Kit Collective on removing barriers to accessing National Parks

28 July 2021

There are many barriers to accessing National Parks and Campaign for National Parks (CNP) has been working with partners to address this over the years. We've seen some great grass-roots initiatives set up to tackle this too including the brilliant Kit Collective.

Kit Collective's Anna Woolman, who also volunteers with CNP, explains...

Kit Collective is a volunteer-led project dedicated to supporting diversity and inclusion in the outdoors through the provision of quality kit to grassroot hiking groups.

Natural England’s 2009-2019 Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey showed that people from minority ethnic backgrounds are almost half as likely to take part in outdoor activities such as walking or even gardening compared to people from white ethnic backgrounds. Sport England’s Getting Active Outdoors survey also showed people living in a deprived community are six times more likely to have had no previous experience of outdoors activity.

Creating more inclusive National Parks

Across the UK, grassroot groups are responsive to the needs of their communities, often providing a safe, trusted space for people to try out activities. Through this, they have the power to make change. Working towards a more inclusive outdoor sector is no exception. At Kit Collective we’ve been lucky to meet and work with a handful of such groups who are leading the way in supporting more people from under-represented backgrounds to explore nature and National Parks.

One of these groups is Mosaic Outdoors - set up by CNP and now led by Mohammed Dhalech, who remains a council member at CNP. The group’s aim is “to grow the number of people from Black, Asian and ethnic minorities (BAME) who engage with the outdoors (National Parks and the natural environment), delivering quality of life, health, environmental and educational benefits”.

Besides introducing minority ethnic groups to outdoor activities, they are also active in lobbying, campaigning and advising on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues. In the past, they’ve worked with national parks to develop more inclusive hiring practices which led to more diverse applicant pools. Their approach aims to truly change the narrative by tackling these issues from all angles. Ultimately this true commitment to EDI, and way of working, is needed across the sector if any hope of real change is to be made.

Empowering people to explore

Mohammed has been working in the outdoors sector for over 30 years. He’s seen lots of projects trying to widen participation come and go, sometimes successful, but often with little long-term legacy. He highlights that while there is now more widespread awareness of diversity issues, not much has changed since the 90s.

From our conversations, it seems that one of the solutions to the legacy issue is something that Mosaic Outdoor’s ethos is centred around – empowering people to explore the outdoors, on their own terms, and role modelling. They do this by introducing groups to the outdoors through activities like hiking, then providing them with the tools and confidence to go out and do it themselves. They are also looking to offer training opportunities for their participants to grow as outdoor leaders – developing the next generation of role models within minority ethnic communities.

Working in partnership

The cost of kit is often a barrier for people to first go hiking and get outdoors. The choice is overwhelming and it can be difficult to know what to spend money on initially. Mohammed approached Kit Collective to address this need in their groups and found it useful to offer a pair of sturdy boots or rucksack - at no cost - to those who need it “It has had a positive impact and helped people feel comfortable.”

Lockdowns saw more people getting out in nature and exploring their nearest national park or green space. While there are many physical and mental health benefits of getting outdoors – it can also raise people’s awareness of environmental and conservation issues. Mohammed sees this – the future of our countryside – as one of the most vital reasons for more diverse groups of people to feel more connected to nature, and it’s what drives his work. It’s also why Mosaic Outdoors host events like Virtual Dark Skies in Yorkshire Dales National Park which encourages broader thinking about the natural world.

Beyond the barriers

While groups like Mosaic Outdoors and others Kit Collective work with are challenging the status quo, the sector cannot rely on them alone to make the lasting impact that is vitally needed. We support groups with kit, removing one of the many barriers that many people often face to getting out in National Parks. We identified an opportunity and do what we can to help, given our resources.

Yet removing barriers is just a small piece of the puzzle. If the sector wants to sustain more people connecting with nature, the value of empowered communities and people – at all levels – to challenge and create change must be acknowledged, built on and supported. If there is true commitment to conserving green spaces in the long-run, this way of working needs to be embraced.

Are you a grassroots outdoor group in need of kit or a brand who wants to contribute? Visit www.kitcollective.co.uk to find out more, or follow Kit Collective on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram