The BAME women making the outdoors more inclusive | Health and fitness holidays | The Guardian
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  • 2017 study by Natural England found that just 26.2% of black people spent time in the countryside, compared with 44.2% of white people.

    According to a separate report, only 1% of visitors to UK national parks Sport England research identifies six barriers to participation in outdoor activities for people from an ethnic minority background: language, awareness, safety, culture, confidence and perception of middle-class stigma.

    Even more acute were the findings from a diversity review commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). It highlighted that despite people from ethnic minority backgrounds valuing the natural environment and the slow and simple life of rural communities, they felt excluded and conspicuous in what they perceived as an “exclusively English environment”.

    The Hillwalking Hijabi
    Zahrah Mahmood, the ‘Hillwalking Hijabi’ climbing Meall Buidhe, Scotland.
    Zahrah Mahmood climbing Meall Buidhe, Scotland. Photograph: Courtesy of Zahrah Mahmood

    The first time Mahmood hiked a Munro she found it so difficult she hung up her walking boots and vowed never to return. Five years later, she has climbed more than 30 Munros and has become an inspiration to Muslim women across the country – regularly featuring photographs on her Instagram page of climbing Scotland’s peaks in a traditional Muslim head-covering.

    Mahmood took up hiking when a friend coaxed her on to Ben Lomond to reduce the stress of her chartered accountancy exams.

    “I found that first hike so difficult. I struggled the whole way up and I could see people staring at me and I didn’t know if it was because I was wearing a hijab, my race or because I was clearly unfit – I imagine it was all three – but it was tough,” she said.

    “I had never really exercised before that and to tackle a Munro straight off was just the worst. I struggled and complained … but there was something else, I was the only non-white person in a hijab on the entire walk and I just felt so out of place, so I decided to never return.”

    However, Mahmood did return. Shortly after that first hike she joined a gym and embarked on a number of low-level flat walks, including the 26-mile Kiltwalk for charity, and now describes Glen Coe and the Lawers range, which takes in seven Munros, as her favourite places to hike.

    “I realised that if I was stressed or struggling with something mentally, being outside and walking helped me. I was able to focus on getting to the end of the walk and I’d come back feeling refreshed – ready to tackle whatever was going on in my life.”

    Black Girls Hike
    Rhiane Fatinikun, right, of Black Girls Hike
    Rhiane Fatinikun, right, of Black Girls Hike. Photograph: Sebastian Barros

    In the middle of winter last year, Fatinikun was on a train travelling through the Peak District when she saw a group of hikers disembarking. She was fascinated, and decided almost immediately that she would give it a go – her new year resolution.

    For her first walk, purchasing hiking boots and a waterproof jacket just the day before, the former civil servant went out with a group of friends on to the South Pennine Water Trail in Rochdale and she describes feeling relief, grateful to be outside and “doing something really physical”.

    “These hikers on the train looked like they were about to go on an adventure and, just like that, on the spot, I decided to take it up. I’d been searching for something different for a while and felt like my life was passing me by. That first walk was just incredible,” she said.

    Black Swimming Association; Pride in Water volunteer
    Omie Dale at West Reservoir, Hackney, London
    Omie Dale at West Reservoir Centre, Hackney, London Photograph: Bridget Flynn/Mamma Swim

    Whether it was plunging into the waters of the Nene valley near the Cambridgeshire village of Castor or diving into the sea on the Norfolk coast, Dale, spent much of her childhood swimming outdoors.

    Her family rarely went on holiday abroad, instead collecting tokens from the Sun for cheap UK trips. On these UK breaks in “grubby holiday 凯发官网网址多少homes”, Dale remembers being encouraged, in particular, by her Gambian mother, to swim in the outdoors come “rain or shine”.

    “My dad was a confident swimmer, but my mum wasn’t and so it was kind of non-negotiable – she didn’t want us to have the same anxieties as her, it was an activity we had to do whether in an outdoor pool, the sea or a lake – we would be in the water within minutes of arriving,” she said.

    “Sometimes I didn’t even have a towel and I would just jump in. I have always found the water such a comfortable place to be.”

    Instagram and through swim groups, particularly in collaboration with Mental Health Swims. She is also hoping to set up open water sessions in south London for all levels, including beginners, and trying to remove the barriers for those who would otherwise not swim. And as a volunteer for the Black Swimming Association, she has been exploring the issue of diversity in aquatics and the leisure industry.

    “With swimming it is doubly difficult for people from BAME backgrounds, because you’ve already got the existing challenges of swimming itself, and then the unfounded stereotypes of black people not being able to swim.

    “It can be overwhelming as a newbie, especially if no one looks like you on top of issues like water fear, cleanliness, knowing about currents – all of that makes it quite an exclusive activity.

    “There are so many good things about swimming outside: it’s so beautiful and the mental health benefits are incredible, but there is a lot of work to do to get certain groups of people believing that it is something they can do and will enjoy.”

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