How to Maximise your Worker's Lunch Time
by Rob Kilner
I’ve recently set up a project called ‘workerslunchtime’, inspired by my experience, over 20 years, of working in an increasingly sedentary role in a Leeds office.
The job, in the financial services sector involved high accuracy, a lot of listening, talking, repeating, pressing buttons and concentrating. The risks and pressures could be high, and so it was always good to take advantage of the lunchbreak.
The world of work is changing. In Sweden some workers have volunteered to be chipped, like a pet. “I want to be part of the future”, one was reported to have said. The implants mean they can open doors, use the photocopier, and buy smoothies, without the need for a key fob or swipe card. Tech experts call this “Augmented Humanity”.
I decided to augment my humanity by going out to lunch. I walked for half an hour before turning back. Using the route as a radius, I plotted a circular range on a map, which revealed an area the size of a small country (the Polynesian Island nation of Tuvalu) at my disposal. Running, cycling and driving clearly extend the range even further.
The lunch hours add up. Twelve months of them equate to around two weeks of free time. That’s an extra fortnight’s break. And you can act like you’re on holiday.
One lunchtime I made it to York, one of the country’s biggest tourist destinations, by train. I had a couple of minutes to admire the station before having to sprint to jump on the return to Leeds. I gatecrashed a canoe training session down at Leeds Docks one lunchtime, and by taking an extra hour had a trot around the ancient Middleton Park on a horse before coming back to work smelling like a stable – but rejuvanated.
Leeds was, historically, a market town. The tracks and roads were used for centuries by horse-drawn carts, and carriages. Pigs and cattle would be driven in from local farms to be sold on the Headrow, or at various markets. Animals were everywhere.
These days it’s a little more challenging to spot fauna in the city centre. However, I once saw a man carrying a bearded dragon, a woman with a cat on a lead and a bloke taking his ferret for a walk all within 10 minutes of the office.
For a dose of nature, there’s a community farm nestled in Meanwood Valley with pigs, sheep, cows, horses, llamas and a fine café, The Barn, that does exceptional coffee and hearty full English. There’s even wildlife (the non-human kind) if you know where to look. On a lunchtime hunt looking for rabbits I found a family of foxes in an abandoned churchyard. Within cycling distance there are also peregrines, deer, rabbits, marsh harriers and buzzards, in wasteland, woods, and parks. At the right time of year, you might even see salmon or sea trout leaping downriver at Knostrop Weir.
The beauty of lunchtime is its compactness, sandwiched between two thick morning and afternoon slabs. It’s an efficient use of time, and you can try stuff you wouldn’t normally do. I briefly joined Mecca bingo and spent 30 minutes in the bingo hall to see the inside of the building where my granddad worked when it was Pilkington Glass.
On a day of torrential rain I had my first and only go on a sunbed to see if I felt like I was on a beach (it didn’t). I also tried piano lessons, visited the fabulous BasementArtsProject, a contemporary art gallery in a terraced, family house in Beeston. I also test drove a Tesla, listened to drunk Karaoke, attended a pagan wedding in a wood, joined a choir, debated with philosophers in the pub, played chess, played table tennis with refugees, ran guided tours, organised a speaker series, lectures, libraries, exhibition, dine with the Chinese Elderly Associations, or Langar at the Sikh Temple.
I attempted to bring the sense of adventure to the commute. Thinking it would be idyllic to travel to work by the Leeds-Liverpool canal, I bought a beginners inflatable kayak and did a reccy one Sunday morning. It took twice as long as I expected. Mainly because of my inexperience plus capsizing near Kirkstall Abbey.
More successful was a mid-week mini-break with a couple of pals. Taking full advantage of the heatwave we set off from work on a Tuesday evening with sleeping bags. After cycling towards the Dales, avoiding tarmac where possible, we took a break in a country pub, then slept out under the stars until the sun came up, making it back in time to clock in.
Health & Wellbeing at work doesn’t have to be about baskets of fruit, deep breathing sessions and Employee Assistance Programs. The city is rich with people, destinations and surprises. People even come to Leeds on holiday. Getting out and experiencing the city and its people is not only good for health, it’s good for the city.