Emotional Wellbeing

Mandy Kloppers

New report challenges assumptions and stereotypes around access to the outdoors

Connecting ALL people to the outdoors must go beyond a numbers game, says YHA


YHA (England & Wales) is challenging itself and its outdoor sector colleagues to share a wider range of voices in their work.

The call to action follows the publication of YHA’s Outside Voices research project which was part-funded by The National Lottery Emerging Futures Fund. The resulting ebook, Outside Voices, challenges assumptions and stereotypes around access to the outdoors.

Anita Kerwin-Nye, YHA’s Executive Director of Strategy and Engagement said: “Our Outside Voices project has shown that racism, ableism and class bias impact on the way people can benefit from the outdoors.

“Outside Voices has enabled us to understand that we need to look beyond statistics.  We must put the voices of the people, different people, at the centre of the debate on access to green and blue spaces.”

“The inequity in safe and welcoming access to the outdoors is well documented. Too many people are not welcome in outdoor spaces despite the fact that these places are supported with public funds or charitable assets with the intent that they be open to all.

“Numerical targets are useful but work on access has to move beyond these. What we do in the outdoors and how we use it, matters. We need to challenge the stereotypes that all people from cities litter the countryside; that young people make too much noise; that the only way to enjoy a hill is to march up it in expensive kit.

The six-month Outdoor Voices research project took place during Covid-19.  YHA worked with and talked to a diverse range of people, particularly those living and working in the outdoors but who do not consider themselves ‘outdoorsy’.

Published in September, Outside Voices is described as an ‘anthology of lived experience’. It presents a different perspective on the outdoors; one from people and communities who are not often heard, seen or well represented within the outdoors sector. It aims to understand why some people are resistant or reluctant to spend time in the outdoors.

Voices in the report

Voices in the publication include that of Daniel, who lives in London with his partner and their six-year-old son – “As a family with two dads and a mixed-race son we have long found the outdoor space of London to be a place of safety and acceptance. We have loved exploring London’s parks, neighbourhoods, playgrounds, rivers, and canals. These have all been spaces where we feel relaxed and able to enjoy the outdoors without a niggling worry about judgement and exclusion.”


Richard is a third-generation dairy farmer in West Cumbria – “The farming industry is struggling to find people who are willingly wanting to work outside in all weather because basically they can get paid more for an easier job. It is a hard labour-intensive job.”


Sue Bott CBE, a lifelong disability rights campaigner and former Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Disability Rights UK who is registered blind has also contributed to Outside Voices – “All who wander are not lost, even if they are visually impaired. I love walking outdoors. It’s not just exercise, but a time to get my thoughts together, to feel peace with the world.”

Rob is a competitive BMX rider and coach, a photographer, designer and illustrator, musician, and lover of adventure sports and the outdoors who lives in a converted van – “Living in a van forces the outdoors on you because you’re constantly aware of rain, you’re aware of the wind, you’re aware of the heat coming through the van, if it’s sunny outside, you know if it’s hot, you know if there is a storm, you know if there are people around you. It kind of forces you into a mindful existence.”


Debbie North, Inclusion and Diversity Expert – “Whenever we have featured on the TV, they always add sad music at the start of the interview. Let’s be sad — she’s in a wheelchair. And then the jolly music at the end. Yeah, she’s reached the top. We always ask why. Why the sad music? It makes us laugh.”


Next steps


Sharing these voices is the first step in the project. YHA is now calling on sector colleagues to amplify these voices through their own organisations and networks.

Anita added: “Too often larger organisations – with power and reach – fail to share smaller voices or to learn from the work of community groups.”

As part of YHA’s strategic priority to support local communities YHA is developing a community of small outdoor charities, groups and organisations to break down barriers to access.

“We aim for Outside Voices to be a catalyst for action across the outdoor sector, to ensure that the future design of outdoor spaces and investment in outside activities work for everyone – not just the most visible. However, long-term change is not just achieved by one single gesture, rather it is a continued series of small acts by everyone,” added Anita.

If you are an outdoors community organisation or group and would like to work with YHA to effect change, please get in touch with charliesimpson@yha.org.uk.

Featured image:

Top row l – r: Debbie North, Inclusion and Diversity Expert and Daniel’s six-year-old son cycling through the deserted London streets during lockdown, who are both featured in Outside Voices

Bottom row l – r: Anita Kerwin-Nye, YHA’s Executive Director of Strategy and Engagement, the front cover of Outside Voices and Daniel’s son picking tomatoes.


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