Wild Wellbeing Walks for Women in Nature
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By Emily Fox, Youth Programmes Manager, Keeping it Wild & Rhiane Fatinikun (BGH Founder).
Young women in London have reported feeling more likely to use green space to benefit their health and wellbeing, as well as feeling more confident exploring the outdoors after participating in the ‘Wild Walks’ initiative. With support from Natural England, ‘Wild Walks’ provided a fantastic opportunity to bring together London Wildlife Trust and Black Girls Hike in partnership to deliver wellbeing-centred activities on urban nature reserves, specifically for young women from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic backgrounds (aged 16-25). Between November 2021- February 2022, over 50 young women joined nature walks at London Wildlife Trust’s Walthamstow Wetlands nature reserve in north-east London. In addition, the young women took part in guided meditation activities out on the nature reserve and received mentoring from the Black Girls Hike team, tackling topics such as representation, identity, and safety in the outdoors.
Young people’s struggles with emotional wellbeing and mental health are at record levels. UK Youth’s ‘The impact of Covid-19 on young people & the youth sector’ report (2020) highlighted the need to keep the youth sector connected, engaged, and mobilised to support young people now and after the Covid-19 crisis. Results from Natural England’s report suggest that nature connectedness is good for people’s wellbeing. However, many girls and young women face barriers that prevent them from accessing the mental and physical health benefits that a connection with nature can bring. These barriers include cultural deterrents, perceptions of safety, communications that could be more inclusive and a lack of female role models in outdoor activity. The ‘This Girl Can’ 2015 Sport England study discovered that there is still a 65 per cent to 35 per cent split in male to female participation in outdoor activity, with the typical profile of an ‘outdoors participant’ being male, white and middle-class. Further to this, there has been ample research in recent years highlighting that there is unequal access to nature and green spaces, particularly for people from Black, Asian or minoritised ethnic backgrounds.
Wild Walks brought together experienced organisations to work with young people, to improve representation and inclusivity in the outdoors and environmental sectors.
Founded in 2019, Black Girls Hike’s mission is to provide safe spaces for Black women in nature, primarily through hiking and walks. However, they also promote other outdoor activities like water sports and free swimming. Fundamentally, Black Girls Hike represent the voices and concerns of black women within the sector. To fulfil this, they educate and advise key people in the industry. Educating and empowering young people to use and learn about nature is a core element of Black Girls Hike’s work.
Since 2018, London Wildlife Trust has delivered the Keeping it Wild youth programme. The programme has successfully inspired over 1000 young people aged 11-25 to promote and protect London’s natural heritage. Focussing on under-represented demographics in the environment sector, 76% of participants come from a Black, Asian or minoritised ethnic background.
In the Trust, there is a dedicated Youth Programme team; they deliver a range of activities (including taster days, paid traineeships and a youth board) for young Londoners. Their overall aim is to make nature more inclusive, accessible, and relevant to young people living in London.
In addition to the benefits mentioned earlier, our participants connected with like-minded women and were inspired by the all-female team - who led the programme. Participants reported that the experience helped rekindle their relationship with nature from their childhood:
“Today has been a rediscovery for me. Learning to care about the world, but also enjoying it on a personal level. I’ve realised that nature is a way of getting back in touch with the child I was” – Wild Walks participant
“I feel like it's harder if you’re not white to feel like you belong. People stare at you and you feel like you’re not welcome. It was great connecting with young Black women in nature.”
—Wild Walks participant
Wild Walks and similar initiatives demonstrate the importance of activities that encourage a relationship with nature and the community. Black Girls Hike and London Wildlife Trust are eager to collaborate on future projects that will motivate young people to protect and promote natural spaces, locally and globally.
London Wildlife Trust:: https://www.wildlondon.org.uk/
Black Girls Hike C.I.C.: https://www.bghuk.com/
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