Boots and Beards interview: Walking for minority communities

Glaswegian hillwalking group Boots & Beards, now the subject of a BBC documentary, works to boost wellbeing in minority communities and provide access to the countryside. We chat to volunteer Zain Sehgal.

Zain pictured on snowy mountain

Glasgow-based Boots & Beards is driven to make the outdoors accessible to all, especially for minority groups that have traditionally been faced with barriers to accessing the countryside. By uniting people in exploring the outdoors, they hope to improve the mental and physical health of their participants.

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Boots & Beards recently celebrated its 100th walk. How have your numbers increased since you started leading walks and who comes along?

Our numbers have increased significantly, and Covid-19 has boosted interest too. We started our walks in 2015 as a project between dads in the wider family. In 2016 we set up as a charity due to growing interest from our community. Boots & Beards has included everyone on walks, from babies to 73-year-olds. Everyone and anyone is welcome to join no matter what background, faith, colour or race they belong to. We want everyone to enjoy the great outdoors and for people to improve their health and that of the next generation.

Why do most people join your walks?

A mixture really. Some people join us because they have friends attending the walk so it’s a socialising opportunity. Diabetes is rife within our community so you get a few people who join in and in turn have seen their need for medication plummet. Some people attend as a family to give the kids a day out. Some attend purely because of the challenge.

Is there a lack of diversity when it comes to outdoor activities in the UK? What changes would improve this?

Absolutely, there is a lack of diversity; I remember when we started in 2015 we did get double looks from other walkers. There needs to be a focus of involving BAME groups at the core planning stages; there needs to be a diverse workforce within the national parks and key outdoor bodies/ organisations so that diverse communities can be really represented well at the decision-making level.

Walking and talking is a large element of your walks – what are the benefits of socialising outdoors?

Walking and talking is a large element of what we believe in. For example, some people come to our walks to help ease their mind because of personal problems – with finances, their health, death of a loved one or their marriage. With a large diverse group of people who attend the walks, this can be beneficial – you often find that if someone has, as an example, a business problem, then if someone with finance knowledge is attending the walk too they can connect and share information.

Boots & Beards also organises training. Why is it important to offer courses in outdoor skills?

Our community is relatively new to the outdoors and if we want to bring more of the next generation into the outdoors, we need our community to engage in training. Not only does this help with educating individuals, but also their children and entire family. We want our community to be able to enjoy the outdoors in their own time, not specifically through our events. Our hope is that after training, the participants will then attend our walks regularly to test their skills and educate other members within the group.

Have you noticed any improvements in your health since you started walking?

Absolutely! From only walking around a carpark, I managed to climb Ben Nevis with relative ease (surprising!) a few months ago, so that’s a win in my book.


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You can learn more about Boots & Beards founders in the BBC documentary Our Lives, Series 5.