When you have Whiteley Woods or Parkwood Springs on your doorstep, why would you want to hold your business meetings in an office?
Just one of the questions under discussion as Karen Perkins and Faye Smith led November’s ‘Netwalkers’ through a drizzly Porter Valley.
Around ten walking networkers took part last month, but some sunnier netwalks have brought dozens of local business people together to discuss how they can help each other, and to exchange tips while wandering through the woods on how to make their operations more ethical and sustainable.
“We think it’s a good idea to get out into the fresh air so you can keep fit while you’re networking,” said business and life coach Karen. “It’s better than standing in a stuffy room drinking endless cups of coffee.”
The walks began just over seven years ago, after marketing and PR consultant Faye Smith started inviting clients along to join her on her morning walks to talk through new ideas. Faye and Lucy Lippolis of Sparkles Events set up the Netwalking Sheffield group for fellow entrepreneurs to follow their example, by chatting and exchanging business cards while strolling through the parks and green spaces of the Outdoor City.
“People open up more when they’re walking side by side, and you get to know the person and how their business works,” said Karen, who became one of the early walk leaders.
“And when you’re out on a walk, you can easily drop back every now and then and talk to different people or introduce people to each other too.”
There have been over 100 Netwalks since the idea began in 2011, with several hundred businesses involved over that time.
The emphasis is on businesses wanting to pick up tips on working more sustainably, or improving their ethical standards, but any business person can take part said Rob Cole, who now helps promote the Netwalks, which relaunched last year.
“It’s a relaxed process, and being outside helps creativity I think,” he said. “Being out here helps you think and have ideas, and doing that in a communal way is even more powerful.”
Rob is director of Sheffield Sustainable Kitchens, who recently won the Excellence in Corporate, Social and Environmental Responsibility title at the Sheffield Business Awards.
Rob met staff from the local Endeavour charity on a Netwalk, and learned how the 60 year old organisation helps young people with learning difficulties, those at risk of school exclusion or of criminal offending, and young people newly arrived in the UK. Rob arranged for a group from Endeavour to visit his company’s workshop to learn about careers in joinery and cabinetmaking.
All kinds of links are made after walking together, he said. “We have charities, small businesses, craftspeople, recruiters, fitness instructors, all sorts of people coming along, and I think it will continue to grow.”
November’s walkers compared notes on initiatives to increase electric car charging points, how companies can get free electric bikes on hire, and where to source a glass non-disposable coffee cup. Participants were even given the chance to footpath-test the Sheffield-made walker’s backpacks made by Mark Musgrave of the Level Collective.
The walks are currently every two months on the third Wednesday of the month meeting outside Endcliffe Park cafe at 9.20, and returning by about 11am. Karen and Rob reckon other locations and times could be added as demand grows.
“This is the Outdoor City, but a lot of us spend a lot of our time sat at our desks, and often feel we don’t get the opportunity to get out and exercise,” Rob said. “But this gives people the opportunity to combine something that is part of your business with getting some exercise in the outdoors.”
And for the city’s many home-workers, Karen Perkins said: “If you sit at home and don’t get any exercise you find you can become stale and waste your time, so why wouldn’t you get out into this city’s green spaces that can inspire you? Even if just one person turned up to have a walk with us, we think it’s worth doing.”
Meet 9.20 am Weds Jan 16th at Endcliffe Park cafe for the next Netwalk