IMPACT Project for Refugees & Non-EU Migrants

People from all over the world have begun to develop a familiarity and ease with our local landscape, through sessions led by EcoWild as part of a project with refugees and non-EU migrants. In partnership with The Community Farm and Groundwork’s IMPACT project, 10 City Nature sessions in Bristol and 24 wellbeing and farming days at the Community farm in Chew Valley have been delivered so far, with more to come in 2023.

Central to these sessions is the idea that each of us as a human being has a right to feel a sense of belonging in the land. Most often immigrant communities, whether the 1st, 2nd or 3rd generation to live in the UK, are concentrated in urban spaces.

There are many reasons why this has happened, including the risk of experiencing racism, cultural conditioning because of previous racism, and a lack of visible representation which can make people feel alienated from the countryside.

The impact is that those accessing the benefits of nature don’t reflect the make-up of the population, despite significant successful exceptions through initiatives such as Black Girls Hike and Imayla’s urban-rural creative links. 

We know that the air, waters, and soils are part of us; through our food, drink, breath, bloodstream. We can think of the earth as our wider body, so interconnected are we. If we are to care for this earth body we need to know it, as we can’t care for or protect that which we do not know. Everyone needs to know it. 

The IMPACT programme supports positive integration into the UK, so that through improving English levels and learning from cultural experiences, people who make the UK their home are able to assimilate well and thrive. People come from a wide range of backgrounds; from the prosperous modern economies of Taiwan and Hong Kong, to war-torn Afghanistan and Syria, to Sudan, Somalia and Turkey.

Iylaf from Sudan

Iylaf looked breathtaken, gazing at the field of swaying yellow flowers and the lake view for the first time. She has little English, but putting her hand to her heart and waving the other towards the field ahead she said, “I love this. In Sudan I live in the countryside.” Such a simple statement, said with deep heart and connection to the living world we are all intrinsically woven into.

Cooking with Areveso

I met Arevso, a bright-eyed 19-year-old Afghani woman who is the eldest of 5 children who have come to the UK with her parents. While her siblings have been able to go to school in the UK, she has not had the opportunity since she arrived here, and she seemed thirsty for knowledge and connection.

Taking part in these sessions was a perfect opportunity to practice her English and get to know people as well as the living world around us. We were cooking pizzas in the cob oven on the day she joined the group. While Raji from Syria and I were getting into the rhythm of managing the heat levels and trying not to burn the pizzas, she enthusiastically put herself forward to have a go too. In Afghanistan she had travelled widely and new other areas apart from her home area of Kabul. Maybe that had given her this confidence to blend into new situations.

Nature makes us feel more alive

Wherever in the world people come from the common thread we hear is that they feel more alive and relaxed when in contact with nature. In our session we have time to “ground” with guided mindfulness and to stretch the body outside, looking over the lake and towards the horizon. This sense of space and distance allows people a different perspective. Often it takes them to other memories and prompts stories of home; playing in the Nile as a child, living in a village and working with the land, or herbal remedies and plants that were used by a grandmother. 

In the past year there have been many new people from Hong Kong arriving in the UK, since they have seen democracy dissolved in front of them back home. Some have spoken about never having walked on grass before. In many countries in Southeast Asia green spaces are strictly controlled and so people have only ever walked on tarmac. 

Vicki from Taiwan said, “Every time I come here I always learn a lot from the others. I think nature is so powerful to me. Every time I come I feel human beings should be humble and learn from the environment, or we will ruin it.”

Joey from Hong Kong said, “This has been the best experience ever for me. Coming to the farm and doing teamwork. Out on the field I feel like we become a community with a shared goal. Then we come back to the warmth and sit around a table like a big family. This makes me feel so happy.”

Throughout the course of the project, we saw individuals’ confidence grow in significant ways and relationships forming between several participants who otherwise may not have interacted with one another. 

The sessions within Bristol, labelled as ‘City Nature’, took place in diverse locations such Ashton Court, Victoria Park and Snuff Mills/Oldbury Court estate. We focused on introducing the group to new green spaces, learning how to access them via public transport links and building their confidence to move in the city in a group and on their own, increasing their sense of belonging and of community. The sessions, like all that EcoWild does, aimed to explore our connection to the land as a means to improve well-being. A sense of familiarity in the special green spaces can greatly expand our sense of self.

A few last words from our participants

“Last week was very educational, this week is more spiritual and motivational to spend time in nature. It makes my day, encourages me to be off my phone. We get separated so much from nature that we forget how to connect. It is our homecoming to be in nature. When you know the living world it helps you feel like you belong, it has detail and meaning.”

“I am a naturally lazy person. Before this project I did not explore or get out much. You have helped me to discover new places, enjoy nature, build my confidence and make new friends.”

Want to know more?

As part of the Nature and Health Practice Network mentioned in a previous post, EcoWild has been involved in deepening the conversation about why people of racialised backgrounds are less likely to be benefiting from nature for their health. The term racialised, rather than BAME or BME is used because race is a social construct, not a real thing.

So if someone’s life experience is affected by the colour of their skin, this is due to socio-political rather than biological factors. They were not born with it, only their circumstances have made them seem different, or “other”. The word “minority” holds a sense of diminishment. This can have a significant mental and wellbeing impact. If you are keen to know more about Diversity and Belonging in the landscape, here are some good references:

An article written by prominent Black Bushcraft Practitioners and Therapist Beth Collier

Wild LIVE: How can we improve ethnic diversity in the environmental sector

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