Doncopolitan’s new Creative Director, Olivia Jones, speaks to Evie Muir, founder of the Peaks of Colour walking group and takes her first steps into hiking…
Through out lockdown and the nations collective loss of sanity, many of us decided to take on new hobbies to keep thoughts of the societal collapse away. Some of us baked, some of us got really into TikTok dances and some of us took up hiking. Our ascent out of the pandemic, and more recent escape from pingdemic, has allowed many to return to a normal state of existence; but as we leave our all too familiar “lockdown life” some of us have discovered that we want to take those new found passions with us. Enter Peaks of Colour. Peaks of Colour is an “intersectional collective, offering month hikes in the peak district… run exclusively by and for people of colour”. Dedicated to helping people of colour reclaim their place in natural spaces. Following Natural Englands indication that only 26% of black people regularly access the countryside in comparison to 44% of their white counterparts, with Asian people spending even less time there, Peaks of Colour aims to help people of colour shout from the proverbial and in this case literal mountain top, “we belong here too, we deserve to be here too”.
I spoke to Evie Muir, founder of Peaks of Colour, to discuss the inception of the group and its intentions moving forward. With an impressive resumé herself, Evie is a full time domestic abuse specialist, focusing on the intersections of race and gender. A freelance journalist with an emphasis on platforming survivors voices, on occasion, through her position as staff writer for The Restless Network; the social networking app that “empowers women through information and connection”. In her free time is she is a racial justice activist,
Through a slightly crackled phone call, me being in my kitchen, her being somewhere green and lush (where she can often be found) we delved further into how the walking group came to fruition. What started the journey. “It was a spontaneous idea really” she mused, going on to explain that she was actually hiking through the peaks with her friends when the idea came to her. She went on to explain that through her own research on the impact of natural spaces on mental health, she came across Campaign to Protect Rural England’s report, in which it was stated that “BAME” people made up only 1% of national park visitors in 2019. “My friends and I are fortunate enough to access natural spaces regularly so I really just wanted to extend that invitation to other people of colour”. Citing the importance of safe spaces for people of colour; Evie highlighted that Peaks of Colour took inspiration from other “by us for us” groups such as Black Girls Walking, Black Men Hiking and Muslim Walkers.
As we chatted further I wanted to know more about the response she has had so far. Thankfully – and almost emotionally for Evie – the response had been overwhelmingly positive. At first, like with many projects focused on racial disparity, she wasn’t sure how it would be received but for the Peaks of Colour founder it wasn’t about how big it was or how many people it reached. For her it was about it benefiting at least someone. Luckily however, the Peaks of Colour walking group has managed to have success in both reach and impact. Evie puts some of this success down to strong connections in Sheffield and the surrounding areas who have been more than willing to share, collaborate and join in with the group, The rest of the success, I suspect, is down to it being a much needed and welcomed idea for people of colour in the north. The joining criteria for the aforementioned Facebook group is to simply answer a question or two about why they wanted to join. For the most part, Evie mentioned that the responses were fairly similar. People wanted a safe space for likeminded, similarly experienced people who want to reap the benefits of being in natural spaces. For some, unfortunately, they have experienced racism in those spaces. Be that overt, covert or in the form of micro aggressions; so for them groups like Peaks of Colour are so key in order for them to feel safe. Whilst advertising the group, Evie has experienced ignorance and in some cases racism from the small minority. She divulged “there are some people that don’t understand the need for safe spaces or feel entitled to access everything” but Peaks of Colour has taken that in their stride as those people further prove the need for “by us for us” groups.
With such a promising start, it’s impossible not to wonder what is next for the group. “We want to keep it as informal as possible” Muir stated, “we are aware that it has the potential to be huge but as its still in its infancy we want to keep it personal”. As the main ethos of the group is to allow the initiative to be led by the needs and wants of its members. Their strategy is to focus on quality and impact. Above all it’s a walking group that meets once a month, there’s no buy in, no contract; just kindred people exploring the surrounding area. The aim is to create unique spaces for people of colour, responding to their needs instead of determining them. This needs to be done without falling into the traditional mould of top down structures which “are rooted in oppression” and “neocolonialism”. As it expands, Peaks of Colour promises more walks in classic peak district locations but also hopes to be able to offer some really effective workshops such as yoga or writing in nature in the near future.
Knowing that the interview was coming to a close and having been in the same position myself I couldn’t let her go without asking her advice for those apprehensive about getting into hiking. Thoughtfully she pointed out that apprehensions are completely normal and valid feelings to have, be that about transport, access to equipment or even map reading. But you do not need those things to hike. “Some people hate walking boots so want to do it in trainers and some people prefer to do it barefoot”. There is no model you need to follow and therefore there is no wrong way to do it. If you still feel uncertain, then Evie recommends joining a walking group and having the “onus of figuring it out for yourself taken away from you”. Added bonuses are that it’s a great way to meet friends, learn different skills and build up a community. For Evie and her friends, many of their favourite discoveries have started when they got in the car and stopped when they saw a footpath they hadn’t seen before and just started walking, deciding which direction to take as they reached each crossroads. By doing this they ended up finding the most beautiful trails, the most astonishing views. In the same spirit of Peaks of Colour, they are forged their own paths. This is your sign to do the same.
If you are a person of colour who would be interested in joining Peaks of Colour on their next walk on the 22nd of August head to their Facebook group and become a member.