Peaks of Colour: Nature helps members of Peak District walking group

A group of people sitting on a bench at a Peak District beauty spot is not an unusual sight.

By Ellen Beardmore
Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 10:51 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 10:51 am

But for some people, it can be a powerful collective experience that means so much more than merely taking a trip out to the countryside.

Peaks of Colour is a new walking group for people of colour in and around Sheffield, founded by racial justice activist and freelance journalist Evie Muir.

“One the second walk we’d ever done there was a moment which really stuck with me”, she said.

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“We started at the visitor centre at Longshaw Estate, we converged there at a picnic bench.

“There was someone sitting next to me who exhaled this massive sigh and when I asked if they were OK they said: ‘I knew what we were doing was important, but not this important.’

“When we looked around, every other bench was filled with white faces and in most cases, white hair.

Peaks of Colour.

“We were a group of about 30 people, Black and Asian faces, all together.

“It was a really powerful moment and a really powerful image.”

The concept of the group was born during the Covid-19 lockdown.Evie says it was influenced by the racial trauma felt by many after the brutal murder of George Floyd in America, as well as her experience of being a domestic abuse survivor and practitioner.

The aim was to provide a safe space for people who had experienced racial and gender trauma, to offer what she calls ‘nature therapy and healing justice.’

Sheffield Walking Group.

And it was also a response to eye-opening 2019 figures which showed people of black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds made up just one per cent of visitors to national parks. By way of contrast, they made up 14 per cent of the general population at the time.

Evie added: “That means we are not accessing all the nature therapy and benefits that the outdoors provides.”

The barriers to people of colour utilising the countryside include financial or transportation limits, but also the very real threat and fear of racism.In 2020, a right-wing group unfurled a ‘white lives matter’ banner at the top of Mam Tor near Castleton, a move which was branded ‘abhorrent.’Evie said there are many examples of how people who are already more policed as a community would feel unsafe exploring the outdoors, and that the walks had opened up conversations about racism in that context.

Other factors at play include ‘micro-aggressions’ such as every head in a country pub turning to stare when people of colour enter, historical land ownership inequality and increased patrolling of outdoors pursuits such as wild swimming.

Evie added: “We know the fear of racism is a deterrent in itself. Why would you risk going out there when you don’t know if that space is safe and if the white supremacists who put up that banner might be on the same path as you?

“I have spoken to people who got a bit lost and ended up accidentally on farming land, they were faced with huge amounts of hostility, someone pulled a gun out and they were chased off.”

Peaks of Colour regularly attracts groups of around 20 people to events and also aims to be as inclusive as possible to the LGBQT+ community, as well as offering wheelchair and pushchair accessible routes.It caters for all by offering a variety of walk distances, focusing on walking for mental health and community rather than just fitness.

The group is also part of Sheffield’s Migration Matters Festival, a vibrant arts celebration with 50 events that celebrates the positive impact of migrants and refugees, from June 17-25.Evie, who will co-facilitate a special festival walk and nature workshop on June 18, hopes it will shape the future of the group’s work as well as helping individuals realise they are entitled to enjoy the outdoors.She said: “The response has been overwhelmingly positive and the consensus is that a safe space for people of colour is needed.

“We want people to take from it what they want - for some people it is the confidence in the outdoors, for some it is visiting the Peak District for the first time, meeting a community or trying something different.“We want people to feel ‘we belong here too’.”

Visit migrationmattersfestival.co.uk to book tickets for this year’s festival.