Walk the Mind: The online group improving the mental health of 30,000 people

Credit: ITV News Meridian

Three months ago, we began our search for the ITV Meridian Fundraiser of the Year, as part of the Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Awards, and while there can't be an awards ceremony this year, we couldn't let the year pass without celebrating those local heroes.

All this week, we'll tell you about our region's four finalists and on Friday, we'll be crowning one of them as the Meridian winner.

Oliver Bower

After being held at gunpoint in an armed robbery when he was 16-years-old, Oliver Bowers suffered with mental health issues.

He found walking was very beneficial to his wellbeing so decided to start an online group last year that encourages others to walk to improve their mental health.

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Abigail Bracken:

His Walk the Mind Facebook group now has 30,000 members and Oliver spends many hours posting messages of support.

Oliver said: "It's now become this kind of community of like-minded people from 120 countries across the world that are in touch all the time and post pictures of their walks and about their own struggles and their own positive things that they are doing in life. It's just incredible the amount of people that it seems to support."

Walk the Mind now has 30,000 followers. Credit: Facebook

We had no idea how it was going to take over some people's lives and help people the way it has helped people. It's like a safe haven for people and they can be honest with their emotions and they get a sea of love and support and they get almost like a virtual hug, it's just incredible.

Rachel Wilkinson, Oliver's partner

Oliver recently challenged himself to a charity walk of one million steps in a month.

He spent up to 7 hours a day on the go, often with his dog Ted or one of his four children joining him lapping the garden. 

He raised £9,000 for the mental health charity Young Minds.

Followers post pictures of their walks to inspire others. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Roxane Caplan from the charity said: "Young people have had a really tricky time during this lockdown, like many of us, and we at Young Minds are worried about the long-term impact on their mental health and so having money that people like Oliver are raising for us as a charity is needed more than ever."

Walk the Mind has changed many lives. Jason Gilbert, a shop manager from Folkestone, finds posting photos of his walks helps him through low moods.  

He said: "Sometimes you think you are the only person in the world with that problem and then you can log into Facebook and see that there's people all over the world that are the same and it's not just you, so that lifts a lot off your shoulders."

Oliver is now starting a degree in counselling and hopes to encourage more of us to become active to help our mental health.