I am Angry this morning!


For the past few days, I like most people have been following the George Floyd murder case and the universal protests against racism that we have witnessed around the world.

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And like many people I feel disappointed at the level of violence that has come alongside this, and although I get the frustration I fail to see why during important times of protest small minorities feel like handing those who need to listen to the protest the excuses to condemn it and force the argument back underground where they want it to be.

So in my frustration I  thought I would drop down my 5 pence worth on this subject, to see if there is a wider discussion to be had about how we can use these protests to kick start a new dawn, resetting the horizon and focus on equality in society.

This current protest is not a new one, I remember as a politically motivated teenager attending anti- fascist rally’s and I have witnessed the Brixton riots occurring in my childhood, the 2011 London riots (after the death of a young black man at the hands of the police), Rodney King in LA, Steven Lawrence, Stop and Search, the rise of nationalism during Brexit, the list goes on. And it feels that every time the feeling spills over it becomes contained by the media and Governments,  the real message is lost, either in violence or the suppression of the narrative because it doesn’t sit well, or is too hard to deal with.

As a white person I have grown up and lived in multicultural parts of South London throughout my life, it never occurred to me that I had a level of privilege that wasn’t afforded to my friends, neighbours and those who I call my brothers. Only as I got older did this become something to consider, that alongside the challenges we all faced in education, employment, sport, and on the street, I had it easier than some of those around me… because of the colour of my skin!


When I was 23 I walked into a conference hall, excited as I was at my first conference for my new found career in the Outdoor Industry….. only to find a room of all white instructors and academics, I was uncomfortable and I couldn’t work out why, so whilst sitting at the back it slowly dawned on me that this room, this new career, new industry that I was stepping into didn’t fit my own personal background. Over the years I have challenged this within the industry and every time I have struggled to get the voice heard, this is not because the industry in systemically racist, in fact it is in its majority incredibly accepting, it is because race is a hard subject to tackle if you have no experience or knowledge about the subject, and a majority of outdoor professionals have come from backgrounds that have been far from multi-cultural, therefore the might struggle to understand context, communication, history and the deep issues around racism in the UK to enable them to challenge themselves to make the industry more diverse.

I recently attended a European wide conference in Ireland, looking at diversity in the outdoors, and out of over 200 delegates from across Europe and the USA only 4 were from Black or Asian backgrounds!!! So 20 years after my first conference I was still in a room the room that didn’t reflect my own background!

But this article was not meant to be a rant against the lack of diversity in the outdoor industry, I just wanted to contextualise a very small part of a much broader issue, highlight it and try to assist if I can in helping.

So what can we do to ensure that the lives lost and the struggles that Black and ethnic minority people face can be reduced and that real diversity and equality can occur across society.

For a start I think that we should-

  1. Understand white privilege– white privilege isn’t about how we all struggled, it’s about recognising that because of our skin tone, we were treated differently, perceptions are such that people are seen differently and for white people this means that in our lives we have been subject to a level of privilege not afforded for those of other skin tones. We are stopped less by the Police (just look at the statistics!), people talk about and look at us in different terms(“he was hanging with a group of white lads v’s he was hanging with a gang of black guys”, we might get different questions in job interviews, we have different assumptions made about us and treatments based on the colour of our skin (50% of Young Offenders in prison are black, whereas only 14% of society are!!), and this has in some way meant that we are treated to a level of privilege.
  2. Understand our history– In the UK for most people I think we have not looked hard enough at the deep root causes of racism or black history. For some reason we only consider black history from the 1950’s onward,, where as we ignore the history of black cultures in the UK, in particular slavery, we consider it an American problem, without recognising that the plantations originally were owned by British landowners, and those of white British heritage, and slaves were transported originally by our own seafaring “heroes” like Sir Francis Drake, Hawkins and Water Raleigh. By seeing how deeply rooted the effects and impacts of slavery are we might be able to see the context to the first point above! The cities, the buildings, the families who all profited from the slave trade and are still in the highest positions in Society. Until we understand this and acknowledge it on all sides of the debate, how can we reconcile, move on, confront and dismantle these issues? I also think we need to understand our own history as a country and nation, what is our identity as a citizen of the UK and of the world?
  3. Recognise embedded racism in our thoughts, language and actions– I think its naive to think that we don’t treat people different. It’s ingrained in us as humans as a protective trait to distrust people not from our tribe, or our family, but we also react to people depending on our own experiences, good or bad with people and this influences our language and actions; do we cross the road to avoid certain people or situations? Do we avoid conversations or places because it’s too hard to confront? Do we feel guilty for doing some of these things? It is also about recognising the hidden, almost common place, ingrained use of language that we use; do we still go for a cheeky “Chinky” or call the corner shop the “Paki” shop? What assumptions do we make in our language or thoughts about someone’s heritage or culture? Recognising and being aware of these thoughts and actions is all part of us becoming more culturally aware, developing the right communication and in some ways freeing ourselves to have the hard conversations about race and culture.
  1. Do something! – We need to challenge ourselves and others about language and assumptions. Can we take action, personally or as communities to bring diversity to the fore front and have honest open debates, or can we actually do something practical to assist. I want to set up and run programmes and courses for people of colour to become outdoor instructors and expedition leaders of the future. Previously I have waited for large organisations to grip this, but now I am beginning to think that I need to take positive action. Also commit to learning about black people who have influenced your lives, friends, colleagues, famous sports people or actors, this way we commit to recognising and owning their part in our story.
  2. Talk about it– be brave and have those hard conversations, it’s scary and challenging for all involved, but this way we help develop ourselves and our wider society, which needs to become closer than ever, rather than continuing to deepen the gulf that although we don’t like to think about it, is always there!

