Members of the Laois African community are getting fitter and having fun each Saturday morning in Portlaoise in a new walking group.
They are pulling on high vis jackets and taking to the streets for a big early morning 10km walk that is getting bigger every week.
They gather at Portlaoise Leisure Centre at 8am and set off after a warm up by fitness coach Irene Ogbulafor. Different routes are taken around the town each week.
The walks are organised by the Laois Africa Support Group.
Chairman Bolaji Adeyanju said they came up with the idea during the lockdown, and it was instantly a big success.
“Like everyone we were just so excited to come out of the house after being stuck indoors for so long. It was so great to mix with other people, socially distanced of course, after looking at the four walls. Many people are working from home as well,” he said.
They had about a dozen walkers on the first week and now they get about 20, men and women, with anyone welcomed to join them.
“Many of the walkers did not know each other, or they will bring someone with them the following week. So it has been brilliant to build up a stronger Laois African community, to network and just to get to know each other better.
“As we walk, we change the people we walk with, talking about everything, the weather, anything, and having group conversations too,” he said.
“When we come back there’s a bit of banter too. We get in a circle and someone steps into the centre to do a few steps we have to follow. It’s great because by the time we are finished you still have the rest of the day, full of energy,” Bolaji said.
Their first walk was held back about six weeks ago once Covid-19 restrictions eased.
Now they get about 20 walkers every week, coming from all parts of Laois.
“We have walkers from Mountrath, Portarlington, Portlaoise and Mountmellick. It is open to everybody in the community, we get Irish people from time to time, we are all the one at the end of the day,” he said.
They get plenty of positive reaction around Portlaoise.
“Anyone who is walking or driving past, there is always a friendly look or greeting or bit of banter from people we know. People see that this is a good thing, psychologically its very positive,” he said.
The group meets every Saturday morning at 8am at Portlaoise Leisure Centre.