Black Girls Hike & Steppers UK | How The Two Walking Groups Have Led The Way When It Comes To Diversifying The Outdoors
Rhiane Fatinikun and Cherelle Harding are bringing diversity to the countryside with their walking groups. We had a chat with the pair about their great work with Black Girls Hike and Steppers UK
The saying ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ has never been more apparent when speaking about Black Girls Hike and Steppers UK. Both groups are on a collective mission to bring diversity to the outdoors, one step at a time.
Black Girls Hike presents safe spaces for black women to explore the outdoors, encouraging them to connect with nature through hiking and guided walks. Steppers UK is an outdoors organisation that encourages underrepresented communities to participate in hiking and other outdoor activities.
“It can be draining when you’re in a hostile environment a lot”
Both groups are continuing to make a positive difference to black people’s lives across the country, and they’re doing it through the power of walking.
The people behind them are two leading women who are proving to the walking community that the outdoors industry is in desperate need of diversity.
Mpora were able grab a chat with Rhiane Fatinikun, the founder of Black Girls Hike, and Cherelle Harding, the creator of Steppers UK.
We spoke to them about the importance of these groups and their plans to build a more diverse future for the outdoors.
“Safe space is really important for communities that are historically marginalised”
The story of Black Girls Hike all begins with Rhiane Fatinikun from Manchester. In 2019, Rhiane was completely new to the hiking scene but was swiftly inspired on a train journey passing through the Peak District.
As she glanced at the pulchritudinous landscape, Rhiane was intrigued by the amount of natural beauty staring back at her. It was at this moment when she got thinking about making a vital connection with nature.
“I was on a train to the Peak District, and I was watching the people get on and off, and I just decided that I would take up hiking.”
But the idea didn’t stop here. This isn’t a story about one solo hiker making a plunge into the unknown. This is a tale about a movement.
“I decided to call it Black Girls Hike because safe space is really important. I have always been conscious that I only ever entered safe spaces because I just think it can be draining when you’re in a hostile environment a lot.”
Rhiane took to social media and invited other black women in her area to join her on this walking expedition. The response she got was overwhelming as 14 women showed up ready to take on the outdoors together. The procedure of making safe spaces for black women all over the country had begun.
Where are Black Girls Hike two years on from their first hike? The group is continuing to make strides as they further progress on diversifying the countryside. Their Instagram page (@bgh_uk) is only a few followers away from 10,000, with one of those followers being survival expert Bear Grylls. Yet, the one accolade that stands out above all the rest for Black Girls Hike is the amount of expansion they’ve managed in such little time.
They currently have three regional walking groups, with the main aim now being to offer outdoor leadership courses to their current members.
“We started doing walks in the midlands at the end of last year, and then we also started our London group this year  where we had over 100 people come to our first London walk. We are also working on mountain training so we can get people to be outdoor instructors. We want people to have basic navigation skills and support them to become mountain leaders.”
“We had over 100 people come to our first London walk”
Rhiane’s future hope for Black Girls Hike is that they continue to expand and cover further pastures as walkers and as an organisation.
“The ultimate goal is to have chapters all over the UK, we’ve got some new leaders ready for lockdown to be over in Yorkshire and the East Midlands and look forward to being able to hold space for Black women wherever they need it,” she tells me.
Rhiane has a clear vision when it comes to Black Girls Hike, and that is to give black women all over the UK safe spaces to explore.
“Safe space is really important for communities that are historically marginalised because they represent safety and community, and they are good for building confidence and mental health. To have that relief, I think it’s important everyone gets that chance to reset.”
“I’m proud of the platform it’s become”
The dedication to diversifying the outdoors has not gone unnoticed by the big players in the industry. Berghaus, one of the biggest creators of outdoor gear, is fully supporting Black Girls Hike. The group has been featured in their 2020 Spring / Summer Collection, and Vivobarefoot’s 2020 Winter campaign.
Black Girls Hike were named ‘Campaigners of the Year’ in the Great Outdoor Magazine Awards 2020. They’ve also been featured by the BBC, ITV, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Women’s Health Magazine, and a number of other media outlets as they continue to gain support for their cause.
The benefits of walking are well documented, but Black Girls Hike are putting this into practice.
“It’s your mind, body, and soul, it’s great for your physical health, and it’s also great for your mental health because it’s a distraction,” Rhiane says. “When you’re outdoors, you kind of have less time to worry about things because you’re too busy taking everything in. It gives you time to put things back into perspective.”
“When you’re outdoors, you kind of have less time to worry about things because you’re too busy taking everything in”
Walking has been the saving grace for many during the coronavirus pandemic. Making the separation from the technology that dictates so much of our lives has been eye-opening for the founder of BGH.
“How many times have you sat there with your laptop, TV, and phone on whilst also scrolling on your phone? We’re so overstimulated, we’re constantly taking stuff in, which you can’t always filter. It’s important to have that space, your diet isn’t just what you eat it’s everything you ingest, and we should be more mindful of that,” Rhiane says.
As well as seeing the first-hand benefits Black Girls Hike is having on people, Rhiane also notes how it’s helped her grow. “Black Girls Hike is probably the only thing I’ve ever consistently worked on, and I’m proud of the platform it’s become. Every day has been a school day, I’ve had to learn so much both personally and professionally.
