Simple idea recognised for saving so many lives

Congratulations to Penrith Men’s Walk and Talk for being announced the overall winner of the Outstanding Project Stronger Communities category at the ZEST Awards 2024.

“Congratulations to Kevin and Andrew (two of the members, pictured) on this fabulous initiative that has literally saved lives!” said Penrith MP Karen McKeown OAM. 

Penrith Men’s Walk and Talk started out as a simple idea; five local men starting up a group who’d meet up each week to do the River Walk.  Walk and talk. And any other bloke who wanted to join in was more than welcome. 

A couple of facebook messages were posted and the idea started to grow legs.  Penrith Men’s Walk and Talk was born.

That was over five years ago, and little did those fellas – Kevin Canning, Paul Wallace, Alan Harding, Jamie Large and Billy Beggs – know at the time, that their simple idea was about to become a local phenomenon. 

The group, that began with 19 walkers showing up, has now massively blown out, with some walking events attracting over 100!

The five guys then became six, with local charity champion Andrew Paech becoming part of the initiative and helping with some resources from WestCare. 

The local men who started the group have different careers and family situations, but they all share the same goal, and that is to get blokes out to the river and walking and talking. 

Kevin Canning said two realisations came to light that eventuated in the seed being planted.

The first was that Paul noticed a few of their mates going through some struggles and that communication opportunities with them were difficult to find.  

The second was that as an adult and family man, Kevin realised he missed the mateship he’d had with other blokes his whole life, such as while playing in sporting teams.

With those understandings in mind, the hashtag of #menshealth Physical-Mental-Social and the idea of reconnecting with mates with the physical health benefits from a little exercise at the same time, really took off. 

Alan Harding, who tragically lost his teenage son Troy to suicide, said the benefits of simply shooting the breeze while clocking up 6.4 kilometres was a win-win all round.

“It is a great opportunity to de-stress, socialise and get some exercise,” Alan said. “You honestly don’t realise you have walked over six kilometres because you are too busy talking and listening.”

Andrew Paech said the Men’s Walk and Talk was one of the most significant initiatives for mental health that he has seen over his many years with WestCare. 

“It’s a significant movement and it is happening right here in Penrith,” Andrew said. “Nationally we lose six men a day to suicide.  This is a great opportunity to engage and confront the issue.  The momentum is huge.”

Billy Beggs, who is the group’s Counsellor works at LikeMind, which addresses mental health issues.

“Sometimes men have a fear of talking about their issues.  It is important for men to share and have an outlet.  The men’s group provides that,” he said.

“Several people have said that the group has saved them.”

Jamie Large added that many blokes had communicated to him that the walk was now a regular entry on their calendar.

“The messages that come through, saying how much they look forward to it every week, tells us that we are really making a difference,” Jamie said.

If you’re a bloke and you’re keen to join in the weekly walk (sorry ladies, this is not for us – but there IS a Penrith Women’s Walk and Talk who are looking for more members) the Penrith Men’s Walk and Talk meets every Thursday at the Coffee Club at 5pm for a 6pm walk. 

Join their Facebook or Instagram pages to get all the up-to-date information. 

The Great River Walk is 6.4kms long and takes approximately one hour and fifteen minutes to complete. 

With a motto of “Never Walk Alone” you just know the group would do great things each and every week. 

On their facebook page is an extremely powerful sentence that sums up the importance of mateship and open communication. 

“We would 100 per cent rather walk with you for as long as it takes and listen to the sh*t you’re going through than sit there for fifteen minutes listening to your eulogy. 

“Remember that you’re never alone.”