I founded Peaks of Colour, a Peak District-based walking club by and for people of colour, out of a deep love of the Peaks, gratitude for community spaces and a recognition that by combining the two, a revolution can begin.
We seek to create nurturing outdoor spaces, promote mental wellbeing and challenge racialised barriers in nature. We do this through our monthly hikes, which see us rambling through classic Peak District locations and our ‘In Nature Walkshops’, creative and holistic workshops that take place outdoors.
In recognition of the inequality which still exists in outdoor spaces, our walking club is open to people of colour only. In Sheffield, we’re fortunate to have the Peak District, and the immense mental health benefits its nature provides, on our doorstep.
Over the years it’s offered me untold respite and has supported my trauma recovery. From the ways cold water swimming aids stress reduction, boosts immune systems and enhances circulation, to the bacteria in soil which increases serotonin in the brain, nature’s health benefits have been recognised for centuries.
“The amount of support we’ve received has been humbling”
When we launched in July 2021, the need for an intimate yet informal space like ours was underestimated. The amount of support we’ve received has been humbling; from the regular members who join us each month, to the new faces who show trust in us, and the wider community who believes in our journey. And what a journey it’s been. Since our first hike, around Derwent Valley on a sweltering afternoon in July, we have hosted eight hikes, including a nature writing walkshop co-facilitated by WOC Azadi and Dal Kular. Many memories and friendships have been made along these trails.
Peaks of Colour strives to be a safe space, and to understand by and for safe spaces is to understand power. Those who create, uphold, contribute to and benefit from systems of power have forged a landscape that’s unsafe for many of us to navigate.
Safe spaces don’t equate to segregation; segregation is upheld by those with privilege and power, excluding others based on prejudice. Safe spaces aren’t created to serve the powerful or reinforce power dynamics, nor do they exist to remove the rights of, oppress or exploit those who don’t inhabit them. They’re not created to uphold and maintain inequality. They exist to disrupt it.
“This collective resistance is a grassroots effort, co-produced and doesn’t rely on the funding, “expertise” and/or management of others”
By and for safe spaces aren’t new. Cultivated by racial justice, feminist and queer liberation movements over decades, a nurturing and nourishing space for persecuted groups to heal has long been recognised as integral to community wellbeing. Fostering self-preservation and protection, what we gain from spaces like ours is the full body sensation of belonging, security and freedom.
With Peaks of Colour, we’re permitted time to pause and to not be impacted by the world. The emphasis on ‘by and for’ is again a reclamation of agency and control. Collectives facilitated by community members with lived experiences of the issues we’re trying to combat nurture collective resistance. This collective resistance is a grassroots effort, co-produced and doesn’t rely on the funding, “expertise” and/or management of others.
Yet, for such a relatively simple concept and one that certainly isn’t new, Peaks of Colour has received heaps of backlash from those who perpetrate and uphold rural racism, who feel our safe space threatens their power. We’re a middle finger to the status quo and this is uncomfortable for those who’re actively racist, those at the start of their anti-racism journey or those still in denial of their complicity.
“If there is an expectation that people of colour should accommodate your discomfort, your anti-racism isn’t upholding core values of safety and solidarity”
After launching, we eagerly shared links to online platforms, notably Peak District Facebook groups. In them, we were bombarded by racist abuse from members across every platform who told us in the most ironic and contradictory manners that we both didn’t belong in the Peak District, and that racism doesn’t exist in the Peak District.
Rural racism is not uncommon, and we’re not the not the only ones to experience it. In 2020, a right-wing group unfurled a huge ‘White Lives Matter’ banner on Mam Tor, and in 2021, on Christmas Day, Muslim hikers experienced racism across the same Peak District Facebook groups we’d been targeted on months before.
Ultimately, people who are unable to understand the need for and importance of safe spaces are those who have never needed them themselves. These are the people who’ve had the unimaginable privilege of walking into any given space and feeling safe and represented, of not being looked at with curiosity as a token or a charity case, of not having to explain or justify their presence. This privilege instils a sense of entitlement which is shattered when told that spaces exist that they’re not permitted to occupy.
To those who say that Peaks of Colour and other by and for spaces are excluding allies by being a POC-only space – allyship is not conditional and if there is an expectation that people of colour should accommodate your discomfort, your anti-racism isn’t upholding the values of safety and solidarity which are integral to racial justice work.
There are many ways that allies can support us that don’t include taking up space on our hikes. Sharing our group across your networks, supporting friends and family to attend, donating equipment and outerwear or contributing financially, and working to ensure that the spaces that you inhabit are inclusive so that one day we don’t have to exist in response to your exclusion.
Evie Muir is a freelance journalist and domestic abuse specialist. @xeviemuir