“Black people are not a monolith. We don’t all have the same principles, values, beliefs, etc. But, unfortunately, we don’t have the privilege as being seen as individuals. I don’t see myself as a leader, but running a platform where our voice is perceived by some as representative of our community does add pressure and a sense of responsibility.
The obstacles that Black women face outdoors will not be solved overnight, and Rhiane knows much more work must be done to educate people on them.
“You have this thing where they keep using the term BAME at the moment and acting like all the barriers the groups face are all the same”
“There are so many issues, you can’t pinpoint just one. Skills, attitudes, access, they all play a part, and it’s important for organisations to have a more nuanced understanding.”
Rhiane also spoke to me about the barriers that black people face in the outdoors and how they differ from other groups.
“I think there are just too many barriers. It’s difficult to say this is what the issue is. You have this thing where they keep using the term BAME at the moment and acting like all the barriers the groups face are all the same. People don’t look into all the intersections of all the different people that are in this category and what all their different kind of barriers might be.”
Looking ahead to 2021 for Black Girls Hike, Rhiane is very keen to grow the group further by continuing to provide opportunities for black women to enjoy the outdoors.
This is something that resonates with Cherelle Harding. Cherelle just so happens to be the Midlands Lead for Black Girls Hike, something she’s used as a stepping stone in order to create her own group – Steppers UK.
The journey for Cherelle all started when she decided to put up a social media post trying to find more black people who liked hiking. Little did she know that by doing this that she would step across Black Girls Hike and start her own journey of bringing more diversity to the outdoors.
“I actually came across Black Girls Hike after putting up a post saying I wish I knew more black people who were into hiking. I was having a bit of a rant online, so to say, and someone then sent me the link to Black Girls Hike. As soon as I found that, I was so shocked and was like, where has this been my whole life. Honestly, to find Black Girls Hike, it felt like it was the something that was missing.”
Two years after her first encounter with the group and now Cherelle is Midlands Lead and has learned an abundance of skills and knowledge of the outdoors to take forward in her own life.
“Honestly, to find Black Girls Hike, it felt like it was the something that was missing”
The first lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic was tough on everyone. Yet, Cherelle didn’t for one minute let this stop her from exploring, and instead, she embraced it as a time to reflect.
“Since the lockdown and not being able to go abroad and not being able to travel, it’s just given us the excuse to explore the UK a lot more. I have definitely discovered so many beautiful places that I would not have if it wasn’t for the lockdown period.”
This exploration swiftly turned into creation when she made her own walking organisation with the sole purpose of bringing diversity to the outdoors. She was sure to adhere to all covid laws and restrictions that were placed on the country at the time.
“Steppers was born out of lockdown, and my experience that I gained with Black Girls Hike is giving me the knowledge and the qualifications to be able to go on and pursue my own personal endeavours. I think it’s really important to create different avenues for people to explore the outdoors.”
The inspiration behind the creation of Steppers UK comes from Cherelle wanting to change the image and stigma that’s associated with being ‘outdoorsy’. She wants to encourage those who have disconnected from nature to go out there with confidence. She wants to provide a safe and comfortable environment where people can marvel at the wonders of the countryside without feeling alienated.
“I think the barriers are definitely different for each individual. Of course, I think it can vary because we are all not the same person. I do think there are some barriers in terms of representation and a lack of representation in the outdoors, especially for black women.”
“I think the main thing is to normalise black and brown faces in the outdoors and change the narrative”
She goes on to say, “I think diversity outdoors is such an important thing, but I think the main thing is to normalise black and brown faces in the outdoors and change the narrative.”
Speaking with Cherelle, you get the sense that a community has been created with Steppers UK. It seems a place where people can come together and create life-lasting friendships and connections that will span generations.
A social element runs through Steppers UK, and you can pick up on this from spending a few minutes on their social media accounts. This is an organisation that has a powerful message to promote.
“It’s actually incredible because a lot of people who I am now walking with come along to both Black Girls Hike and Stepper’s walks are people I’ve never met before. I think it’s amazing, and these are people that haven’t just come once. Now in our little WhatsApp groups, they are creating their own walks and routes. I think that’s amazing because these people have found both Black Girls Hike and Steppers on Instagram.”
The plan for the group is to produce reviews on the places they visit. This is so others who live in the area know what to expect from the walks.
Steppers UK is currently running a fundraiser for the challenge as they try and make it to their goal of £10,000. The game-changer for Cherelle when it comes to going forward is getting more black people to train as qualified walk leaders. She hopes that people will then go on to make hiking a recreational part of their life.
“It would be amazing to have more qualified walk leaders and mountain leaders that are black women”
“I think both Black Girls Hike and Steppers are amazing stepping stones for people in terms of exposing them and just getting them to have an experience outdoors. It would be amazing to have more qualified walk leaders and mountain leaders that are black women. I think that would be a massive game-changer. If there are any black women that are mountain leaders out there, I’m not too sure, but the fact that I don’t know that shows that there is obviously not a lot.”
The success that both groups have achieved so far is amazing to see. Black Girls Hike and Steppers UK are two groups co-existing together as they continue to promote diversity in the outdoors. They are doing this with every event they conduct. Each walk is another step in the right direction. The year 2021 will see both groups branch out even further..
To find out more about Black Girls Hike and Steppers UK, head to their pages to find out about membership and how you can show your support.
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