Through the WeTwo project, Phoebe Smith and Dwayne Fields plan to take a group of disadvantaged young people to Antarctica by expedition boat, to prove people from all backgrounds can be adventurers and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. We chatted with them about the project.
Dwayne and Phoebe met, of all places, at Buckingham Palace, awarding Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards. They later sat on an adventure panel together - “I was the token woman and Dwayne was the token black man,” Phoebe recalls - where the idea to collaborate grew.
That idea has snowballed into the #WeTwo project, through which they plan to take a group of disadvantaged young people to Antarctica, by expedition ship in 2021/22. Throughout lockdown they have both still been actively fundraising for the #WeTwo Foundation, which will fund the young people’s places.
This fundraising kicked off with Seabirds to South, a 40-day expedition in November and December 2019, which saw the two walk with wheeled sleds, from mainland Britain’s most northern point to the most southern - Dunnet Head to Lizard Point - wild camping all the way. The idea was to create a Polar-style expedition in their home country. “It was actually Antarctic weather in the Cairngorms!” Dwayne remembers.
Team #WeTwo has two core aims: to prove that anybody is capable of going on adventures, irrespective of background - to “change the face of adventure,” as Phoebe puts it - and to help inspire the next generation of environmental stewards.
They both know well the barriers people from certain backgrounds can face in entering the adventure world.
Dwayne recalls that, as a Jamaican-born black man, growing up on an estate in Hackney, there were myriad barriers. The cost of equipment and gaining the expertise, as well as being part of the networks required for raising sponsorship, are clear. A more persistent barrier is the constant messaging - not just from those within the adventure world, but also people around him - that people like him simply weren’t meant to be adventurers. “My maths teacher once said to me, ‘The best you can hope for is a short prison sentence,’” Dwayne says. “I knew I was going to get a barrage of negativity, so I didn’t tell anyone,” he continues, of his first steps into adventure. “I told the local newspaper before I told anyone I knew.”
The “Costa Del Dole” is how the tabloids referred to where Phoebe grew up on the North Wales coast. You were seen as a traitor for leaving, she recalls, and back then the Scouts wasn’t an option for women. “There was just a lot of negativity,” she recalls: “the media seemed to vilify women for daring to leave the traditional roles to live an adventurous life, and everyone around me had the attitude that you can’t and you shan’t.” She was bombarded with hate mail when she started writing publicly about her solo adventures, and even quite recently, Dwayne recalls, “when we said we were doing this, somebody pinched Phoebe’s arm without even saying hello to her… they pinched her arm to try and prove that she didn’t have enough muscle. It was shocking for me to see.”
Developing a sense of possibility can be transformational for young people. Dwayne summarises his experience giving talks in schools. Despite initial distraction, “within about five minutes I’ve got their attention,” he says. And at the end of each talk, “one or two boys will wait by the door and say, ‘How did you do it?’”
Fast forward to being out on an expedition with a young person, and “it feels amazing when you see an 18 or 19-year-old boy cry for the first time,” Dwayne continues: “on an adventure, and his dad calls and says for the first time ever, ‘I’m proud of you.’”
Ultimately, “the more that people see normal people, who are not from ex-military or upper-class backgrounds doing these things, the more they might feel empowered to do them themselves,” says Phoebe. And things are slowly changing. Over the last 15 years Phoebe has done this she notes that there has been a steady increase of women in the outdoors who have been inspired by her very honest tales of adventure. But she says there is still more work to be done getting this messaging into schools and the media. And this applies too for people from BAME backgrounds and lower classes.
Dwayne is keen to emphasise that the #WeTwo initiative is UK-wide. “We were lucky enough to walk the length of the country,” he says of the Seabirds to South expeditions. “A lot of people don’t associate deprivation with places like Cornwall, Dorset, Scotland or Wales, but we walked through these areas and saw that there are communities everywhere that are in as much need as parts of London.”
The second key aim of the project is environmental. For starters the expedition will be carbon negative - as a reminder, as Dwayne puts it, that “adventure doesn’t need to destroy the planet.”
But the longer-term ambition is to create the next generation of climate and wildlife ambassadors - something that is only possible for young people with a sense of confidence, potential and connection to the environment. Only then can you expect people to really notice and take action around climate breakdown.
Dwayne and Phoebe hope that working with the young people pre-trip on plans of how they can ‘pay it forward’ in terms of offsetting their carbon emissions, getting involved in local re-wilding and green space initiatives and giving talks to their peers, will set them off on an alternative path than they may already have started on. On the #WeTwo Foundation expedition, they will get to meet scientists of all stripes - being truly embedded in those research contexts - and meet adventure guides and have close wildlife encounters in a place they never dreamed they would get to see, which will show them that what they do matters, and open up future careers to them. The idea is that with them returning from the trip with a changed perception and enthusiasm for the natural world will spread among their peers and communities. “ More than celebrities or famous adventurers,” says Phoebe, “people are likely to listen to people like them.”
Despite the serious aims of the project, Dwayne and Phoebe are infectious advocates of a joyful approach to adventure - one opposed to many grave, gruelling expeditions typically associated with famous adventurers. “That strength to wake up every morning cold and wet and soggy and still smiling and saying, ‘I’m gonna make the most of today’ - it’s what’s missing from a lot of adventurers at the moment,” says Dwayne. The adventure community would certainly be much richer with more people with this outlook and from these backgrounds.
You can learn more about Dwayne and Phoebe’s work through the #WeTwo website. You can also donate to the campaign here. No amount is too small to help them reach their £100,000 target, and sharing the campaign can go a long way. They are also keen to work with organisations to help identify young people for the expedition.