A year on from lockdown 1.0, and it seems that our desire for outdoor spaces and activities is greater than ever. Given the well documented relationship between mental health and green spaces, it is no surprise that so many are embracing the great outdoors. Last summer Forbes reported that the UK bike industry experienced a 63% increase in sales, suggesting that lockdown has encouraged more Britons to access outdoor sports. Whilst this statistic is promising, there are many others that speak to a lack of diversity within the outdoor industry.
A report conducted by The Outward Bound Trust exploring diversity within the outdoor sector found that: “…the majority group who participate in the types of outdoor activities which contribute to developing the skills and motivation required to work in outdoor education are white, male, middle class and living in affluent areas. People from an ethnic minority background visit outdoor spaces less, and when they do it tends to be within 1–2 miles from home, taking part in more urban outdoor activity such as park visits and street sports.”
While these findings paint a bleak picture, organisations are being set up with the intention of addressing this disparity, including Bristol based community, Women Adventurers of Colour - launched this year with the aim to encourage and empower WoC to access outdoor sports. Founder Sabinah Janally, who is of Mauritian heritage, spoke to me about her aim, “setting up WAoC stems from the fact that whenever I engaged in any sports such as surfing, skiing, mountain biking and walking, I didn’t see very many people that looked like me.” Sabinah makes reference to influencers who also strive to address the lack of BAME representation in outdoor spaces such as, Black Girls Hike UK, who share overlapping values of “challenging the status quo and encouraging Black women to reconnect with nature.”
Growing up within a Muslim family, Sabinah was also inspired by Glasgow based hiker, Zahrah Mahmood, known online as the ‘Hillwalking Hijabi’ who is using her platform to encourage many other women to get out and enjoy the outdoors with the hope that it will be become more representative. Having grown up in a Muslim family myself, the sense of empowerment that comes from having representation like that cannot be underestimated.
Sabinah goes on to say that “ethnic minority kids are particularly affected since they visit national parks 10% less than youths from deprived backgrounds.” This proportion grows all the more stark when considering that last year The Guardian reported that “only 1% of visitors to UK national parks come from BAME backgrounds”. Sabinah explains that these statistics fed into the conception of WAoC, saying that “often I have felt quite lonely and isolated when surfing and cycling… so I really wanted to find other women to connect with, particularly women from an ethnic minority background.”
Traditionally perceived to be white middle-class pursuits, outdoor activities such as skiing and mountain climbing have cost implications rendering them inaccessible to those from low socio-economic backgrounds. “I do think there are extra barriers in front of us when it comes to occupying outdoor spaces and to be able to connect with other women who are also doing these sports - Sabinah explains - It’s sad that there aren’t many people that look like us in outdoor spaces especially things like going walking, it doesn’t cost much, but some of these sports do cost a lot, like skiing, for example.”
During a Countryfile episode last June, Dwayne Fields echoed the difficulties facing the BAME community who reside in rural areas. "When I talk to people from the BAME community, it's clear that they don't view the UK countryside as somewhere that's for them.” Sabinah echoes this sentiment “As I’ve gotten older I’ve realised how isolating and strange it is to see another person of colour in a rural space, catching each other’s eye, thinking ‘I see you, I know you’re here and I’m happy that you’re here’ but also it’s an awkward encounter, because I don’t think you expect each other to be in that same place, a place like on top of a mountain, in the sea etc”
Sabinah was keen to emphasise the significance of building and nurturing opportunities for future generations, describing an initiative she is planning that will promote accessibility within these sports called 'Mentoring Up', which will involve women who are established within a sport passing skills on to WoC. “We need to think about the importance of encouraging young girls to get into these sports. We are already thinking that if more of these grass roots organisations are set up, that it will have an impact on sports organisations and how they try and represent more minority ethnic women in sports in general”.
The emergence of these groups and communities marks a positive shift towards making outdoor spaces more accessible and inclusive so that many more people can benefit from them. As Sabinah puts it, “I have witnessed the power of creating spaces for people of colour to experience the joy of the great outdoors. I have observed the significance of coming together to support one another in enabling greater inclusivity and representation in outdoor sports. I know that we exist and I’m here wanting to connect, to go on adventures together and to inspire others to join us”.
Written by Yasmina Floyer