Cherelle Harding is a regional leader for Black Girls Hike UK, an experience that motivated her to start Steppers UK. We asked her about her work, and what advice she would offer others interested in similar groups.
How did you get involved with Black Girls Hike UK and Steppers UK?
In 2019, I came across Black Girls Hike (BGH) via Instagram after a post I put out about not knowing other black people that enjoyed hiking. To my surprise, someone sent me a link to BGH's Instagram page and I remember my reaction: "How have I only just found out about this?" After attending a few walks and being keen to support the growth of the community, I became a walk leader and started leading walks around the Midlands. My experience through BGH was one of the inspirations to start Steppers UK and create another avenue to promote diversity outdoors.
What do Steppers and Black Girls Hike UK aim to do?
BGH UK and Steppers UK are community interest organisations focusing on diversifying the outdoors and creating spaces for our communities to enjoy and build positive relationships with the outdoors. Both groups are working towards removing barriers, changing the existing narrative and building a more diverse future for the outdoors.
Are there any major differences in what BGH UK and Steppers UK do or how they approach things?
BGH is a group led by Black women for Black women. It is a safe space for Black women of African/Caribbean descent to enjoy the outdoors and connect with nature without being judged or misunderstood. Not restricted to walking, we've also been exploring other outdoor activities such as navigating, caving and rock climbing. BGH is all about sisterhood and scenery!
Steppers UK promotes diversity with a focus on supporting those from Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Encouraging people from cities to explore the countryside and more green spaces, we want to normalise black and brown faces in outdoor spaces and create a community of outdoor enthusiasts. We're all about good views and good vibes!
Beyond the walking, so many friendships and connections are being made in both groups and it's great to see both communities grow.
People are increasingly aware of racial inequality, including when it comes to outdoor spaces. Is this translating into more interest in and support for these groups? What changes have you noticed?
Over the past year, in particular, there has been more of a focus on increasing diversity and representation within the outdoors. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement last year highlighted and put a renewed focus on structural racism, injustice and the lack of representation in a lot of industries. While there have been many organisations that have been supportive and are doing work towards making change, there is still a lot of work to be done. It's not a tick-box exercise, and work needs to be done continuously. There has been a lot of exposure and it has meant more people are coming across our groups and expressing interest in getting involved.
'BGH UK & Steppers UK are community interest organisations focusing on diversifying the outdoors and create spaces for our communities to enjoy and build positive relationships with the outdoors.'
Do you find any barriers particularly challenging in this work?
My experiences with BGH and Steppers have been mostly positive. There have been some challenges, and on a few occasions we have been met with hostility both online and offline. Pushing for diversity in a predominately White industry comes with many challenges, but there are a lot of supportive people that make the journey easier, particularly from those that attend our walks.
What about particular success stories or memorable moments?
The growth of BGH in itself has been a great success story. An idea from Rhiane (the BGH founder) has transformed into a huge national community. It has inspired so many other groups. A particularly memorable moment that I love to talk about is when we climbed Mount Snowdon in 2019. It was a beautiful: a group of Black women at the summit - a rare sight, but one that was about to become more common!!
A memorable moment with Steppers has to be our trip to Malvern Hills. It was a great trip as we had a lot of people who had never been hiking before, so it was great to be introductory for them. I've had a few messages from people who have said that trip inspired them to go to and explore other places.
We do. There will always be negative comments and people that don't understand or don't want to understand our mission. We try not to focus on that. What's important to us is focusing on the communities we are serving, amplifying their voices and creating spaces for them to enjoy the outdoors in a comfortable, familiar and supportive environment. We rise above any resistance and stand firm in what we are trying to do.
What advice would you give anybody looking to start similar groups (whether involving hiking or other outdoor pursuits)?
'I'm hopeful for the future of the outdoors. Time in nature can open the doors to so many other things, it can also spark an interest in science, the environment, geography, geology for example.'
There is a lot of momentum at the moment, which is exciting. Our BGH community just keeps growing. We have some new regional leaders so we will be expanding, meaning we can support more Black women across the country. We hope to deliver more training events to upskill members in navigation and becoming mountain leaders. We'll be exploring more outdoor activities and starting a membership scheme.
Steppers is working through visiting all 46 areas of outstanding natural beauty across the UK (we've only done four so far, so lots of adventures ahead), and we will also be exploring other outdoor activities. In the near future we hope to start working with young people, building off their one-off experiences. We also plan to develop specific programmes supporting refugees and migrants to provide outdoor experiences that they may never have had before.
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