Poverty Proof the Outdoors

"Poverty proofing is a term borrowed from education and gives us the language to discuss how people on low incomes & experiencing poverty can access being outdoors "


If you are involved in outdoor learning or education in anyway, through schools, Early Years, communities, Forest School, parent groups, child minding, adventure education, Higher or further education, freelance, or anything else, you can use this as a quick guide to assess if you may be able to reduce some stigmatizing barriers to participation.  This is by no means an exhaustive list but will enable you to start conversations and open ideas.  This work is ongoing and the process of understanding how we can overcome social exclusion outdoors is an organic one and deserving of continual reaasessment, this list may change and be adapted. 


  1. Food-Food is a ticket to social participation.  Even when events are free, many can't participate if entrance still requires money for food or even bringing a packed lunch. 

  2. Kit-Outdoor kit and clothing can be expensive either because it actually does require specialist equipment or because there is a growing trend to wear or have clothing that is specialist for even basic outdoor recreation.  The saying "there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing" is problematic when you consider many pupils in school only have one pair of school shoes, or don't have a coat at all. 

  3. Representation-Who are the role models for poverty and low income representation in the outdoors?  It's a difficult one, as experiencing poverty means that you lack basic resources and so having what is needed to write, publish and get heard is often a luxury.   Do staff with low incomes or a backgrounds in poverty represent positive role models?  Place-Can people walk to the place that you use for your outdoor work?  Is there public transport to the place?  If not then chances are many low income people will not be able to access what you offer.  Transport is a massive issue on a low income.  How far away are green/blue spaces from areas of high deprivation? Are local easy to walk to spaces considered pleasant to be in or safe? A simple way this can be over come is by going to places where participants are.

  4. Outdoor Knowledge and literacy-An expectation of certain outdoor knowledge and experiences can be at best really off putting and at worst socially or culturally exclusive.  There can be an enormous amount of cultural capital required to feel welcome outdoors, not all families or individuals have had the opportunity to become literate in all things nature or outdoors.  Identification of nature for example can become a very judgmental arena. 

  5. Formal Education and clubs-Although opportunities do exist in schools and colleges for getting outdoors, through school, camps, trips, clubs, teams and the Duke of Edniburgh Award for example, these all have a significant and prohibitive financial cost to them.  It is not unusual for pupils from low income families to not attend school camp, not only due to the obvious cost of the camp but also due to the unseen costs of the rest of the experience, such as needing a second "old" pair of trainers for water sports or appropriate clothing for extended time outdoors.  Not everyone has had a camping experience even if it is provided through school and Brownies or Scouts is not a right of passage for everyone.

  6. Social Survival-Sadly we still encounter staff who may judge what they deem to be inappropriate outdoor clothing, lack of nature i.d. knowledge or what looks like laziness, lack of interest in young people when outdoors.  It is so important to understand that time outdoors may be particularly alien for some young people and there will be tensions between the requirements of the outdoor session and the requirements of surviving socially amongst peers.  It also takes previous outdoor experience to understand what getting wet and cold all day will feel like, or that different footwear means you can go in water or climb more easily, it's o.k. (assuming it's safe to do so) if a person new to the outdoors, needs to go through that. 

  7. Policy and procedures-Do your procedures mean that a person has to self identify as experiencing poverty to participate?  Do you have any procedures or routines that are consciously designed to allow those afraid of poverty stigma, to not have to identify themselves either explicitly or implicitly? For example never having to ask for a voucher, sign a sheet, fill in a form, explain means of payment etc. in front of others. Can you develop a poverty proofing policy?

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kit provided for #wanderings expeditons


collecting & using food donations