I'm planning to walk 60 miles for the Sheffield Environmental Movement. Here's why!
My brother, Simon, was just seven when he died in a road accident. For a long time after that, life for my family was very difficult.
Two things made a difference. One was walking in the Lake District, and the other was birdwatching. I will never forget the thrill of seeing one of only two marsh harriers that were living in England at that time. Or the exhilarating joy of striding out along a mountain ridge, huge sky arching above me, fells and lakes spreading out on all sides, literally as far as I could see.
I think nature saved us. My father in particular, who suffered from severe depression, was transformed when climbing a mountain or sitting in a hide, binoculars pressed to his eyes as he scanned the landscape for birds.
But what if we hadn’t been able to get out into the countryside? What if people had told us we didn’t ‘belong’ on those mountain ridges. What if those bird hides that we experienced as so still and peaceful had instead been places where we felt uncomfortable, unwelcome, judged?
That’s the reality of life for many people from BAMER (black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee) communities in Britain. The discrimination isn’t always overt but it is pervasive. For example, companies manufacturing outdoor equipment primarily target a white, middle-class audience. In terms of employment, the environmental sector is the second least diverse of all, second only to horticulture.
It’s not surprising that people from BAMER groups visit the natural environment sixty per cent less than the rest of the adult English population. This has knock-on effects for health, social inclusion and educational attainment.
The Sheffield Environmental Movement (SEM) is an amazing organisation that does all kinds of things to make it easier for BAMER people to get involved in environmental activities. These include guided walks, outdoor education for children and young people, and academic research on access to the countryside. A core activity is the monthly Walk4Health group, which has been running since 2004 and inspired the acclaimed play Black Men Walking .
This year I will celebrate my sixtieth birthday, and over the next few months, I want to raise £600 for SEM by walking sixty miles, one for every year of my life. It’s also coming up to fifty years since my brother died, and I feel sure that he too would have been passionate about people having equal access to the countryside.
When we were children, the only thing we worried about when we went on walks was whether it would rain or not. That should be true for everyone.
Note: The picture shows women from the Sheffield & District African Caribbean Community Association (SADACCA) on a guided walk organised by SEM. Credit: SEM
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