Blackburn with Darwen councillor, Mustafa Desai has been awarded the national Charles Maher Award – Walking Champion 2021 by Living Streets.

The award was presented by Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, at their virtual National Walking Summit (Thursday 18 March).

The award recognises a local group or individual who has gone the extra mile to improve their local community. The award was set up in honour of Charles Maher, a campaigner and long-standing supporter of Living Streets. 

Mustafa Desai was nominated for setting up the Take A Hike programme, which uses walking to tackle physical and mental health challenges, while promoting social inclusion, social diversity and supporting people to connect with the great outdoors.

Cllr Mustafa Desai, Charles Maher Award 2021 winner, said:

"I’m delighted that the walking group is getting this national recognition with the Charles Maher Award from Living Streets. It’s great that something so positive has come from the awful circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. Being part of this group has been fantastic for the wellbeing of all its members and I recommend the activity to all as a simple but effective way to improve physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing."

Mustafa Desai

Blackburn with Darwen (BwD) Executive Member for Wellbeing, Cllr Damian Talbot said:

“Great news to see a Blackburn with Darwen wellbeing effort recognised at the National Walking Summit. We’re working hard to improve activity levels across the borough, with the publication of the Healthy Weight Declaration and announcing a Climate Change Emergency in recent years, together with more recent efforts to improve the walking and cycling infrastructure through Government funding for Emergency Active Travel Funding and the creation of project group Blackburn Stride and Ride, and currently we are consulting with residents to better enable everyday walking and cycling.”

Thanks to Mustafa’s enthusiasm and commitment, more people have been able to stay healthy, happy and connected during the pandemic. His inspirational work should act a blueprint for how to connect people from all walks of life with the joys of walking.  He is a true walking superhero.

Mary Creagh, Chief Executive, Living Streets
Take a hike group on a walk
Take a hike group on a walk
Images c/o Mustafa Desai

Highly commended

Living Streets received a record number of 69 nominations this year, which were shortlisted down to eight for the charity’s members to vote on. All the candidates had made streets safer and cleaner, promoted inclusion, pioneered low traffic solutions, demonstrated creativity and innovation and used walking to tackle to the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sharing second place were Sarah Berry and Zane Powles, who were also recognised at the ceremony.

Sarah Berry has played a key role campaigning for her local streets in south London. She has championed the local low traffic neighbourhood and led a community-wide project to re-design 'Road Open' signs which have been adopted nationally.  

Whilst Zane Powles, a primary school teacher in Grimsby, walked seven and a half miles a day to deliver meals to his pupils, covering 600 miles in the first lockdown, promoting the power of walking while providing a vital service to dozens of families.

Sarah Berry
Zane Powles