There are many reasons that disadvantaged teenagers from inner city locations can really struggle to access the outdoors, with so many never having visited the countryside, or experienced a connection with nature.
By making it more relevant to them, by getting them interested in wildlife, nature and giving them the opportunity to spend time outdoors it can have a huge impact on their individual mental and physical health, as well as the communities themselves.
Black2Nature was set up by Mya-Rose Craig with the aim of giving young people in minority ethnic communities access to nature and tackle the lack of diversity in green spaces. They do this through arranging camps for children and teenagers, conferences on how the environmental sector can become ethnically diverse and engage with visible minority ethnic (VME) people, as well as other talks, events and campaigning to the environmental sector.
“My project runs nature camps for disadvantaged Visible Minority Ethnic (VME) teenagers from the inner city. We target them because they have many barriers preventing them from accessing the natural environment and the benefits that can have. Teenagers living in the most deprived inner-city areas of Bristol can really benefit from these experiences, but often they have not been allowed to attend primary school camps, they have never been to the countryside, never seen a cow, sheep or pony and are without exception petrified of dogs, making being out in the countryside full of anxiety and fear.
Black2Nature works successfully with VME community leaders, organisations and faith groups to find and work with families from the most isolated, vulnerable and excluded from society by getting them engaged with nature, educating them on environmental issues by referring to the impact of climate change on their countries of ethnicity, giving them a reason to start campaigning. We talk to them about racism and empower them towards increasing their academic achievement by making them believe in themselves.”
Being able to provide transport to get the teens to the camp, to put on the activities and having the chance to cook and eat together is integral and support is vital to keep prohibitive costs down and even allow some attend camps for free. The Alpkit Foundation was delighted to add some support to their Avalon Camp earlier this year, enabling them to continue improving and providing the best possible experience for those attending the camps.
Seemah Nahome-Burgess is project manager at Black2Nature and she got back to us following their recent camp, letting us know how things went and again highlighting the importance of being able to provide these opportunities.
“This award allows us to run nature days and camps for those children who are currently excluded from the advantages benefiting others in society, including the countryside and accessing nature. By providing a whole experience of camping, sports activities, environmental learning and cooking outdoors, these camps are important so that VME and disadvantaged children can learn about nature, conservation and an appreciation of sustainability. This is important for the environmental movement, which is currently mono-ethnic, as teenagers can’t care about what they don’t know about. It is also important for the benefit of the individual teenagers, who will be able to start appreciating the beauty of the nature around them and so use green therapy to help cope with mental health issues.”
Case studies are showing that there are huge benefits to those attending, such as understanding the impact that issues like poor mental health had been having on them. Being able to take part in activities has made them feel much more positive about themselves, whilst being able to make friends from a real diverse mix of ethnic backgrounds has helped in make them feel comfortable being who they are.
It was great to hear the positive impact that camps like this are having and the engagement they are getting, with clear evidence that the children are returning home wanting more. While it may not immediately remove certain barriers, they are finding out a lot more about themselves and are gaining a love for getting outdoors and connecting with nature, which is giving them much more confidence.
What’s more, Seemah is finding that it’s going further than just the children and teenagers that attend the camps, opening up further opportunities that should be able to have an impact across more families and communities.
“To date most VME led communities live in inner cities and don't feel welcomed in nature so this grant has allowed us to bring teenagers out of the City and into nature and provide access to green spaces and encourage VME communities not to see themselves as just urban communities but to build emotional attachment to nature. Following our nature camps, we interview children, young people and families who attend to find out their expectation of camping in the countryside or our nature event, how they felt about being in nature and whether they felt connected to it, whether they felt mentally or physically better or whether they felt their well-being was improved. We also meet and interview parents before/after events, to find out their thoughts on whether their child or teenager had been positively impacted by our camps as well as other adults working with the family.
We are finding that children are asking to go for more walks or do more sports outside, resulting in families who now access green spaces with their children who might not have before due to not feeling welcomed. We know from our teens that the kids want to come again and again to our camps to experience all that we offer as it might not be available to them otherwise.
These adults have included children’s Bangla class teachers and Somali after school club workers. After the 2019 camps we were advised by the Bangladeshi community that the parents did not want their teenage girls going to a mixed camp, so now we are organising single sex camps to accommodate them into our camps. We also allowed parents to come to a children's camp and afterwards, mums asked for a camp for them which we are organising. We are always learning and improving our camps based on the success of each one and feedback.”