM for years, Nikki didn’t feel confident enough to go to a walk.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: A view from one of their walksA view from one of their walks (Image: Nikki Vasco)

"Then a group in Stevenage started just as lockdown was easing off earlier this year. So I went along even though I was really nervous. Everyone was so friendly and supportive, they all understand how scary it can be joining a new group," Nikki said.

"It was really helpful to just be able to walk and chat with people who understood a bit about what it’s like having mental health problems. I’ve now made some good friends from the group, which is something I usually find hard because of my mental health."

Having felt her own situation improve from her experiences with Stevenage group, Nikki decided to set up the group in Welwyn Garden City because she wanted more peer support to be available in Herts.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Mental Health Mates believes that mental illness magnifies through isolation and that getting connected is one of the first steps to recoveryMental Health Mates believes that mental illness magnifies through isolation and that getting connected is one of the first steps to recovery (Image: Nikki Vasco)

She added: "We meet once a month and so far we’ve had two walks. They’ve been lovely! I’ve met some really nice people and it’s been really positive, there is a lot of laughter. It’s a really safe space where you can just be yourself.

"We do talk about mental health if people want to but we chat about anything else as well, and nobody is pressured to share more than they’re comfortable with."

They last met at Stanborough lakes. The walks take between one and two hours, but people can stay for as long or short a time as they’re comfortable with or talk as much or as little as they want.

The next walk is on September 19, for more visit: facebook.com/groups/503755864198711/.