Access to green and blue spaces increases with income. It is that simple. Multiple studies show similar outcomes with people living in more deprived areas accessing nature less and people with lower incomes having less access to nature, living on less green streets and having fewer walking routes. The more money you earn the more likely you are to engage in activity outdoors and in natural spaces on a regular basis. This did not change during covid. Studies show that inequalities outdoors increased despite many people reporting being in nature more than before. It is clear that transport is a major factor too, people with cars are the most frequent visitors to national parks for example.
This is my special interest. This is my area of research. This is my lived experience.
So what do we do about it? We could ignore it, except that increasing amounts of research also shows that access to green and blue space is good for us. Health, wellbeing, social and educational outcomes are better for those who have better access to nature. However, we also understand that people on low incomes are more likely to have difficulties with health, wellbeing, social and educational outcomes. We find ourselves then in a paradox where those who can in theory most benefit from nature and the outdoors are also those who are less able to access it. In research terms data is too frequently based on those who already access and participate outdoors and so our understanding of what people on lower incomes need to access and to be comfortable outdoors and in nature is woefully inadequate. From our experience, we would posit that simply getting outdoors or into nature is not enough for people on low incomes to have benefit. We believe the benefit of green and blue space is more complex and possibly different for varied demographics. We are working on this and will share our findings later. People with low economic status are not only underserved in nature and the outdoors but will likely continue to be so if we don’t change what we do.
So what do we do about that? If we do more of the same nothing will improve. The ways that we access nature and the outdoors needs to change. This is where Basecamp comes in. I have been working outdoors and in natural areas for some years in Bodmin. I also understood that I needed to work outdoors in the spaces closest to where people lived. I did this for many years but still communities were not aware of our work or where they could find us as we were nomadic and moved around using and serving the various micro communities in the town. Other organisations were also not aware of who we were and what we did. We missed big opportunities for inclusion in conversations and planning in the area and then obviously also opportunities for support, financial or otherwise. We had an understanding about how some people needed to access local green space, we had qualitative data that could be helpful to others and also physical kit and equipment that could be used but no local platform to share this. Despite a growing credibility in outdoor learning and education circles our credibility locally was slow to grow (outside of our participants) relative to our time working in the area. It was not unusual to see newer projects arrive and be more successful and more well known and recognised, much more quickly by organisations with political or financial sway. Despite being appreciated by our participants locally, we couldn’t get on the map, because we were all over the map and never in one place.
A year ago we secured a unit on the high street of Bodmin. We transformed the unit into Basecamp. It is consciously named to mirror the basecamps of bigger adventures at the base of mountains and in remote parts of the world-favoured by explorers, climbers, scientists and adventurers. It took a while to understand, but if you want to encourage and support people who are not outdoors to get outdoors then you will never do it by only ever being outdoors!
We know our basecamp is the way that many people can access their personal adventures with local knowledge, social support, kit, food, safety and nourishment. It is a place to get your basic outdoor needs met. We have clothing, footwear, books and resources, maps, outdoor leaders, food and hot drinks, tents, stoves, torches, flasks, water bottles, rucksacks, hammocks, bivvi bags, sleeping bags, outdoor cutlery, mugs and bowls, journalling and sketch book materials and even a drying room. When your basic outdoor needs are met we have a range of outdoor play equipment, hand crank sewing machines for sewing outdoors, slack lines, internet, ipads, science equipment, nature based board games, amazing murals by Ali from Hands for Feet, a film licence, workshops, walks, youth café, meeting place, warm hub, food hub, community hub, outdoor hub.
It is an outdoor hub but crucially it’s indoors because no one can have a big adventure without some support from Basecamp. Many people on higher incomes will have their own personal basecamp at home, with equipment, outdoor experience, knowledge, the right clothing and footwear, enough food to spare, others to journey with, confidence, transport, maps, social and cultural capital etc.
A government report on social mobility found that:
"opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities is profoundly structured by socioeconomic status, with participation gaps between rich and poor households evident through the national-level analysis...
