This weekend I zoomed down from a wet week of training and assessment with potential leaders for World Challenge in the Lake District to Bristol for a burst of creative, adventurous energy from Shextreme Festival and the Women’s Adventure Expo. I’ve had a few days for it all to sink in now and it feels like a good time for a bit of reflection.
But first, here’s some background. Shextreme is a Women’s Adventure Film Festival set up by Ruth Farrar that is now in its fourth year. Calling Shextreme a Film Festival doesn’t quite do this event justice, as it brings together film-makers, photographers, bloggers, publishers, poets, performance and any other form of Outdoor Media that you can think of! I was lucky enough to have my blog post “A Successful Failure on Triglav” selected for the Adventure Blog Award, which was such an awesome surprise, especially as it is the first competition I have entered my blog into. It is amazing to get recognition for something that started out from a desire to improve my writing and to provide a bit of background to my life outdoors, warts and all!
The Women’s Adventure Expo celebrates adventure in all its weird and wonderful forms. Set up in 2015 by sisters Tania John and Rebecca Hughes the Expo is built around a range of talks, panels and breakout sessions. This one day event offers up the opportunity to make connections with other adventurous people all excited about sharing stories and ideas. This year the expo was chaired by the untiring, frolicsome Anna McNuff who kept us all bouncing along from one inspirational story to the next. I was there representing World Challenge, who are passionate about making active changes to increase the diversity of their leaders, of whom only 28% are currently women.
Lucky for us the two events coincided perfectly, collaborating to create a weekend jam-packed full of adventure. And it wasn’t just the calendar that brought the two together so beautifully. There were common themes running throughout. Rather than give you a breakdown of all of the amazing stories that were shared I have tried to pick out what I felt was the essence of the two and it goes something like this.
You would be forgiven for thinking that two events focusing on women in adventure could be less diverse than some of the bigger adventure expos and film festivals but here’s why they achieved the opposite. Through having a focus that was more than just ‘Adventure’ both succeeded in encouraging meaningful dialogue about diversity in all its forms. Both Shextreme and the Women’s Adventure Expo celebrated adventurous women with disabilities and women from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities and recognised the work that still needs to be done to increase participation from Women and Men from all walks of life.
From Shextreme the standout film for me was Boarders Without Borders, an intimate invitation into the creation of the UK’s first Women of Colour Longboarding Crew. So many film festivals focus on the attention-grabbing, jaw-dropping, bombastic and seemingly unreachable adventures of the elite few but here was a compelling, personal story from the grassroots level that I am sure will inspire others to start their own clubs and communities around the UK.
Equally, Street to Peak founder Dwayne Fields and two of his mountain climbing young women came along to the Women’s Adventure Expo to chat to us about Unlikely Adventurers. Cutting to the core of the diversity issue in the outdoors, Dwayne championed taking unlikely friends on adventures, starting small and sharing stories. Refusing to see diversity as a problem but as a challenge that can be overcome through active initiatives that increase participation was powerfully put across in its simplicity. I also think that it was beautifully condensed in answer to the question “How can we get more young people outside?” with the simple response “make PE more interesting”. I completely agree that PE should include more adventurous activities as part of an embedded curriculum, not just one trip in 5 years of secondary school (if you’re lucky) with a couple of runs up a climbing wall.
The simplest response of all was put across by Dwayne and also by Misba Khan who was part of the All-Women EuroArabian expedition to the North Pole earlier this year. they both distilled the issue down to one clear message. To encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to take part in adventurous activities, we need more role models that reflect that diversity. Simply put “You’ve got to be it to see it”.
Bringing together engaged voices in one place creates a powerful platform for dialogue and there were all sorts of exciting connections being made and schemes being started for our next adventures. Having representatives from a range of organisations enables us to put faces to names and opens up the potential for new ideas. For example, writing a book seems massively daunting, where do you even begin? Camilla from Vertebrate publishing was on hand at Shextreme to offer tips and just generally chat to, making it suddenly seem possible. Or you could simply walk over to the books table at WAexpo and chat to one of the many adventurers there who have written amazing books, why not you next?
Having small breakout sessions and panel discussions with extended opportunities for questions and answers opens up the dialogue to the wider adventure community and it certainly provides more meaningful spaces to reflect on what we can all do to have a positive impact, not just on others but also on the environment, communities and the wider world. Many of the issues we face can seem insurmountable, Climate Change in particular seems so massive that it becomes overwhelming for individuals. But if we come together and collaborate with different groups and experts then individuals can start to shift the balance.
Sasha Dench and Kate Rawles encapsulated this for me. Sasha’s expedition ‘Flight of the Swans’, following Berwick Swans on their migration from Northern Russia back to the UK was so utterly bonkers that it completely succeeded in communicating the urgency needed to inspire change. Sascha’s adventure was backed up by the scientific community, with meaningful data, but built a journey based on discussion and making real connections with real people living very different lives. Equally, Kate’s journey through South America on her bamboo bike brought together hard truths and people fighting for environmental justice from necessity and an urgent need to protect their land, livelihoods and futures.
In order for meaningful change to happen we need to think differently and disrupt our habits and comfortable trajectories. This might start with something small, like picking up two bits of plastic every day when you leave the house or through taking an unlikely adventurer out to discover something in nature. Or you might need a bigger disruption like setting off on an adventure, where success is only defined after you return and may indeed only be successful through the unpredictable outcomes created through failure.
Next year I would love to see Shextreme and WAexpo collaborate with the awesome Women’s Climbing Symposium, which unfortunately fell on the same weekend. Lets broaden opportunities even more! Also, how about running a photography exhibition as part of Shextreme and the Women’s Adventure Expo?
Shextreme have also just launched their new Alliance, which aims to provide support, training and opportunities for women adventure filmmakers, photographers and storytellers. Follow them to keep updated!
You can also join Women in Outdoor Media. This is a collaborative community based on sharing ideas, feedback and opportunities to all outdoor storytellers in any medium.
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