BMC Equity Symposium: how the outdoors can overcome barriers

Posted by Afsha Malik on 02/04/2014
A sketch of a packed session by symposium participant Mike Duckett

Spirituality, funky moss, and experiencing the outdoors as a British Asian - personal trainer Afsha Malik, who took part in last weekend’s BMC Equity Symposium, gives her impressions of the event.

I have just returned from attending a weekend-long symposium held by the British Mountaineering Council (BMC). I am invigorated and enthused with new ideas. The BMC are committed to help with addressing the barriers facing the most under-represented groups, namely women and girls, people with disabilities and those from black and ethnic minority (BME) groups.

I guess I fall into two of those categories, and when I came across the event by chance on Twitter I decided to seize the opportunity to actively engage and learn. And there was a lot to learn: indoor sessions centred on practical advice, guidance and ideas to support the BME community, coupled with outdoor sessions providing skills. Set in beautiful Yorkshire and with a stay in YHA Haworth the whole event was enticing. A youth hostel is a little out of my comfort zone now, but, hey, life begins where your comfort zone ends!

Ok, I admit, I cheated. For the sake of my children, I decided I needed to return home on Mother’s Day fresh-faced and full of energy instead of sleep-deprived and shattered. So, I booked into a simply wonderful, serene and peaceful little B&B: Cherry Tree Cottage. I was treated to the yummiest and healthiest breakfast with homemade bread and jam too! Though, to be honest, the hostel was clean and very pleasant. Maybe next time?

Learning navigation skills on the moors near Haworth

The outdoor sessions were brilliant! Leading and navigational skills, rock climbing and first aid. We walked the Brontë Way and learned to read maps (haven’t used a map since O Grade Geography!). Claudia, our leader, even showed us some funky moss that you can use as toilet paper! The session was confidence-building and fun and we worked as a team to get back to the van – eventually!

Indoor we heard talks on a whole host of subjects, too many to list but they can be found here.

All talks were fabulous but a few key things stay in my mind. I learned about the Mosaic National Network, an organisation “to build sustainable links between black and minority ethnic communities and nine of the National Parks in England and Youth Hostels Association” Check out their website.

Rehan Siddiqui, ex-BMC vice president gave a keynote speech in the evening. He shared all his great achievements with us but what stood out for me, as a British Asian, were his childhood holiday snaps. I could relate to them, he was one of us, similar lifestyle, beliefs and culture, and yet had managed to do something so “different”. It made me (and perhaps others) feel that these achievements and adventures are all possible. You don’t have to be from a certain place or “type of person”. You just have to want to do it and be given the opportunity.

Climbing on Woodhouse Scar, Halifax

The work IMAYLA do around Bristol in helping people “learn in new places and in new ways and to make connections across cultural, artistic and physical divides” really touched me. The video, “Leaning on the wind” about getting young Somalian kids and families out into the countryside and to reconnect them with their nomadic heritage was truly inspiring.

You know, there are some really amazing people in the UK who take time and effort to care for others despite being from different countries, races and religions. We are lucky to be part of this wonderful nation.

Lastly, the talk by Jeremy Henzell-Thomas, “Spirituality in the Outdoors” was my highlight.

Obviously a gifted orator, he captured us with the beauty of his message and the gentle rhythm of his mellifluous tones. He truly understood his subject and his audience, inspiring us with words from prophets and poets, quotes from Islamic, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu scriptures, as well as those affiliated with no religion. He gently encouraged us to slow down, centre and orientate ourselves in life with the simplest and most therapeutic of activities – a walk, whether it be in the city or in the hills – but one that is mindful and takes notice of the wonder and majesty of our world. In a frenetic world where we have no time to spare, we find that when we take ourselves out in a vast space suddenly time slows down, giving us a precious opportunity to re-balance, to de-stress, to contemplate and orientate ourselves. A really thought-provoking talk.

Climbing and abseiling session at Woodhouse Scar

Lastly, and I would say most significantly, this event brought people together. In a relaxed atmosphere we could link and connect with those whose paths may never have crossed if it weren’t for such events. About 70 people attended. It was wonderful to meet so many people and to see that although we are under-represented there are plenty who are full of enthusiasm and desire and some who already have the skills to get out and get active. It really was a celebration of how the outdoors can overcome barriers and bring all people together and a reminder that this is within everybody’s reach.

Thanks BMC and all the volunteers and speakers that made this possible!

Let me know if you attended and what you got out of it by leaving a comment below or on my blog, or if you have had experiences of the outdoors bringing people together. It would be fabulous to hear your story.

Afsha Malik, founder of Bloom in Health. This report was originally published Afsha’s blog.

Watch the BMC Equity Symposium on BMC TV:



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