Meet the activists helping to diversify the outdoors: Cherelle Harding of Steppers UK

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Cherelle Harding in the Peak District: "We should care that not everyone is benefiting from these wonderful spaces"

A recent survey found that while more than 16% of White people in England regularly participate in hiking and mountaineering, just 2.6% of Black people and less than 4% of South Asian background do so. Many organisations are working to improve inclusion, but some of the big steps are being taken at a grassroots level, where new community groups are bringing the rewards of the outdoors to people of all backgrounds. Here we speak with keen walker Cherelle Harding about a group she founded, Steppers UK.

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In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

The outdoors is also a great place for people of all races/sex/religion etc to take a break from the incessant creep of group identity politics into every aspect of our lives. 

'Activism' ? 'Changing the system throughout' ?  - To me, this type of language isn't synonymous with the outdoor experience. 

"Irrespective of anyone's background, it is often asked how people with limited access to the countryside, and little personal experience of the outdoors, might be expected to treat nature with respect. Education cannot take place without inclusion."

-who on Earth "often" asks this question? Leaving piles of rubbish and human faeces isn't a consequence of limited access to the countryside.

In reply to martinbettridge06:

It’s great that activism and conversations about race aren’t synonymous with your experiences of accessing the outdoors. Have you considered that this might be because you are fortunate enough that they haven’t ever needed to be and that other people might have different experiences?

In reply to Stuart Williams:

> It’s great that activism and conversations about race aren’t synonymous with your experiences of accessing the outdoors. Have you considered that this might be because you are fortunate enough that they haven’t ever needed to be and that other people might have different experiences?

You've just written exactly what I wanted to say, which is ultimately a reminder that other perspectives exist, beyond our own. Just because something seems one way to me, doesn't mean it's that way for everyone. 

In light of this, a post which ultimately says "who actually thinks like this?" and "to me that isn't relatable" may wish to re-read the article, as they've clearly missed the point.

In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

UKC is jumping on the bandwagon; we are not the USA, where race has devolved into a national obsession and cult with no stone left unturned to try and square the circle of fitting "race" into the reason why everything bad or perceived as bad occurs.

There is and never has been anything stopping anyone from anywhere enjoying the great outdoors of the UK. There is no problem to solve. There will be those that disagree, but they are also the people that are supportive of the idea that we are a systemically racist country (demonstrably wrong) or those that benefit from their victim status by propagating such nasty, divisive, victim generating nonsense.

This statement sums up the wrong headedness: "Unequal participation is clearly a big problem" - Why? Why is this a Big Problem? Maybe, just maybe some cultures are less inclined to want to walk around the often rainy, frequently miserable, grey skies and arduous terrain of the UK's wild places. After all there is nothing stopping them doing it.  Heresy! It must be because of exclusion of some kind!  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Arcteryx, Patagonia and Hoka are examples of businesses literally falling over themselves, fawning and prostrating themselves before the wokeists to demonstrate their fealty to this bizarre, clunky, often inhuman and irrational ideology. Mountain Equipment recently did something along similar lines on their instagram and (rightly) got universally slated in the comments. They havent done anything political since then. A smart move, followed by most European companies, as opposed to their American cousins.

I am from a Asian/ UK mixed family. My Asian family members often think I am mad to do what I do outside. They are not racist or in need of "reducating". Its simply not as culturally fitting. So stop the nonsense, get outside - or stay at home if you like - and viva la difference.

 Wil Treasure 12 Apr 2021
In reply to pugilistswine:

I think there are lots of things wrong with the way we discuss inclusion, race and other forms of diversity, not just in the outdoors. Jumping on the bandwagon is always presented as a bad thing, but doing the right thing for cynical reasons is still heading in the right direction.

What I find hard about posts like yours is that every single time someone wants to write about their experience as part of a minority (or as a woman) it gets a very robust pushback, often from people who haven't even read the article. I understand why people sometimes feel like these things are being shoved down their throats, and there are plenty of bad articles on the subject which I don't think help, but the pushback is so strong that the message you're sending is that it's offensive to even ask if someone else's experience is different to your own.

I've been quite shocked when I've asked friends about their experience of racism. So many have had directly racist experiences, a few in the outdoors although the majority elsewhere. It's not simply about this overt othering though, you allude to this in your post.

People experiencing cultural pressures to conform in different ways is a barrier to participation. If your social circle is very involved with your own cultural community that heightens those barriers, while also excluding other opportunities, including simple things like having friends who can introduce you to new experiences, including the outdoors. Having groups who want to reach out (or rather in) to those communities is only broadening people's outlooks, and I don't see why people feel so threatened by that.

 neuromancer 12 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

There are roughly similar numbers of people who identify as British-Polish and British-Pakistani on the census. Importantly, the socioeconomics are remarkably similar (money, access etc). It's not exact by any sense of the imagination, but it's close enough to make a point.

