Inclusivity in the outdoors

Inclusivity in the outdoors

When I began my outdoors journey back in the 80’s working for the Youth Service in Gloucestershire, what I noticed was how low the engagement was from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities either as users or working in the field. This was when I started talking about the underrepresentation and this was followed in the 2000 by the rural white paper and the then Countryside Agencies Diversity Review published in 2005.

A walk organised by the Mosaic Outdoors and supported by The Great Outdoors on Kinder Scout. Photo credit: Rachel SarahDownload image
"Inclusivity should be a core business activity, not a short-term time-limited initiative based on short-term funding." - Mohammed Dhalech

The work on inclusivity in the outdoors has been on the agenda since the 80’s. At the time I worked in youth services and noticed that engagement in the outdoors was low among Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities. In an article by travel writer Faraz Shibli, he argues the need to widen the outdoors to ethnic minorities and other underrepresented groups.

I believe that the three biggest challenges in the environmental and outdoor sectors from an inclusivity perspective are organisational culture, representation and racism. Unless we address these three significant challenges, which have been researched for many years since the 90’s, we will not move forward. In 2019 DEFRA published the Landscapes Reive by Julian Glover, who highlights; “Many communities in modern Britain feel that these landscapes hold no relevance for them. The countryside is seen by both black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and white people as very much a ‘white’ environment. If that is true today, then the divide is only going to widen as society changes. Our countryside will end up being irrelevant to the country that actually exists.”

  • Organisational culture: The sector needs to address its internal culture, and organisations need to start the journey to inclusivity, from governance and senior leadership through to volunteers. Inclusivity should be a core business activity, not a short-term time-limited initiative based on short-term funding. Glover points out the reluctance by landscape bodies to talk about diversity: “And we have found interest, rather than a burning desire to change, when we have discussed diversity. It was rarely raised by those we met. This is unsurprising; as we set out later, the lack of diversity among those governing the bodies looking after our national landscapes is extremely narrow. They are almost all white, almost all male and many are retired. It is not surprising their priorities can seem alien to many.”
  • Representation: Many organisations in the sector look at representation from only the user/visitor perspective and place very little emphasis on inclusivity. This needs to change to represent the wider sector and organisations within governance and leadership. Communities need to see themselves represented at all levels within the sector, again as Glover highlights in the Glover Review: “National Park Authorities ... shockingly, have only 0.9% representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic members.” From my own research, which I carried out in March 2021, I noticed that there is a very similar picture of underrepresentation in the national outdoor and environmental not-for-profit sector.
  • Racism: Individuals and organisations all have a responsibility to tackle racism in the sector and to call it out and act proactively to address it. Many over the years have not been proactive and have stayed silent, which does not help to address the challenges in the sector.

I have been actively influencing key stakeholders on the need to address inclusivity in the outdoors sector. This has included:

  • Presenting at a range of events nationally.
  • Delivering a series of 11 webinars for Inclusivity in the OUTdoors during lockdown. This included working with partners such as Mosaic Outdoors, Outward Bound Trust and the University of Cumbria. The stream and report can be found here.
  • Advising DEFRA, Natural England and a number of national parks and other organisations on inclusivity and diversity.

The impact of my work, in many cases, enables access for communities so that they can enjoy the outdoors safely. One example that stands out is a young person who I invited to speak at one of the Inclusivity in the OUTdoor webinars. They said: “It made me feel heard and the feedback was beautiful and made me feel as if there was hope for the future of representation because people were actually listening and having important and useful conversations around the topic.”

In July 2021, during the mini heatwave, there were over 30 drownings in lakes and rivers in the outdoors across the UK. In Cumbria where I live and work, there were three in tourist spots, all of whom were from an ethnic minority background. On reviewing the open water safety information, I noted that it lacked any diversity and the impact on ethnic minority communities. I identified a number of volunteers from ethnic minority communities and produced a short video and some posters with Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, to target the safety information to ethnic minority communities thorough a range of methods including specialist media channels and physical posters in community venues in the North West.

This work matters to be able to change the sector so that it can be more inclusive to all communities and so that communities can enjoy the landscapes peacefully and without experiencing any racism. The sector needs to demonstrate leadership and commitment to inclusivity and work on this as part of its core business. There has been more than enough research over the years, it is now time for real action and change. Black, Asian and ethnic minority Ethnic communities need to be sitting round those tables where decisions are made and where our contributions are valued. The journey needs to start now - and with commitment and resources form the leaders.

My vision for the future is that the sector is at the forefront of inclusivity. This is an aspiration and may take many years, but the pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset to the way we think and do things. Let’s do it.

Mohammed Dhalech is a member of our Working Group on environment and resources, and has helped to develop two new Fellowship themes on Climate Change and Caring for Our Natural Environment.

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The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.

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