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Steppers UK continue their AONB Challenge in the Cotswolds!

Written by on 3rd July 2021

Steppers UK, a community interest company based in Coventry, continued their AONB Challenge to visit, and walk in, every Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the UK this month with a trip to the Cotswolds town of Chipping Campden.

The group, originally formed by Cherelle Harding in response to the coronavirus pandemic to encourage more Black, Asian, and ethnic minoritiesto get outdoors, has already completed hikes in the Malvern Hills, Shropshire Hills, and Cannock Chase as part of their AONB Challenge. The pandemic restrictions paused progress for a while, but the group chose the Cotswolds National Landscape for their fourth walking adventure.

Cherelle explained, “I founded the group in 2020 as a bit of a response to the type of year many of us were having. Everywhere was closed, but the outdoors remained open. I wanted to encourage more people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds to explore the outdoors and build positive relationships with nature.

Through organising walks and cycle rides, we aim to support the mental and physical wellbeing of group members, as well as expanding the life perspectives of those who often spend most of their lives in the city. This is essential, and we aim to do this by providing safe, fun and comfortable experiences for people to explore the wonders of the countryside, forests, rural, and coastal lands of the UK. At the moment, we’re focusing on places nearer to Coventry for the AONB Challenge, and we’re fundraising to raise travel money to help us get to the further away places like the Isle of Wight. It’s a big challenge, but we’re really loving it and I’m optimistic we can complete it!”

The group’s aims fit within an overarching movement to promote diversity in outdoor spaces and improve access for those lacking representation or opportunity, and for those with varying abilities. Research shows that for communities with cultural heritage in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia, there is often a disconnect between people of these diasporas and nature. Cherelle is among a larger community of people running groups like Steppers UK with the hope of reconnecting people to nature, encouraging them to experience the many benefits it offers, and motivating them to take care of the countryside and to adopt environmentally friendly behaviours.

The plan is working: since Steppers UK started, and in line with government guidance around coronavirus, walk participants have grown from six to around 25 people. Group members have sung their praises, describing the group as an unexpected highlight from the lockdown experience, and as having given them more confidence to explore the outdoors with like-minded people. One participant, Tayyibah Mota, has even been inspired to set up a new Instagram page of her own (@Jungleejoggers) where she shares her outdoor experiences. Since then, she says she has “connected with many other BAME people and hijabi sisters around the UK who have an interest in the outdoors”.

Rebecca Jones, Trails, Access and Volunteers Lead at Cotswolds National Landscape, said, “We’re so pleased that Cherelle and Steppers chose the Cotswolds for their latest adventure. We look forward to welcoming and working with groups like Steppers UK who are working to change issues surrounding representation and access to the outdoors. The Landscapes Review from 2019 clearly expresses that protected landscapes are for everyone, and it’s great to see people truly embracing that idea!”

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