Tracey’s friendly trips
Residents of Merton are fortunate to have an enthusiastic GTO in their midst. Tracey Waterman, organiser of the outdoor activities programme for Age UK Merton, constructs an imaginative monthly itinerary offering exceptional value for her groups and with wide ranging appeal. Val Baynton discovers more.
Tracey Waterman became connected to Age UK Merton after volunteering at the Celebrating Age Festival in the London borough in 2013. She now works 20 hours a week for the charity leading on their outdoor activities programme and is also responsible for a variety of administrative tasks and banking. Aside from her official hours, Tracey willingly and actively researches more ideas for visits, developing itineraries in her own time. Prior to working with Age UK Merton, Tracey worked for the Patient Advice and Liaison Service within the NHS.
Tracey Waterman organises outdoor activities for age UK Merton, based in the London Borough of Merton. the varied programme for the Outings Group includes half day and full day trips to heritage attractions, art galleries, gardens, animal parks, historic towns or museums travelling by public transport or by coach. She also organises itineraries for the Walks Group and the Theatre Group. The outdoor programme is one of many services organised and offered by age UK Merton for people who live in the borough and who are in their fifties and over. the objective is to maintain people’s independence and to help them lead active and fulfilled lives for as long as possible. In the last year, Tracey has taken over 120 different people, the friends of Age UK Merton, on 46 trips and also organised seven trips to take place as part of the 2015 Celebrating Age Festival.
‘Coming up with new ideas for places to visit is easy,’ says Tracey. She’s helped in her quest by her husband Geoff and enthusiastic age UK Merton volunteer, and retired rugby referee, David Fisher. Longstanding friends, who enjoy long distance walks, they all love learning about Britain and want to share this enthusiasm with others. Whenever they are out and about, they are on the lookout for ideas for new visits, collecting leaflets and other information. they also find inspiration from attending travel trade shows, such as the recent GO Travel Show held at the Copper Box Arena, at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Tracey adds, ‘these shows are really useful because it gives me the chance to meet people from attractions face-to-face. Amongst the itineraries I develop there need to be trips that are suitable for the less mobile friends of age UK Merton, and it’s by talking to representatives from venues that I can really discuss what facilities are in place and how much walking or steps may be involved.’ In addition, every three or four months she meets up with some of the friends to ask for their feedback and their ideas for the future.
The programme, giving the schedule for up to three months ahead, is regularly published on-line and is also available at the age UK Merton activity centre in London Road, Mitcham, and at local libraries and community centres. But before a trip is publicised, Tracey will have carried out a recce, accompanied by David Fisher, so that she is fully prepared and knows what choices there are for the friends. ‘Tracey says. ‘a recce is invaluable. for example, whilst on a planning visit to Walthamstow we discovered the William Morris Gallery in the Lloyd Park in the town, and now that is going to form the basis for an outing, later in the year, and I will link up with the members of the art group.’ Tracey continues, ‘because age UK Merton attracts people with such diverse interests and abilities I also try to ensure that a trip can appeal on several levels.’ accordingly, the March trip to Walthamstow incorporates the market – with 100 stalls it is the largest daily outdoor market in Britain – the traditional shops on the high Street and an optional walk led by David. The walk will explore the original Walthamstow village with its medieval church, ancient house, 16th century alms houses, 18th century workhouse and 19th century cottages. Tracey adds, ‘It is a rare little oasis of history in east London.’
The Outings Group
Many of these trips explore the wealth of attractions and heritage in the capital city and the south east, and, aiming to be as inclusive as possible, Tracey endeavours to ensure each trip is affordable. She takes advantage of local transport as most friends are able to use their freedom Pass (this allows off peak free travel across London on most types of transport, as well as on local bus services across England). Charges for each trip include a small administration fee of around £4 and any admission charges – but the programme includes both free-to-enter museums and galleries such as the national Science Museum, as well as attractions that make a charge, so that there is something for every budget.