How many polish people do you find pouring out of Leeds cricket ground on a sunday?

Is this demonstrative of a problem with cricket?

Do we have a problem with cricket at a grassroots level, that it unfairly promotes British Pakistani individuals at the expense of other groups?

If your reply to this is different to your view on the outdoors; how do you justify your cognitive dissonance?

Because, for some reason, it requires that I place this in: I do not disagree that you can find examples of racism in the world, in the united kingdom, in the outdoors; or that individual people have had experiences that are worth sharing. That is not what we are doing or being asked to do. We aren't being asked to listen, or discuss (in fact, discussing is instantly met with "shut up, you aren't listening"); we're being asked to accept analogy as not just data but incontrovertible and comprehensive proof.

No. No I do not agree. The burden of proof is on those declaiming an entire industry, culture or social subset as racist just because it does not perfectly reflect a specific ethnic breakdown in society to do more than just equate equality of outcome with equality of opportunity. 

Post edited at 15:06
In reply to neuromancer:

What are you actually talking about? The main thrust of the article is with a black woman on her experiences with the outdoors and setting up a group for people in in a similar situation to her. I think you need to follow your own advice and do some listening rather then getting outraged based on your own preconceptions

 neuromancer 12 Apr 2021
In reply to ebdon:

I'm not sure who you think is outraged, but you appear to have missed that there is a wider conversation already progressing in the thread.

I also suspect you haven't read my post, as I already noted a common theme - that those that disagree, or even question the issue struggle to engage as they are instantly informed that they misunderstand and must listen (i.e. stop disagreeing).

To show you that I read the article, let me quote from the article:

>Unequal participation is clearly a big problem

>There is a lot of work to be done to diversify the outdoor industry

My question is simply - why?

And do you also think that unequal participation in cricket is a problem of equal issue?

Post edited at 15:20
In reply to neuromancer:

As a white guy I have no idea of the barriers to black women accessing the outdoors, which is why I am happy to listen to people who have direct experience of these issues And if a black women says there are barriers I am happy to accept this. why you have a problem with this I have absolutely no idea.

 neuromancer 12 Apr 2021
In reply to ebdon:

I don't disagree that barriers exist - for lots of people and for lots of reasons. It's pretty bloody hard for a low-income inner-city youth to go to Eton.

I just ask for a higher burden of proof than 'representation' to assume that these barriers were reflective of insidious and intentional institutional racism. You don't.

Post edited at 15:32
In reply to neuromancer:

Right, so before the lady in the interview dare express her experiences she had better back it up with some serious peer reviewed publications and national level detailed statistical analysis (which doesn't look to exist)? I cant see any problems there. 

In reply to neuromancer:

> I don't disagree that barriers exist - for lots of people and for lots of reasons. It's pretty bloody hard for a low-income inner-city youth to go to Eton.

> I just ask for a higher burden of proof than 'representation' to assume that these barriers were reflective of insidious and intentional institutional racism. You don't.

I would argue that if you are looking for intent then you are missing the point. Systemic racism, sexism etc refers to barriers that are built into the systems and societies we live in. They require no ill intent from anyone involved. We may be so used to the status quo that we become blind to the existence of these barriers, but this is very different to, and not reliant on, intentional discrimination. 

No one is saying that everyone in an industry or society is intentionally racist*. That is either a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation. They are saying, broadly, that some groups experience disproportionately more barriers than others and that addressing this would be a positive step. Would you agree with that?

Edit: *This is obviously a generalisation. Sometime somewhere might be saying this, but I doubt many would agree with them. 

Post edited at 16:00
In reply to Stuart Williams:

I think the barriers are mainly financial, if you have transport then there's nothing to stop you driving to the outdoors and walking. White, under 25, low income, inner city males are likely just as poorly represented. But we don't notice their absence due to the number of white middle income folk in the outdoors. 25years ago it was different, with the power of Google you can easily find information on how to start anything. 

If you want to see an even less diverse sport try orienteering, even with swedens high migrant numbers and nearly every village having a club, it's almost entirely a white swedish middle income sport. But go to the local or national cricket leagues and you'll struggle to find a native swede, at the risk of stereotyping if it wasn't for Asian IT workers there would be no league. Sweden isn't having a meltdown about participation, but to get government support as sports are well supported, you have to demonstrate equal access, opportunity, where the figures settle at will sort itself out. 

