Outdoors for Everyone; adventure sports and exercise for Ethnic Minorities and LGBTQIA+

Green trees, green grass, blue sky

Focussing on what is not permitted with the UK’s second lockdown, may mean missing out on something that is.

England is not only allowing, but currently encouraging unlimited outdoor exercise that people of all communities should enjoy. 

It’s estimated there are over 27,000 parks and green spaces across the UK, but even a ten-minute Youtube workout on a balcony or urban area can reap some benefits. Enjoying the outdoors can lessen Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) amongst other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, increase vitamin D in the summer and you're unlikely to get Coranavirus from cyclists and runners - that’s without taking into consideration the added benefits of general exercise.

People outdoors on grass playing a game


There may be a sense among some communities that experience marginalisation that they are not from a culture of outdoors, are not an ‘outdoors type’, or that these spaces are not safe for them. However, these narratives - often based on outdated or false stereotypes - can prevent the multiple benefits of outdoor exercise from being felt by those who may appreciate them most. Many can be overcome by being mindful of safety, careful planning and following guidelines from experts in the field if unsure.

In fact, the NHS says that darker skin needs more sun exposure to produce as much vitamin D as lighter-skin, and a 2015 survey by The National LGBT Partnership showed that LGBT levels of physical activity may be 13% to 25% below the general population, with over half (52%) of LGBT people potentially not meeting government recommendations for physical activity (150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week, as well as muscle strengthening exercise on at least two days per week.) Where this can be a barrier, it is also an opportunity to overcome, and resources exist to help bridge this gap

Despite growing up in the most land-locked major city in the UK, before the pandemic I spent four years working internationally as a scuba-diving guide and instructor, sometimes as the only:

  1. Non-male
  2. Person of Asian descent
  3. Identifying as LGBTQIA+

Being the only person ‘like you’ can be challenging, but it can be extremely rewarding too. I helped Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority city-dwellers dive for the first time in their lives, feeding back that they felt comfortable seeing that ‘someone that reminded them of themselves’ could be teaching them. Three-generations of women, people with varieties of adaptive abilities, transgender and intersex... even people with lung issues can generally snorkel, the main barrier being only personal or mental relationship with water.

People smiling on a boat in scuba diving gear

In one of these jobs, positive feedback from both colleagues and customers meant that more women of colour and people from diverse backgrounds were hired, and when I eventually left one of these roles, there were more womxn than men working there! 

While it’s tricky (and cold) to get in the water right now, these positives can be applied to almost any outdoor adventure sport and exercise. Since learning to scuba-dive thanks to an introduction from a friend, I learnt to rock-climb competitively and become a yoga teacher... despite being somewhat of a couch potato for the first twenty years of my life (that once used to smoke, need help to open jars and avoid walking and getting out of breath, much to the dismay of my traditional family at times!)

It took years of looking very clumsy, asking a lot of questions and for help, being scared, uncertain, and once even thinking I would drown in a swimming pool, before I was able to make a career of an activity that may seem ‘not for me’ from an outside perspective. Recognising boundaries is a key part of this journey; knowing when to rest and recuperate, come back another day, and be okay with feeling temporary ‘failures’ or calling it quits, knowing that being ‘bad’ at something, is an essential part of the process of becoming ‘good’ at it

Woman slacklining

Everyone has to start somewhere, and there are so many incredible outdoor sports and activities that also result in exercise; hula-hooping, skateboarding and rollerblading, gardening/tending an allotment, cycling, slack-lining, running, ball sports, chair yoga, the list goes on…

Spark & Co have put together resources where you can find communities online, free digital classes, meet-ups when they are allowed again, and guidelines on how to engage safely and effectively in new ways, and I am always happy to answer questions to marginalised groups about how to get into activities that I am knowledgeable about

This post was written by one of our Community Ambassadors, writer and professional climber, Samantha Symonds. Photos provided by Samantha Symonds.

Find out more about Samantha here.