In a world that increasingly values outdoor experiences, the barriers faced by individuals and families on low incomes can often go unnoticed, or indeed come up against obstacles that belie relationships they may in fact have with the outdoors.
Fran is the founder of Kitsquad, one of our Continuum partners that we work with to pass on outdoor kit and get it to those that would really benefit. It was these challenges that became not just a realisation but a catalyst for change. It was lovely to drop in at Kitsquads HQ recently and have a catch up with Fran, whilst also dropping off a few boxes of those wonderful donations we’d received through Continuum.
With a fulfilling career working on the frontline in the NHS it was unforeseen circumstances that altered the course of Fran’s life. In 2016, faced with the responsibility of becoming a full-time carer for a family member, she rapidly transitioned from a stable job to relying on benefits, becoming a single parent, and losing her home.
"My physical and mental health took a real downward spiral and put me in a pretty dark place. To help me cope, I would take the dog out for hours into our local countryside. I really cannot emphasise how important it was for me all those years ago to put my boots on, flask of tea in my backpack, grab the dog and get outdoors. We would be out exploring for hours and this would be a complete mental health reset for me and gave me courage to keep living during the toughest moments of my life. In hindsight, I can honestly say that accessing these green spaces most likely saved my life.”
Along with these changes in circumstances, chatting to Fran it was clear how adventurous experiences had shaped her life from very early on too and it’s these experiences, combined with an appreciation of the huge value in time spent outdoors that helped spark Kitsquad. An initiative born out of personal struggles, adjustments and ultimately a passion for ensuring that everyone, regardless of financial constraints, can access the rejuvenating power of the great outdoors.
“The idea for Kitsquad came about in 2019 when my son came home with a hiking and camping kitlist from Cubs. Because these are the activities that we as a family did regularly, being able to send him off with the items on his kitlist was not an issue for us. Knowing the financial challenges that many families face, I wondered about those who couldn't afford such outdoor activities. Was there a whole army of people who were being excluded from these activities because they or their parents couldn’t afford it? This is the moment the concept of Kitsquad was born. I did some research and realised that there is no other scheme that covers the whole of the UK and supports individuals and families in this way. Kitsquad was launched from my lounge in February 2020.”
Certainly in recent years, there has been a real positive shift in conversations about diversity and inclusion within outdoor spaces. Alongside this, research shows that those experiencing financial deprivation are one of the recognised underrepresented groups in our green spaces and one of the reasons for this was a lack of access to affordable gear.
“Kitsquad aims to smash that barrier and play a crucial role in addressing the barriers associated with financial deprivation.
One of the common misconceptions we have come across is the belief that those living in poverty are not experienced in being in green spaces. We have found that for the majority of beneficiaries, this is not the case. Using my own situation as an example, I have a decent amount of experience and knowledge when it comes to being outdoors and the ideal clothing and equipment needed. I found myself surviving on benefits due a change in circumstances that did not feature at any point in my life plan. Access to funds has gone, but my knowledge and experience hasn’t.
Other reasons why those in poverty do not access the great outdoors, are also a lack of confidence and a lack of opportunity. You are more likely to being living in poverty in an urban area and you are less likely to drive. I think more encouragement and better access to public transport would give more people the confidence to get outdoors.”
By providing access to necessary gear, Kitsquad aims to contribute to the overall well-being of its beneficiaries and the concept is very simple. Donations of outdoor clothing and equipment arrive in their warehouse, where it is logged and checked before being sent out. Support goes to those individuals and families who are in receipt of means tested benefits, with evidence needing to be provided before processing online applications.
After 4 years, Fran certainly sees no signs that things are going to slow down, feeling that they’ve barely scratched the surface of the amount of people they can support. Of course, as that demand grows so does the workload and financial overheads. For this reason, they are looking to expand the team of volunteers to manage demand.
“We are currently looking for volunteers to help us out in our warehouse, sorting through donations as they come in and getting parcels together and sent out to our beneficiaries. Knowledge of the kind of equipment we have would be ideal, but not essential. We are also looking for volunteers to help us out with our social media, general admin and grant writing. These can all be done remotely.”
We really are delighted to be supporting the work Kitsquad are doing through our Continuum. Not only to keep outdoor kit going longer, but also target those where getting outdoors could massively impact their lives.
For more information or think that you might be able to offer any help, head over to the Kitsquad website.