WE ARE SHEFFIELD: “I believed we can use nature to promote our shared humanity”

Maxwell Ayamba who runs Sheffield Environmental Movement to educate children on environmental issues
Maxwell Ayamba who runs Sheffield Environmental Movement to educate children on environmental issues
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Maxwell Ayamba was born in Ghana but has lived in Sheffield for 20 years.

When he came to the city, he was the first black man to work on the city’s trams.

Maxwell Ayamba who runs Sheffield Environmental Movement to educate children on environmental issues

Maxwell Ayamba who runs Sheffield Environmental Movement to educate children on environmental issues

Two decades later, he now works with black and ethnic minority communities to reconnect them with nature.

He hopes that by helping these communities understand the natural world they will be able to use that knowledge to change their lives – and the city – for the better.

“My work is about reaching groups that have traditionally not been involved in the environmental movement,” Maxwell said.

“We take groups out walking, fishing, riding horses and taking photographs.

Maxwell Ayamba who runs Sheffield Environmental Movement to educate children on environmental issues

Maxwell Ayamba who runs Sheffield Environmental Movement to educate children on environmental issues

“We go to the Peak District National Park and have climbed Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike.

“And we also get people to carry out surveys of where they live – so they can monitor for themselves how healthy their own environment is.”

Maxwell, aged 53, first studied journalism and then undertook post-graduate study in environmental management and conservation at Sheffield Hallam University.

When he came here, he says people were ‘curious’ about him and describes his time working on the trams as ‘interesting’.

Maxwell Ayamba who runs Sheffield Environmental Movement to educate children on environmental issues

Maxwell Ayamba who runs Sheffield Environmental Movement to educate children on environmental issues

Above all, Maxwell says he is passionate about fostering greater integration and cohesion between the diverse people of his adopted city.

He said: “The work I am doing, there is no money in it. But this is my home and I will do whatever I can do to make it a better place.

“If you have people of different backgrounds doing things together you can break down some of the barriers between people.”

But, he is keen to point out, the learning process is not just a one-way street.

As well as teaching minority groups about the English countryside and nature in his role as a project manager at Sheffield Environmental Movement, he is also harvesting their knowledge of the environment and feeding this back into other communities.

“There are things to learn from all cultures,” he said. “People in the UK often don’t see themselves as part of nature. Other communities sometimes have a much closer connection with the natural world.”

One of Maxwell’s most successful projects to date has been a walking group for black men.

The group is the subject of a stage play by Sheffield-based Eclipse theatre company Black Men Walking which is on a 14-week UK tour .

This summer it will also be celebrated at a Buckingham Palace garden party.

“Our work is not as valued as the medical profession as we are not GPs and we don’t give out medication,” said Maxwell. “But what we can give can be more useful than medication.”

Maxwell said it can be difficult to get people involved. But he said the people he works with report that they feel more at peace in the natural environment, less stressed and more respected.

He said: “People are very friendly in the countryside. Race and economic status is irrelevant – we can use nature to promote our shared humanity.”