Hampstead Heath guru Diane is 'a lifeline' for women's walking group

The Heath walking group celebrate Diane David's birthday before the pandemic hit.

The Heath walking group celebrate Diane David's birthday before the pandemic hit. - Credit: Uschi Kellett / Heath walking group

A group of women who have been walking together on Hampstead Heath for two decades have paid tribute to the "indomitable" Diane David, who founded the group and has helped to raise thousands for charity. 

Diane began the group twenty years ago with friends she had made at an exercise group which came to an end, including Uschi Kellett. 

The women have not, of course, been walking in the same way over lockdown, but have found ways to go for walks in pairs on occasion.

Uschi told the Ham&High: "I've known Diane for thirty years. We used to do exercise together then that shut down. We said we wanted to keep doing something, so she started the group.

"It started with perhaps ten of us but now there's a whole group of us. Each week we, usually, give £3 towards charity and in the end we get around £3,000 each year to split between charities including Kenwood. 

"As a group we have grown older together. It's a lovely social group and we help each other with life's difficulties. Diane's been organising this so selflessly and never asking for anything in return."

Over the years, the group has also supported charities such as Heath Hands.

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Valerie Chalfen, another walker, told this newspaper the weekly walks were the "most wonderful social thing" and paid tribute to Diane's "wonderful way" while Gill Gould added that the walks were "a lifeline". 

Vivien Hilson explained how Diane's efforts made a difference to the group's mental wellbeing.  

"Whatever the weather she is always ready to lead," she said. "And her ability to select the perfect walk from the ‘Google Map’ in her brain sets us all up fit and energised to face the week ahead.

"The donations she has encouraged us to give to the charities who maintain the Heath are typical of her attitude of wanting to give back something in return."

Although the pandemic has limited the group's walking in recent months, the women wanted to highlight how Diane's messages and socially-distanced walks - when the restrictions allowed small groups to meet - were vital in a lonely time for many. 

They said they were looking forward to strapping on their walking boots again as soon as possible.

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