BBC journalist and Mastermind host presents Sheffield charity champion with Lottery award
A Sheffield academic and environmental charity founder has been presented with a National Lottery Award for his work helping to connect people with nature.
Maxwell Ayamba, founder and project coordinator at Sheffield Environmental Movement, was named the winner in the Heritage category of this year’s awards, which saw more than 1,500 nominations received. He was presented with the award by BBC journalist and Mastermind host Clive Myrie.
The judging panel praised Maxwell for his work connecting Black, Asian and minority ethnic people and refugees (BAMER) with the outdoors.
Maxwell said: “I was just taken aback really. I didn’t know out of 1,500 people in the country that I would win that award, especially the heritage sector, where heritage is seen more as white heritage.
“Heritage should be inclusive, and so for them to recognise me with this award simply means that heritage is becoming more diverse, and that is what is important, especially given the Black Lives Matters movement, and more so in terms of the crises we are facing, for example climate change.
“We need people from all racial backgrounds – race is irrelevant here. What is relevant here is how people, humanity, can work together to make the world a better place.”
Describing the charity as a small one that punches above its weight, Maxwell explained how it will encourage him and his colleagues to “punch even harder”.
He added: “We want to reach out to everyone in the community and give them that opportunity, and empower them to access the countryside and green spaces for their health and wellbeing.
“This award alone, with the publicity it gives us, will really amplify the message that green spaces are inclusive and equitable for everyone and that we are here to support everyone.”
Maxwell told how the trajectory of the migration of people from minority groups links with cultural severance, leading to some communities being “discriminated from the natural world”.
He believes that the charity’s work is important for tackling such issues but wider support is also important.
Maxwell said: “The work that my charity is doing to create links to the countryside is so important and I think we need support. Clive today has come to provide his support and we need more support, especially from the Government and from local councils, that we are all in this together, especially with Covid, which has impacted disproportionately on Black and minority communities.
“We need the natural health service – as I always put it – to uplift the wellbeing of people.”
Clive added: “We all know during lockdown, how starved many of us were of green spaces, and access to green spaces, in some tower block in the middle of a city or a town somewhere.
“It was really really hard and I think the lockdown and Covid has shown us just how much we need green spaces and access to green spaces. It’s interesting that for many BAME communities across the country, they have settled within the towns and cities – that’s where the work is, so as a result, getting out and about is not really what you would, I suppose, associate with those BAME communities.
“If you think of your average rambling group in this county, in the Yorkshire Dales or the Peak District, in parts of Wales or Scotland, you’re probably not going to find many Black people, or Asian people for that matter.
“I think what Maxwell is doing is incredible and really important because we all know how important, to our mental wellbeing, as well as just getting out and exercising, that is for our basic health.
“We know that incidents of Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure tend to be higher amongst African-Caribbean communities, so for these communities to get out more, walk, exercise, feel the fresh air, the sun on their foreheads, and the wind in their nostrils, that should be an important part of life in this country, and I think what Maxwell is doing to promote that is wonderful.”
He joked that he would become “more of an outdoors person” after talking to Maxwell, and is hopeful that the outdoors sector is an area that could embrace diversity more.
Clive said: “We do tend to follow others who exist in our own images, as it were, who look like us and if you are sort of walking along a rambling trail and you see a whole group of people coming towards you and none of them are Black, then it may well be that you don’t feel that’s part of your life or could be, so I suppose someone has to take the plunge and be an example, and that’s what Maxwell is trying to do.
“He’s trying to get more people out there from a minority background, to enjoy the great outdoors of the UK, which in so many places is so beautiful, but the problem is that many BAME communities are not experiencing that beauty.
“If there are more people who can get out there then that will hopefully lead onto more people and more people and make the great outdoors part of the cultural life of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, and make that side of life more diverse, as we are seeing more diversity and inclusion take place and increase in other walks of life.”
Each recipient of a National Lottery Award wins a National Lottery Awards trophy and a £3,000 cash prize for his or her organisation.