By Claire Mason
A couple of years ago I completed an unsupported cycle ride from London to Japan – it took me roughly 18 months and through 24 different countries, I loved it and it taught me so much about the world around me, and about myself too.
Since my bike trip I have been working hard to try and break down some of the barriers that exist for people when getting into adventures – such as lack of finances, knowledge, gear, and most importantly…confidence.
I am a trainee psychologist in my day job at a charity called the Helen Bamber Foundation which supports survivors of extreme human cruelty such as torture, human trafficking and domestic abuse. I have just started a hiking group for some of our female asylum seekers and refugees, with the end goal to climb the three highest peaks in the UK at the end of this summer. It is a big challenge for them as they are completely new to hiking and have various psychological and physical problems to overcome. The hope is they will be able to use the group to: meet new friends, develop new skills, rediscover (or discover for the first time) a connection with nature, and improve their fitness.
The survivors will be supported throughout the process, building up their confidence, stamina and outdoors skills with a series of training walks. By the summer we will have a team ready to take on the mountains!
On Saturday the 9th February we held our second training hike and nine women made their way to Epping Forest to take part. It was a day filled with laughter, lots of home made snacks, and plenty of thick mud! A few hours after the walk I received this message from one of the women.
“It was an amazing day out for me, I haven’t had this much fun and laughter in a long time, I met very amazing ladies today. I can’t stress it enough, it was wonderful and I am looking forward to more of it. I am home with my feet up now”.
I reached out to Belinda at Explorers Connect (EC) because I was feeling really lost about the practicalities of the hiking group. I had never started a group like this before, and was unsure what I should do in terms of risk assessments, medical questionnaires and disclaimers or consent forms. I was also hoping Belinda could use the extensive Explorers Connect network to put me in touch with experts that might be willing to volunteer their time - such as mountain leaders or medics. Belinda was incredible, she spent time talking me through the issues over the phone, advising me and answering my questions via email. In addition, Belinda used EC to advertise for female volunteer mountain leaders for our group and we had so many applications from wonderful people offering their time and expertise - I was blown away.
The support I have received has been invaluable for getting the female survivors hiking group started - if you have an idea or a project you are trying to get off the ground I would definitely suggest reaching out to Belinda at EC for help.
What can you do to help.....
The survivors we work with are struggling financially, and we will need to provide outdoor gear for the group and pay for their travel to attend each of the training hikes. Therefore we desperately need funding for gear, transport and the logistics of doing the challenge itself - such as accommodation. Anything you can donate to our JustGiving page would be hugely appreciated, and please follow us on social media to stay updated on our progress: