The BMC is committed to tackling barriers to minority participation in climbing, hill walking and mountaineering. A step to achieving this goal was taken in Birmingham, with a successful conference reaching out to the city’s large Muslim population.
On a particularly chilly winter morning in December, Al Furqan School, situated in the centre of a bustling and diverse community in Birmingham, hosted a BMC outreach conference. This conference was specifically aimed at targeting the largest minority faith group in the UK – Muslims. They constitute an ethnically diverse group of people which was certainly reflected in the delegates attending – South Asians, White Europeans, Arabs and Black Afro-Carribeans – but nevertheless are a group of people which the conference revealed have specific and unifying barriers when it comes to outdoor recreation.
The leaders and representatives invited to attend came from Muslim groups dotted around the Midlands and are active in encouraging outdoor sports, for both males and females, young and old. These included Muslim Scout Leaders, freelance expedition leaders, community centres and mosques, As-Suffa Institute, Jabal Experience, Islamic school teachers, Birmingham City Council, Mosaic National Network and of course the BMC. Mountain MuslimTM, an innovative organisation and website that aims to facilitate this minority group to experience the outdoors, was also present and helped to organise the conference in association with the BMC.
The primary purpose of the conference was to identify barriers to participation in the outdoors from the Muslim community and to suggest solutions to overcome them. Secondly, it aimed to inspire the delegates to return to their respective groups and organisations with a renewed enthusiasm to aim higher and to achieve even more than they have already. The feedback following the event indicated that it succeeded emphatically in both domains!
The day started with Mohammed Dhalech (Chair of the Mosaic National Network) giving an inspiring account of his personal journey into the world of the outdoors, and also a very insightful history of Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) participation in the UK outdoors over the past few decades. This was followed by an open discussion of barriers to Muslim participation in the outdoors, facilitated by Dr Yassar Mustafa (a medical doctor from the local Heart of England NHS Trust). This open discussion was kick-started into action by a heartening video of a local Muslim children’s group climbing Mt Snowdon, participating in kayaking and other watersports, and facing the trials, tribulations and successes therein. This session proved to be very fruitful and the several minds in the room worked together to highlight a number of key barriers to participation. After the break, Carey Davies, secretary of the BMC Equity Steering Group, did a great job of responding to each of the points raised and thereafter several potential solutions and ideas were shared.
A summary of the key barriers highlighted, along with solutions discussed is presented here. Firstly, it was acknowledged that a lack of outdoor knowledge, experience and training within the wider Muslim community is a key barrier. It was agreed that sustained work needs to be done by the several grassroots organisations present at the conference and also many others not present in order to change this situation. Secondly, female-specific issues were raised such as some women feeling more comfortable participating in all-female group activities, and other women suggesting for increased usage of the local and regional green spaces. It was also revealed that all-female events had previously been run and the BMC can certainly facilitate this again.
Thirdly, participating in the outdoors was regarded as outside of many people’s comfort zones and abilities and therefore work needed to be done to change the mainstream societal perception to a more positive can-do attitude with regards to mountainous terrain and national parks. Fourthly, a distinct lack of role models was cited as a barrier, with too few local role models existing from previous projects to feasibly help the growing communities.
Finally, cost was raised as a factor obstructing ease of accessibility into the outdoors. Regarding the latter two points, Carey Davies highlighted that funding would be available through an upcoming BMC-funded scheme aimed specifically at training potential outdoor leaders from BAME youth and community groups to pro-actively encourage participation in outdoor sports within their respective communities.
To finish off the conference, Dr Chamu Kuppuswamy (Lecturer in Law from Sheffield University) shared her story of overcoming barriers to BAME participation in the outdoors. She gave an inspiring account of her work with a community of traditional Indian dancers in the Peak District, for which she recently won the UK National Parks Volunteers Award.
To conclude, this event demonstrated the commitment of the BMC to increasing minority recruitment to the outdoors. The conference certainly achieved its objectives and more – a number of barriers and potential solutions were discussed and the feedback showed that several delegates were inspired to expand and enhance their activities. The feedback also revealed that many found the breaks a great opportunity to network with each other, share ideas and also to find out more about what had already been happening within the region. A number of delegates commented that they had thought much of the outdoors was outside of the reach of the Muslim community, but that the conference helped them to realise this was certainly not the case and that, with a little guidance in the right direction, the outdoors is within everyone’s grasp.
Indeed, the head teacher of the school that hosted the conference was inspired by the conference to give an impromptu speech to the delegates encouraging them to return and help provide outdoor opportunities for the pupils of the school. In the same way that today’s children are destined to inherit the future, it is hoped this conference will simultaneously act as a catalyst to develop the next generation of outdoor leaders from minority communities.
Yassar Mustafa, BMC Equity Steering Group