Last August, the Outings Group visited Chislehurst Caves in Kent. The man-made tunnels were formed over centuries as chalk was mined for various needs including lime burning and brick-making. Friends made their own way from Wimbledon and Mitcham Eastfields railway stations, meeting up at Waterloo east to travel by train onto Chislehurst. Tracey says that signalling delays en route gave the group of 26 time to catch up with old friends and to chat to new people who’d come along for the first time. At Chislehurst, the group enjoyed a guided tour around the maze of tunnels learning about their history such as their use as a munitions store for Woolwich arsenal in the first World War and as an underground air-raid shelter for 15,000 people during the blitz. Filming for TV programmes such as Doctor Who and Merlin has also taken place in the caves. It was good day out, Tracey remembers. Other trips have been to the Royal Hospital Chelsea in October 2015 and to Osterley Park.
During the summer months, the Outings Group travel further afield and, in 2015, successful trips were made to Penshurst Place in Kent, to Margate, and to Portsmouth. Tracey includes several elements within each day-long itinerary so that the trip appeals to a wide audience and there’s usually 40 to 50 friends on each trip. Local coach companies Edward Thomas and Banstead Coaches have provided transport, Tracey comments, ‘recently we’ve had the same coach driver, courtesy of Edward Thomas, and it’s been good to see a relationship build between him and the friends of the outings group. But both companies are excellent, and offer a reliable and friendly service.’
‘Penshurst Place was an excellent attraction.’ Tracey recalls. ‘It was a glorious June day and the gardens were lovely. there was plenty to do inside and out, including the historic stately home and the Toy Museum, so even if it had rained my group would have enjoyed themselves. It was also a location for filming Wolfe Hall, and seeing some of the props used in the film was fascinating.’
Tracey was inspired to include Margate after reading about the reopened Dreamland in GTO Magazine, and the town was perfect for the group. She says, ‘there was so much to do, from a guided walk led by David and the free entry Turner Art Gallery, to Dreamland with its historic rides and classic sideshows.’ Friends could also explore the narrow lanes and retro shops at leisure or relax in one of the charming pubs and tea rooms.
The Walks Group
Volunteer David Fisher researches the walks for the group, and he and Tracey lead them together. David is at the front explaining what there is to see and Tracey brings up the rear, ensuring no-one gets left behind. There’s generally one walk a month and the group of 20 to 25 friends sets off at about 10.00am from one of the local railway stations – Wimbledon, Mitcham Eastfields or Morden – and return home for 4.00pm. The two to three-mile walks have a variety of themes such as history, architecture and wildlife, and they are conducted at a leisurely pace. January’s walk was to Clerkenwell – named after the Clerk’s well and the group visited the remains of three medieval monasteries, London’s oldest church – St Bartholomew the Great, London oldest hospital – St Barts as well as Smithfield and Hatton Garden. Coming up are walks to Westminster and Belgravia, whilst another will be a return visit to Chesham, which was first visited by the walks group in 2014. During each walk the group stop for coffee and lunch – Tracey doesn’t book a specific refreshment stop as the areas they visit have a range of cafes and pubs, so that people can choose the type of venue that suits them best or even bring a picnic.
The monthly theatre trips are always popular and Tracey takes advantage of group rates (for 10 or more people) at local theatres such as the Wimbledon New Theatre, to book a variety of shows, and upcoming are Shrek the Musical and Chicago. Tracey adds, ‘last year I added a backstage tour to one of the visits we were making. It was fascinating to see what happens behind the scenes, and this knowledge and insight means we now enjoy the shows even more.’
An Expanding Programme
Tracey gets immense satisfaction in organising the outdoor activities programme. ‘I enjoy learning about our heritage but I am especially delighted when I see other people get pleasure from the outings I’ve organised.’ Not content with the extensive programme she’s already developed, Tracey is adding new ideas, ensuring Age UK Merton can engage with as many local residents as possible. These include Cinema and Shopping trips, a walk in a park, Sunday lunch Club and pub lunches. This last combines a meal in a pub along with an insight into its history researched and presented by David, and in late March, the group are heading to The Falcon at Clapham Junction. Famous for its decorative interiors of screens, and glasswork – with designs by M.C. Escher – the pub has the longest bar counter in the country.