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Everyone is Welcome at Your Local TFT Community Hub

Images by Pete Scullion, Christopher Baker and Joby Newson. Words by Rich Breeden

There are certain demographics of humans in the world that have been branded “Hard To Reach” by, well, everyone. Politicians, Community Action Groups, Advocacy Groups, anyone that has a remit of outreach could be victim to labelling swathes of society under this banner. 

It’s particularly prevalent in the outdoor community, where those of us with privelege seem to wonder how we might possibly be able to open up the outdoors to people that haven’t had any opportunity to experience it. Because they’ve never had this opportunity, they get branded Hard To Reach, and that’s kind of it. Don't get us wrong, on the face of it, there’s loads of amazing projects and initiatives that are trying to reach these Hard To Reach individuals and groups, but, somehow, they’re still Hard to Reach, despite all of this. Why’s that then?

Language is a powerful tool and an intrinsic part of our values. As soon as we learn to speak, we also learn there is a right and a wrong way to communicate. We learn that if we say ‘please’ we are more likely to get a positive response. As we grow older we learn that some words are taboo, some elicit stronger reactions than others and some just slip into our lexicon without another thought.

We believe strongly in the importance of language in the development of the global behaviour change we are trying to transform. Our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours are influenced by the terminology we use to describe such things, and indeed the very stimuli these human characteristics are borne out of. “Litter” is just one of those words, designed to invoke blame, shame, guilt and aggression towards the Litterbugs, and away from the producers of Single-Use Pollution, and we’re trying to change that, because “litter” is not a single issue. It is not a single demographic’s “fault” - it’s the smoke to the fire, a symptom of a mass of interconnected systems and causes.

We believe that the terminology “Hard To Reach” has somehow placed the impetus upon the very people in that bracket. Somehow, it’s the fact that they are apparently Hard To Reach that has stopped the outdoor community being able to reach them. In the same way that “Litter” has shifted the blame of Single-Use Pollution onto the consumer, Hard To Reach implies that there is something that these communities have done or not done, something about the way that they are that makes them unreachable. That simply cannot be the case! 

What is the case is that these communities are drastically underserved by society as a whole. They are underfunded, not listened to and ignored. As a result, they experience social and economic difficulties that the majority of people reading this post have no concept of. Does that make them hard to reach? We don’t think so. 

These communities are not hard to reach. They are hardly reached.

Therefore, more of an effort must be made to build trust, understanding and representation if we are to be a truly safe, open, accessible and inclusive space and community.

So, thanks to support from our long term Strategic Partners The North Face & the European Outdoor Conservation Association and brand new Programme Partners Hydro Flask, we’re directing our attention towards these communities. We are putting our money where our mouth is and working with our Community Hubs to go to people in their places and listen to them, and learn more about what will support them to experience the outdoors in a safe and welcoming way. 

Our Community Hub leaders are paving the way for this. We know one of the challenges of outreach work is the repeated attempt for a universal approach. Every community is different and has different needs and desires. Instead of creating a blanket programme, we’re providing our Community Hubs with the resources to meet members of their community who are hardly reached in a way that works for them.

One of our values at Trash Free Trails is that ‘everyone is welcome’, but we recognise that just saying this isn’t enough. This needs to be something we actively dedicate ourselves to. We want to be action-driven, solutions-oriented, ear-to-the-ground; listening. Because the best ideas on how we’ll build a trash free future don’t come from our team - they’re in the hands of the people who are doing it themselves. Local people, local passion, all in celebration of a shared love of local trails.

For further reading on changing the terminology on 'hard to reach' groups, we recommend this article by the Good Governance Institute.

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