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Outsiders: The Outside is Yours 

Nadeem Perera and Ollie Olanipekun 

(Hachette, 2022)

Review by Halina Edwards

 

Flock Together is a birdwatching community that inspires Black and Brown people to get back into nature. Connecting through social media in the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020, Ollie would post a picture of a bird on his Instagram, and Nadeem would comment underneath on what species it was. From then on, the pair met on walks, bonding on providing a safe space for Black, Brown and other people of colour to just be in nature. Their first walk in the early summer of 2020 started with a handful of people, with their latest walk in September 2022 gaining over 100 attendees.

For generations, people of the global majority in the UK have been underrepresented in rural areas. Nature activities, such as birdwatching, have been linked to improved health, but access to white-dominated rural spaces, both public and private, has been limited, creating an absence in our presence in the country and a barrier to claiming nature as our own. This absence doesn’t start from not joining outdoor groups, it has direct ties to how people of colour are homed in the UK. Nadeem Perera raises the point in the book, Outsiders, which he and Ollie Olanipekun put together as part of the Flock Together community, ‘We have been urbanised to believe that concrete jungles are our natural habitat, and that trips to the countryside are not part of Black British culture.’ 

I can’t help but ponder the situation in our countries of heritage, spanning Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, East and South Asia. Green spaces are in abundance, we have access to them in and from our backyards, or work in agricultural jobs needed to feed and develop ourselves out of our own natural resources. The idea of ‘reclaiming’ a space, in this instance in the UK, for nature when that is our natural habitat, feels disarranged.


Assessing the systemic issues that impact the mental health of people of colour, Outsiders also acts as a resource and guide to teach you ways to bring yourself back into your body when feeling overwhelmed with the demands of everyday life. At the end of each chapter, a small tip or task is provided – such as how to identify a species of bird as a parakeet, or how to employ grounding techniques to help mitigate feelings of tension. When I feel anxious, stressed, or just want to hear the birds in the trees and the rustling of the leaves, the breathing exercises given in the book are my go-to for bringing me back into my body.

Attending walks with Flock Together, and becoming a member of the community, I reap the benefits of being in nature with people open to experiencing the world in this way. The conversations with people make me feel grounded and held, particularly during the break time to rest from the walk, when Flock encourages members to speak about their achievements, and some join in with spoken word. So, I’m pleased that there are elements in this book that reflect the sense of being on the walk. Such as movement to expand the mind. This is an activity in the book that acknowledges that when you provide the mind and body with new senses, such as sights, smells and feels, it gives your mind new references to pull from when it’s time to produce new ideas.

Community is a strong theme within Flock Together’s ethos. Through their book, Outsiders, they have launched another strand of their community called Flock Academy, in which they work with local community groups and schools to share knowledge and insight into cultural and creative assets, including learning poetry, flag making and learning how to sow seeds. The book reminds us that nature doesn’t ask us for much, other than to look after it, as it provides so much for us. 


https://www.hachette.co.uk/titles/ollie-olanipekun/flock-together-outsiders/9781856754798/

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