The article mentions equal participation, what matter is equality of access, the numbers or ratios don't matter. 

 derryclimbs 12 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

As someone who works for the Lulworth Estate I am utterly appalled at how the media has spun this and is now being further perpetuated by articles such as this. Did you read the full press release of over 500 words? We had an awful year in 2020. I was personally clearing bottles, cans, facemasks, soiled nappies, used tampons, bbqs, 10 person tents off the beach daily, starting at 5am. If that wasn't enough, I was also cleaning graffiti off the chalk cliffs, dealing with idiots jumping off the cliffs resulting in dramatic rescue scenes on the beach and having to keep myself distanced from people who should have been in lockdown mode, but had actually lost all sense of any type of appropriate behaviour. It was honestly soul destroying as I am usually teaching geography to visiting schools, or taking clients coasteering or kayaking teaching them about the environment. Who was to blame, one specific group? Definitely not, we have such a diverse range of visitors there is no way you can pinpoint who is predominantly doing this.

Thus over the winter we (the ranger team) decided to launch a petition, aimed at EVERYONE who visits to be more aware of the countryside code. However, the media paraphrasing a couple of lines decided to take the focus away from our 'protect the countryside' message, and turned it into a blaming article from the big bad private landowner. Obviously that's going to get more traction. 

We conducted visitor surveys to ascertain where our day visitors came from (yes it was mainly London and the M3), their spoken languages and age range, so your point of having 'no evidence' is completely incorrect, it just wasn't publicised as that wasn't the aim of the article. The twitter-storm that was created was from a number of people being personally offended, assuming the culturally diverse comment was directed at them. Culture is not race! The comment 'culturally diverse' was actually meant to be an inclusive term, that no one culture is to blame here (even if the locals would disagree), but we need to get through to everyone. It's the culture that thinks its OK to leave their McDonalds in the car park, or the culture who think having a bbq on the beach and burning down the wooden railing is a good idea, or who think tagging their name onto a World Heritage Site is acceptable.

I spent months contacting various influencers after the summer season from different backgrounds to help highlight our plight and sadly, most of them came back with 'sorry, it's off-brand' or didn't respond whatsoever. This included the group from Black Girls Hike. 

This article is great on highlighting activism in the outdoors, however the basis is completely unfounded. If you knew the person who wrote that press release, she is perhaps the most inclusive, caring and welcoming people I have ever known. The way the media spun it and this article of the private landowner being 'the bad guy' is misinformed.

2020 was the perfect storm on our beaches. Released from lockdown, furloughed from work, a heatwave and unable to travel overseas. We are preparing ourselves once again.

If anyone cares, here is the actual petition we launched that was overshadowed by the Times et al 

In reply to summo:

I’d disagree and say that you are thinking too concretely about “barriers”. The article touched on things like a sense of not belonging in certain places, or not knowing people who you can relate to who do something.

To make a very exaggerated example, what if someone had zero financial barriers but every time they entered a national park they were followed everywhere they went by someone screaming verbal abuse at them due to their membership of a certain group. Would this be deemed okay just because they haven’t been literally blocked from entering the national park? If not acceptable, why are more subtle influences on things like a sense of not belonging not worth consideration?

In reply to Stuart Williams:

> why are more subtle influences on things like a sense of not belonging not worth consideration?

I know exactly what you mean, I've experienced it 2nd hand, many years ago (maybe 15 or 16) I took an Ethiopian friend to Kendal MFF, having been up a few hills earlier in the day. To say he was in a minority is an understatement. Whilst the eyes were towards us, they were obviously towards him. 

He's experienced it his whole life, he's certainly an above average ability biker, skier, runner... having been on few high quality adventure racing teams, but at most events many presumed he was just watching, not the athlete.

Everyone presumes he's the new starter, inexperienced etc..  often offer tips on where to go, as we sit on the chairlift going up. It's only being helpful, but there's a recurring presumption that he's not on familiar turf.

But, some of your subtle vibe or feeling of being out of place is likely also cultural, parental conditioning etc....

In reply to summo:

That example captures what I was thinking about far far better than I could, thanks. Yeah, it's often more that kind of thing that comes to my mind when I read articles like this.

I think this is where things like brands increasing the diversity of their 'ambassadors' and whatnot can be a good thing - it normalises the experience of seeing someone from a minority group taking part in things like climbing and walking and hopefully counters some of the assumptions made about your friend. 

I think you are right that there are cultural and parental influences too. It's a huge, multi-faceted conversation. But I think it is one worth having. It would be nice to reach a place where no-one writes off doing something just because they see it as a white person thing, or because they feel they don't belong somewhere. And I think that regardless of the reasons why they have come to believe that.

In reply to Stuart Williams:

> I think you are right that there are cultural and parental influences too. 

I think these are massive, as much because my friend didn't have them. He was born in Ethiopia, but his mother died in child birth, then fed by his Aunt who had fortunately recently given birth, before being adopted, via a church charity, to a white European family. There was no know your place in society upbringing, it was a the world's your oyster. Went from being a PhD biochemist, to writing algorithms for banks share trading, to design & building web platforms, he spent this last year working from home / living in one of his 2nd homes in a ski resort, biking in summer, skiing all winter. His pet hate are folk moaning why they can't have something, rather than making it happen for themselves. I appreciate he's not average, he should write a book! 

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