Oh the irony. Being announced as an Ordnance Survey Get Outside Champion in the week the entire world is being told to stay indoors. And stay in we must – the latest government guidance is clear on Stay In: Protect NHS: Save Lives.
So what is the role of a Get Outside Champion in lockdown?
Well. Firstly, my history in championing for the outdoors is long and best summarised in this brief tribute to natural connections. The outdoors saved me and – as we have seen over recent weeks – the strength of feeling for the outdoors as a protective factor for our health and well-being is clear.
When this crisis is in the past – and it will pass – how do we capture the renewed respect and value that we have placed on the outdoors. In the words of Joni Mitchell ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’. How do we as champions of these places and spaces help this move to a permanent re-engagement of society with the outdoors?
Secondly my career is in access. Particularly in access to the enrichment experiences that most people take for granted but many people are denied. Culture, the arts, travel, heritage – too often those who have the most to gain are able to access these public resources the least. And this is no less true for the outdoors. Over 2 million households face lockdown without garden spaces. Before the crisis the Glover Review was clear that some groups have significantly less access to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Nature and the outdoors will play a significant part in the country’s recovery. How do we make sure that high quality access to the outdoors – whether close to home or on adventures away – is for all?
And the third reason. Well perhaps not quite so worthy. In various roles I spend a lot of time in the outdoor sector. I am an advisor to Institute for Outdoor Learning. I am Executive Director at YHA. I sit on the Outdoor Council. I run Every Child Should a campaign that aims to improve outcomes for all children through access to rich and rounded experiences.
These are all amazing networks of fabulous people. But I don’t quite fit. Well literally I don’t fit. I am very, very fat. I am quite unfit (although years of being fit means I am not quite as unfit as fat looks.) I am fifty plus. And I don’t have a fleece (although I am on a constant search to find fleeces for the fat). So – alongside my wider work I am setting up Fat, Fifty not Fit and Fleecy. One woman’s campaign to ensure that the outdoors also belongs to those for whom an adventure challenge means getting out of the car and walking out of the car park without falling over. And that we really don’t have to pretend we are standing there to admire the view (which is a cool thing to do) when really what we are doing is trying to ensure we can still breathe.
So. We need our 'let's get outside' fixes once the government 'all clear' is in place. But for now, while our time outside is limited, let’s plot for that new future where the outdoors belongs to all. Even if we can’t find a fleece to fit.