Overlapping with socio-economic status, the school attended has been shown here to make a significant difference in the scale and range of extra-curricular activities opportunities open to young people. Independent schools are likely to provide an unparalleled level of extra-curricular activities, and survey-based research masks the uniqueness of some activities offered – for example, going beyond the more commonplace sports such as football and rugby, and offering more unusual activities like archery and sailing."
When you support one marginalised community you can often easily support others too. Finding new ways to do things or understand different needs to your own is a great way to become more inclusive generally. Poverty is intersectional. It is sadly not in itself a protected characteristic but it is intersectional with all other protected characteristics. In providing a resource to increase access to the outdoors and nature for those on lower incomes we have also provided a resource for many others, all are welcome.
Since having Basecamp we have noted that other local community organisations are expanding their usual activity to include walks, creativity outdoors and more physical activity with food and also free outdoor activities. This could be a threat to business I guess especially as we are all chasing the same funding but the goal of all good social enterprise is to not need to exist. Our own mark of success is that everyone will be able to have their own autonomous adventures without our support. Following offering CPD to outdoor leaders at our Basecamp we have heard talk of other outdoor providers seeking to utilise a central urban indoor hub to further support their communities. Forest School has had an amazing impact in recent years but sites are most often out of town and not always accessible. These limits are beginning to be understood and Basecamp represents a way that the work in more remote areas or with underserved communities can be made more accessible. We have been invited to share our views at town council meetings about green space. We have made partnerships with other local organisations to secure funding. There are 162 children and young people registered on our system. We regularly run trips and adventures from basecamp, residentials and expeditions, train travel, that would have been harder without the trust and security that Basecamp affords with parents and young people. We have been offered 100% more supported opportunities for adventurous activity by other organisations since having basecamp and we now have a physical space for donations from the community and some forward thinking adventure kit companies.
What is my explanation for this? People are literate in community spaces being indoors but less so outdoors. The most successful community outdoor spaces I can think of also have an indoor space that brings security, comfort and accessibility where needed. I am a bit outdoors hardcore I think, and so I find this fact hard to swallow but I am not trying to attract more people like me to the outdoors as they are already out there getting wet and cold and happy in all weathers! Basecamp also brings people together and many people will venture outside if others do. There is some research that demonstrated that office workers in London were more likely to go outside for break and lunch if there were others also there, but also others from varied groups, not just others like themselves. There is a feeling also that while we were nomadic we had little value other than to those we served. Without a physical indoor space to be seen, those who could support us did not. A physical space, that uses many more resources to support, is sadly what seems to have finally got us on the map with those who have political or financial influence.
Through Basecamp we have shrunk the distance that some need to walk to regularly get to a green space, we have increased the quality and quantity of green spaces that are visited by young people. A bit of data we capture asks people to place a sticker on a map of Bodmin showing what outdoor spaces they use. This is mostly where they live or occasionally by their school or place of work. Now their spaces have increased their frequently visited walk to outdoor spaces by up to 11 times.
Basecamp is a shop in the Market House Arcade. This is not accidental. There are other buildings closer to green space that might seem more appropriate but it is the accessibility of a shop on Fore Street that says it is for everyone. Some buildings have different rules about who is comfortable entering. We are next door to a pet shop, opposite a nail bar and a new sweet shop has opened at the end of the arcade. Our lunches are bought in Iceland we grab pasties from Barnecutts for occasional outings and we are lucky enough to have a Millets still open for adventure kit emergencies. Just providing a resource for the community isn’t always enough, in much the same way that going outside doesn’t automatically provide benefits. Balance, detail and trust are everything. A long time ago, early in my community-based work I remember sitting with a Mum, at a group for parents, that was an independent group but held in a building that housed statutory services. She leaned and whispered to me that she never felt comfortable there because she always felt she was being observed by professionals who might misjudge her or have powers to negatively influence her life chances. She nervously whispered “don’t you just feel like they might take your kids off you if you did something wrong?”