As I said at the beginning I am angry this morning, but writing and thinking about this has allowed me to vocalise my thoughts and try to commit to do better in the future in a more constructive way. To commit to try and challenge myself, those around me and the industry I work in to do better….

For a fairer and more equitable future!


Banter!- The key to elite team performance?

People seem to talk endlessly about leadership in work places, society, and sport, but what about teams, surely it can’t all be down to leadership ….. Can it?

In the UK we are currently immersed in a general election campaign, where a bunch of power seeking “leaders’ are trying to convince us in a variety of ways, nefarious or otherwise, to vote for them and their team!
So it seems timely to look at some tricky issues around leadership and team work,
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Recent team performances like England and South Africa’s finals appearances in the rugby world cup, have got us talking about team work, what about Japans amazing run in the same competition, the crushing of the seemingly invincible All Blacks, a team that has been the epitome of team work in elite sport for the last 10 years, or what about the amazing USA women’s football team becoming back to back world champions during the summer, or England’s Cricket team, outside of sport what about the top teams in business, Google, Java and historically Ford Motor Company and Disney?
All these team have and are creating greatness in their own arenas and prompt us to think about whether its teams or leaders who make the magic happen?

There is always the argument that is the combined factors in the make up a team that make the magic happen, or the old adage of “teamwork makes the dream work”, but surely its leaders who set vision, build the team drive it forwards, celebrate with the team when they all succeed?

This supposes that the team just follow what the leader sets for them, the players are just tools of the leader to achieve their aim or goal?

Looking at rugby coaches for example they build teams that match their vision, during the game they sit in the box passing tactical insights to the players, moving the chess pieces on the board and then celebrate when it all works out!! But is it this simple? I would suggest that its more complicated than this, to be an elite performing team requires individual players in that team to forge their own paths, to become the best at their specialised area, to know everything about their co-workers, work out where their skills sit and to commit to making the team work, they may place trust in a leader to set a vision but they need to commit to that to enable it to become reality, they have to take individual feedback and team discussions on board and amend behaviours and attitudes accordingly.

But a team needs to find its own identity and the ability to give crucial feedback to each other for the good of the team’s development  so that it can succeed at its task.

I’ve been involved in a number of teams throughout my career either as a participant, player or colleague, as a leader and observer and as coach and trainer, all pushing towards achieving goals, whether that was on expeditions, undertaking military missions, in sports teams and in training elite athletes. In all of these environments and team I have noticed a number of common elements that when in evidence alongside more traditional team behaviours have helped ensure that the high performing teams have met their goals or have created a professional winning atmosphere and mind-set.
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Some of these behaviours that I have witnessed in high performing teams, and personally enjoy in the teams I  work in are-
1. Comradeship –  A critical component in teams. It engenders trust, safety and support, the concept that you are in it for each other and you will “die” to protect the person next to you!
2. Banter– lots of good and generally appropriate banter (not bullying) in a team means that they are comfortable with each other, that they can keep the atmosphere light, though when it really matters they can focus when needed. A bit of gentle sledging of each other can also ensure humour in the work place, kindness and demonstrate that people can smile with each other, and at themselves.
3. Family – Teams that consider themselves a family ensure that they develop their own identity and values, ones that they hold themselves accountable for and to, they commit to tasks and each other, protecting and nurturing each other.
4. Fight for Cause– Having purpose bonds people and therefore the team together, it means that they can face testing circumstances knowing that they have a joint mission and end goal, and give it meaning and importance.
5. Leaders across pitch– having many leaders, not just the main one but others who might be experienced, senior people who exhibit leadership skills and values throughout a team or organisation can lead to a supportive team, who can pick up issues throughout the mission or work and keep people on track, and develop the weaker or more junior members.  They know what needs to be done, what good performance looks like, how to keep people focused and moving forwards.
6. Honest feedback– teams that have confidence in giving, and receiving honest feedback always strive to do better, sometimes it seems brutally delivered, but carefully selected honest feedback delivered in a strong way is highly effective. This isn’t rude or bullying, it can be fair, equitable and clearly given to improve performance or review mistakes. No one learns if the feedback is week, in content or delivery!

