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Clarity Walk: How Matt Wallace turned his personal struggles into a force for good

Matt Wallace of Clarity Walk
Matt set up Clarity Walk, the UK's first organisation for digital detox treks.

In rain or shine, Matt Wallace dons his walking boots – and ditches his phone –  to help prevent others from feeling as lonely as he once did.

The 31-year-old from Inverness knows exactly what it’s like to go through life without any “meaningful” interactions with others.

After working through a suicidal depression five years ago, he’s been able to use his experiences as a force for good.

And now he runs the social enterprise Clarity Walk, changing lives by harnessing the power of nature.

‘I was surrounded by people – and it’s the loneliest I’ve ever been’

Matt set up a personal training business in 2014 but soon found his passion for things dwindling.

“I thought I’d move to Glasgow – that’s going to change everything,” he said.

“I thought I was going to make more money and be more successful. And, at first, I was – I was fully booked.

“But I ended up extremely isolated, the work-life balance was tipped in an unfavourable way.

“A lot of people confuse isolation with not seeing anyone – but I was surrounded by people all day, just without any meaningful connection.

“It was the loneliest I’ve ever been.”

The moment Matt remembered what happiness was like

To make matters worse, Matt’s physical health also took a hit with a series of injuries – meaning he couldn’t rely on exercise as an outlet anymore.

His mood plummeted.

But things changed when he went on a pre-planned holiday with friends.

“I needed an escape, to get out of that gym environment, away from the personal training and just be myself,” he explained.

“I saw people I love and can connect with and enjoy spending time with – instead of being a fake character in a gym.

“It made me realise what it was like to be happy again.”

How did Matt change his direction in life?

While Matt knew he had to make big changes in his life, the thought of it was daunting.

He’d spent years building up his business, investing his own time and money, and didn’t want to feel it had gone to waste.

But he started reducing his screen time, and replaced weightlifting with walking and getting out into nature.

Furry friends are welcome on Clarity Walk outings too.
Furry friends are welcome on Clarity Walk outings too.

He also made greater efforts to connect with people in person, even if it was just a brief conversation with someone behind the tills in a shop.

Matt then spent a year studying forestry and applied for jobs in the industry, before he had a brainwave.

Clarity Walk: An overnight success

“I rolled everything [I’d learned] into one to create the UK’s first digital detox walk,” he explained.

“Simply walking and talking, people coming together to better themselves and meet others.

“I put the idea on social media and had an overwhelming response.”

The group gathered to spend some time outdoors without their phones or any other attention-grabbing devices.

“It was magical,” Matt recalled.

“You could see people coming together from all walks of life. There was no judgement, nobody on their phone – no pings, no flashes, no distractions.

“It was just like how it used to be and, by the end, everyone was relaxed. They felt connected and less isolated.”

From there, Matt set up his own social enterprise Clarity Walk, which expanded rapidly with different groups and new volunteers.

A small commitment… and a huge difference

He still remembers one of his first walkers, who’d spotted a leaflet and dropped him a line.

The woman had been signed off work with severe anxiety and depression, and Matt recalls her “shaking like she was on a pneumatic drill” when they met up.

The pair agreed to try an initial 10-minute walk, and they’d decide what to do from there.

IT REALLY HAPPENED!We got to spend a beautiful day, with a beautiful group of people, celebrating THREE YEARS of…

Posted by Clarity Walk on Monday, 8 August 2022

To Matt’s delight, she stayed for the full hour – and hung about for tea and coffee with some others after.

“This was just a 10-minute commitment to get out of her headspace, and be with others in her loneliest place.

“And we potentially saved a life that day.”

Crushing blow of Covid led to something bigger

Of course, the arrival of Covid-19 and lockdowns put a halt to Matt’s progress, with months passing by where he couldn’t offer group sessions.

But he took to the internet, upping his game on social media and doing his best to keep people connected.

By the time December 2020 rolled around, he was able to host a physical Christmas Day walk with 17 others.

“Only four of them had somebody to go back home to that day,” he said.

“We were the only point of connection on Christmas for some, which can be one of the most isolating days of the year.”

Then, when more restrictions were imposed, Matt turned his attention to youngsters, who were still able to meet with one another.

The Clarity Walk team began carrying out up to 30 one-to-one walks with adults every week, and started an outdoor programme for children.

The Clarity Walk sessions often take participants to scenic locations.
The Clarity Walk sessions often take participants to scenic locations.

Matt said: “They needed something more than just walking – so we looked at den building and arts and crafts.

“We trialled it and they absolutely loved it.

“So many kids have benefitted. It gives them a sense of empowerment, that they can enjoy time away from their Xbox and connect with their peers.”

Around 75% of Clarity Walk’s work is now funded by its youth programme, now covering nine schools and counting.

Men-only project

Another avenue Matt was keen to explore was men’s mental health, particularly due to the impact of suicide on rural communities.

“There’s a lot of stigma, especially in the Highlands,” he said.

“People don’t want to reach out – they feel they have to be men here.

“If they’re struggling, they won’t tell anybody. Everybody seems happy and the next thing you know, they’ve taken their own life.”

Great turnout for the first Men's Only Walk to help bring men together and improve their mental wellbeing Thanks for…

Posted by Clarity Walk on Thursday, 23 December 2021

Matt started a men-only walking session, to give them “their own space to be themselves.”

“It’s a place where met can meet with each other, make new friends, explore new locations and get their steps in,” he added.

‘My struggles have created something wonderful’

Looking back, Matt says his own mental health struggles were a huge catalyst in getting to where he is now.

“It’s amazing to see people benefitting from my own life experiences,” he explained.

Clarity Walk is turning 3!!!We're so grateful to everyone who filled these past few years with incredible memories, so…

Posted by Clarity Walk on Friday, 5 August 2022

“It’s great to see people who had nobody before now have someone.

“Whether they come once, or three times a week, just to have something for that time, it means the world to me.

“Isolation is the biggest killer, but we can connect people who wouldn’t have met otherwise.

“They wouldn’t have this if I didn’t go through my stuff.

“My personal struggles have created something wonderful.”