Black Girls Hike are a walking group empowering black women all over the country to reconnect with the world around them. Now thanks to funding from Active Thames, the group has been able to experience London’s waterways through paddleboarding for the first time
A walking group dedicated to creating a safe space for black women to feel comfortable and thrive in the outdoors has been able to expand its offering with paddleboarding, thanks to funding from Active Thames, an initiative led by Port of London Authority.
Black Girls Hike aims to challenge the status quo and diversify the British landscape by encouraging more black women to reconnect with nature. In 2019, CEO and founder Rhiane Fatinikun was struck by the lack of diversity in the outdoors. Determined to change this, she set up a Facebook group for black women, and those from African and Caribbean communities, to connect through nationwide group hikes, outdoor activities and training. Fast forward three years, group membership now exceeds 12,000 women from ages 18 upwards.
“I think timing was everything with Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter,” events and training coordinator Anisa Saleh explains. “There was a real urgency on multiple levels for people to get outside. Covid really impacted movement, so the hike couldn’t have been at a more perfect time. In fact, lots of women turned up to the first hike!
“To have an opportunity to reflect and build connections in the outdoors whilst engaged in a physical activity has had a major impact on women. Our activities allow women to share their lived experiences of challenges they are going through with other women of colour, and allow the development of long-lasting friendships.”
Their leaders are also trained in outdoor first aid, and provided with kit so they have everything they need to lead groups outdoors. Often, the group may have up to 15 nationwide hikes a month as well as family days and weekend and international trips. The group are currently re-energising their volunteering pool to expand and provide further representation in the Midlands and in the North.
“On a personal level,” Anisa says, “I live on the edge of the Peak District so I’ve always had a passion for nature and getting out into nature and that was one thing that kept us going as a family [during lockdown]. For a lot of women to be able to connect with other black women, post Covid, and to get out there and explore – it was huge.”
The walking group decided to venture into paddleboarding as a natural extension of being in the outdoors. Members based in London were able to experience two and a half hours paddleboarding sessions in Paddington basin, learning from fully qualified instructors from Active360, and one of their members began training as a paddlesports instructor. This was made possible by a grant of £1000 by Active Thames.
“Our founder Rhiane was curious to dig more into the outdoor sector and uncovered that watersports again lacked diverse representation,” Anisa says. “Paddleboarding was a natural extension and complemented what we were doing already and we wanted to give our members variety and take them out of their comfort zone. Plus, it’s just a really great fun activity, it’s great to get out on the water and we were really excited to enjoy the waterways in and around London.”
Some members were quite nervous because paddleboarding requires being able to balance but Anisa explains they were thrilled to be able to challenge themselves, push through and overcome the nerves.
“There is still quite a bit of work to be done to make watersports diverse,” Anisa says. “In our instance, the sessions drew women in like a moth to a flame. There was a real curiosity to engage with the activity, so if we have more of them, which we hope to do, it would really impact all our members in significant ways.
“It was really great to offer subsidised sessions that people could afford because it includes people from all different socio-economic backgrounds, especially in our current political-economic climate with the cost of living and how challenged people are financially.”
As a member, Anisa’s highlight has been connecting with other black women in spaces she’s passionate about and developing long-lasting friendships. She’s been able to build an invaluable support network. As events coordinator, however, she’s very proud of the first paddleboarding event which she organised. “The uptake, the response, the weekend with Active360, the feedback about the instructions and how everyone worked well in a group – it was absolutely brilliant. I was really pleased about that.”
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Active Thames is a partnership programme in place to support the development of watersports on the tidal Thames and inland waterways in London, Kent and Essex.
With over 15,000 football pitches worth of blue space, the tidal Thames is a fantastic place to get active. There is also an extensive network of inland waterways, which provide even more space for people to enjoy, and perfect locations to gain the skills and confidence needed to take on the tidal river.