High performing teams need more than just a good leader or a loose approach to team work, they need a deeper bond, a connection, a focus, a reason to keep pursuing excellence. In modern workplaces teams need more than just a financial or transactional incentive to push further, making people part of a team, immersing them in the comradeship, giving them a goal and reason to come to work, supporting them through key leaders throughout the team, having honest conversations about performance, and keeping the environment fun and in good humour can lead to developing and maintaining the organisation or teams excellence.

If you want to find out more about teams that I think adopt and live by these behaviours look at the All Blacks (check out the book Legacy by James Kerr), or Google the Royal Marines “ Commando Spirt” mantra and Corps Values, these give great insight into organisational cultures of excellence.

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If you or any teams or individuals you know that might benefit from working on developing their own values and behaviours put them in touch with me and I’d love to help them work on developing their own high performance!


Inclusion in Adventure

I read a lot about inclusion in the outdoors these days, and sometimes I find that it is not presented in the most positive or even inclusive way.
I just wanted to champion some people and projects that are doing amazing work (https://womensadventureexpo.co.uk/ https://www.loveherwild.com/ http://www.equaladventure.org/ http://outdoorafro.com/) to name a few, and to add my 5 pence worth to this wide debate.


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The adventure challenge today is not so much about climbing the highest mountain or the physical exploits of personal endeavor and hardship by super fit individuals but much more it is starting to challenge the status quo of “who” is being included in this!
The need for “adventure” and exploration to become more inclusive is paramount.
As a broad  society , made up of all types of people and cultures the challenge to adventurers, organisations and those that follow is to become more diverse in outlook, thinking and practically.
The challenges may be culturally, accessibility, social or even prejudice, but the sector and those of us in it must try to understand the “why” and well as the “who” and work really hard and a broadly as possible to understand the “how”, to ensure that the outdoor sector, how ever broad it is, is as inclusive as possible.
We need to explore and break down how other cultures see the outdoors, as well as looking critically at all our relationships with it, this needs to be historically, culturally and practically, we need to understand how all cultures and groups of people see the outdoors.
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In modern Britain we see the outdoors as a good place to go, a place to explore and be adventurous, to challenge ourselves physically and that it is acceptable to go into the outdoors and gain some positive benefits from it, educationally or personally.  But this wasn’t always the case. In Victorian times the mountains were seen as evil places, where dragons and demons live. One of my favorite mountains is the Cader Idris in North Wales, even here mythology from the 1700’s said that its is where the devil played cards with sabbath breakers on Sundays! This was how the Victorians saw the world, and it wasn’t till later when a few drug- addled poets and early botanists started to describe the mountains differently, and change people perceptions of them did they become more acceptable places.
But how do other cultures explain their relationship with the wider environment, and if they are then part of a migrant diaspora, how do they relate that to their new environments?
We need to understand what the barriers are or have been to people to access or go into the outdoors, disabled people have potentially avoided places due to rough surfaces or an in- ability to engage with the environment from a mobility perspective, people on low incomes cannot get to remote or outdoor places, some people view of the outdoors is that it is “NOT” for certain types of people (LGBTQ/ Transgender). But what other barriers exist for people that stops them engaging, is it attitudes, cost of clothing and equipment or not seeing enough people “like them” in the outdoor literature or on the media?
Even I’m not that sure I relate to Ben Fogle, Ran Fiennes or Ray Mears, and I am a white (nearly) middle aged male!!!!
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 We need real change drivers, adventurers, leaders in the industry, communities and through our media to change and develop our thinking of inclusion in the outdoors.
The western, white, middle class male-centric approach, with all its history, culture, outlooks and educational approaches must be challenged to find out ways to make the outdoor and adventure relevant, welcoming and open to change so that all can be represented at its broad church!