I grew up in Glasgow’s city centre. My experience of the outdoors growing up was playing football in local parks and the occasional family picnic at Loch Lomond. This was different from my older siblings. Just before I was born my parents moved from Fort William to Glasgow. My siblings had Ben Nevis for a playground. They got to explore, but I missed that growing up. I didn’t get the chance. When I had my own kids, I wanted to make sure they weren’t confined to the city. I wanted them to explore Scotland and be confident that Scotland is for them.
In the BME (black and ethnic minority) community, we call ourselves Scottish, but we’ve don’t explore the Scotland that’s to be found outside the cities. We’re not confident enough to know how to do it and start exploring. I think it’s essential to get into Scotland’s countryside and connect with the landscape. It gives you a better sense of what Scotland is all about. It helps you to learn the history of Scotland and your place in that. This is as true for BME communities as it is for everyone else in Scotland, but minorities have often been absent from Scotland’s hills and glens. It’s not as accessible to those communities as I believe it should be.
I wanted to give BME children and adults the skills and experience to conquer a hill and be confident about doing it. Then they can say “I am Scottish” because they understand and engage with the physical environment that is their home. It gives them access to new adventures and new ways of interacting with Scotland and its culture.
In my experience, the BME community likes to meet up in groups. It helps to be part of a large group if you’re unsure of a new activity and whether you’ll enjoy it. It comes down to confidence. The more individuals get out in groups and build up their confidence, the more likely it’ll be that they will do it on their own, or with a close friend. Growing the confidence of individuals helps the whole community to access the outdoors. Confidence is key.
My cousin Kash and I started to take our children into Scotland’s outdoors to go hillwalking a few years ago. To begin with, I didn’t know much about maps, navigation and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Now, I can’t get enough of it. In my house, you’ll see the mucky boots by the door and hillwalking sticks and maps lying around. This is how the charity Boots and Beards was born. Kash and I built up our own confidence in the outdoors and started to take other children from the BME community. Word of what we were doing spread like wildfire and soon we had over 40 children and young people interested in taking part.
For me, it’s so important that children are able to access the outdoors and build their connection with Scotland’s environment from an early age. By taking them into the outdoors we’re exposing them things they’ve never seen before. They get to build initiative and teamwork skills alongside seeing black slugs and hilltops for the first time. We’re giving them the tools and confidence to explore on their own, have adventures and test their limits. It also gets their parents involved and helps them to lead healthy, active lives.
We are working to ensure the young people we take out get recognition for their achievements. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award seemed a natural fit for our approach. We’ve recently become the first BME organisation in Scotland to offer the award. By taking part, young people will gain tangible recognition of their achievements. It’ll also help them engage with their community beyond the outdoors, through volunteering and other activities.
Young people come to us to do their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award because they can’t access the programme in their own school, or because they come from a homeschooling background. We’re exploring how we can build up our relationships with local Glasgow schools to help BME young people access the outdoors through programmes like the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
The main challenge for us going forward is to meet the demand, things have become so popular – Boots and Beards is volunteer-run and we’re always looking for people who can help.
Nav Bakhsh is the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award manager and trustee of the charity Boots and Beards