THE FOUNDER and leader of Wychavon’s most popular walking group has retired after bringing 20 years of adventure to local residents.
Rowland Jones has dedicated a lifetime to sport, including 39 years as a technical official at three Olympic Games.
The keen adventurer was working as a part-time sports masseur and sports therapist at Droitwich Spa Leisure Centre when he felt compelled to explore a new pursuit, which would bring ‘companionship and a sense of purpose’.
He formed Wychavon Leisure 50+ Walking Group in 2006 with just 12 people, and watched it grow at one point to over 185 eager walkers.
Walks across the Worcestershire countryside and beyond brought a new lease of life to countless members of the local community over the last two decades.
Members say the group’s growth was primarily due to Rowland’s companionship, friendship and skills of leadership.
His retirement party at St Andrew’s Town House Hotel was attended by some 80 members, their friends and families, who all gathered to express heartfelt gratitude to the man who helped transform so many lives with his love for walking.
It featured a special “Carol for Rowland’ dedicated to the popular walking group leader.
In a speech, Tim Kirkham, area manager at Wychavon Leisure Community Association thanked Rowland for all his help, support, advice and friendship he had given over the years.
Member Alan Archer added: “It was only when Rowland made us aware he wanted to stand down as walks leader we realised just how much he did for us.”
Chris Bowers, a member since 1997 said: “Being part of such a friendly and supportive group has meant so much, especially when life throws up its challenges.”
Over the years, as fitness levels within the group increased, so did the distances, with members walking up to nine-miles per trip.
A Thursday walk with shorter distances of four to six miles was also arranged to inspire the less able to keep on walking too.
In 1999, Rowland’s penchant for adventure led him on a five-month trip across Fiji, New Zealand and Australia where he took on bush-walking, canoeing, cycling and rafting.
He also began organising walking holidays and was joined on a 98-mile walk of the West Highland Way by ten other members.
Annual May walking holidays to Arran, Malamdale, Exmoor, Dartmoor, Pembrokeshire, North Wales, West Sussex, and the Lake District soon followed.
An author as well as a sportsman, Rowland went onto write a book about 10 of his favourite walks across Worcestershire.
As former technical official at three Olympic Games and at 25 global canoe and kayak regattas over 39 years – he also wrote a training manual for potential officials of the sports.
Sponsor of the Junior Racing Canoeist of the Year Award since 1979, Rowland was given the British Canoe Union’s Award of Merit for his contribution to the sport.
There are now more than 130 members of the Wychavon Leisure 50+ Walking Group.
Rowland takes turns to lead the Thursday group as he continues in his quest to inspire one and all to just keep on walking.
Details of the Walks Programme is available from Droitwich Spa Leisure Centre.
Visit www.wychavonleisure.co.uk for more information.