Soraya Abdel-Hadi: New Lenses On The Landscape
The outdoors is a really important part of my life, and it always has been. But I think that I took it for granted for a really long time. I decided to pivot my career more towards sustainability and environmental protection. And since I have done that, my relationship to nature has transformed, everything has heightened. I just notice things more, and it really excites me to see the colours in the sky, or notice different plants.
All The Elements is a community interest company. I started it in August last year. I had decided to put myself out there more in terms of showing that as a woman of colour, you could be in these spaces. You could be in sustainability spaces, you could be in nature spaces, you could be in the outdoors and doing these outdoors activities. I then went searching for people who are doing the same thing, and I thought there must be a network where you can connect with people and learn from them, and share experiences and gain support. But what I discovered is that it didn’t exist, and people kept telling me it was a great idea.
I originally had a plan that it was going to be a newsletter, and now it has evolved into a website. There are resources, you can go on there and find out about research on diversity in the outdoors. And this is across all diversity areas, whether that is gender identity, sexuality, body type, limited financial means, people of colour in the outdoors, everything that is underrepresented within the mainstream outdoor narrative. We have resources, we have interviews with community group leaders, films, podcasts, books. And then outside of that we organise socials, so the community group leaders can connect and talk to each other, they can learn from each other, and get that support that I was looking for in the first place. It is a community in itself, a community for the community group leaders.
I have said that I feel like a lot of the barriers that people have experienced, I haven't experienced myself. But what I would say is that people will ask me about them because I am navigating in these spaces. I find that people approach me and say, ‘how do we get more people like you in these spaces?’ I went away and did a lot of my own work to find out more about the situation, and the landscape, and what it looked like, and who was underrepresented and what the different barriers were, so that I could talk about it in a more educated way, and help to amplify other peoples voices who weren’t there to give that feedback.
It has been a huge, huge learning process for me. I have always felt welcome in the outdoors. I have never felt like I couldn’t be there. But I also sit firmly within my privilege in that way, because I grew up somewhere where getting to the outdoors is easy. My family had the money to have a car so we could do all these activities. I had family members who were already outdoorsy, so they took me on those journeys and involved me in those experiences. Until very recently, I had never really felt ‘other’, if that makes sense.
I was, in some circumstances, quite indignant at being thought of as ‘other’. It felt strange to be perceived as ‘other’.
I recognised that I am a confident person, and I can be quite a loud person. And that is okay. If that is why they are coming to talk to me about it, that is fine. We need to have the conversations, or there won’t be change and there won’t be movement. The people who are asking these questions also want change, so we need to bring everyone in, and have more conversations. And we need more people asking questions, even if it does feel awkward and difficult.
My role in this conversation, and activism, is to bring people together, and to bridge gaps. That is where I feel like I come to my own, in this space. It is a cliché but it is true. We are stronger together.
I think it is a really dangerous narrative to suggest that we are getting different people, underrepresented groups, into the outdoors on the basis that we then want them to help us save the planet. Because actually, then we are almost using people to get an end result. In fact the whole thing should be about the people, so let’s centre the people. Because, at the end of the day, that is our environment. It is a combination of people and the planet. So we need to bring it all together.
I am not perfect, but that doesn’t matter. We don’t need perfect people running these projects and pushing them forward, we just need action. So that is what I am trying to do.
The one thing brands can do to make a difference in a very authentic way, is to actually talk to community group leaders, and engage them in every stage of the process. It is not just about putting underrepresented faces out there, although that is an important part of it. It is also about finding out how they can better support community groups and leaders in the space, to help them create change in the way that they know they need to do it.
I have traditionally accessed the outdoors mostly through specific activities. Horse riding, climbing, a little bit of mountain biking, swimming. But what gets me excited now is sitting in a place and really looking at it, which I have been trying to do a lot more and make more space for. I do that by sketching, but that is not necessarily how you need to do it. It is about seeing, really seeing what is around you.
I get really excited when I look at the ocean, and I see that actually, it is five different colours of blue. Or I look at a tree, and I see there is purple in that tree. It is just amazing. I am getting really emotional. When you really look at the world it is amazing. We all should have the opportunity to realise that.