A Heal 2nd birthday blog, by Lexi Saxon, Heal volunteer
I have hypermobility and live with the chronic pain that can bring. This has led to significant lifestyle changes and at times, activities and opportunities do not always seem accessible. The sense of wellbeing I get from being outside and connecting with nature cannot be overstated. Eco anxiety is felt by many of us; in contributing time to Heal, I am able to use my skills to make a difference, helping lift the feeling of helplessness and being out of control. These experiences, and their benefits both physically and mentally, should be available to everybody, but alas they are not.
There is an irony within the environmental sector. Organisations are campaigning enthusiastically for biodiversity in nature and its necessity for ecosystems to thrive. However, the people that make up the organisations are anything but diverse, leaving a wealth of talent and support unengaged.
When this fact is coupled with the lack of diversity in outdoor spaces, as detailed in reports such as Natural England’s MENE survey, there is no doubt that the environmental sector needs to pro-actively change, both within organisations and also by ensuring that the nature and open spaces it aims to serve can be enjoyed by all members of the community.
Heal is passionately striving to ensure inclusivity for all. This means really understanding the barriers and reasons that contribute to the lack of diversity, including, and by no means limited to: image representation, appropriate facilities, lack of experience and language use. All of these can help shape community engagement and taking account of these will enable Heal to be a welcoming and accessible environment for everyone.
Recruitment is an area where Heal has adopted measures with inclusivity at the core. This includes name-blind applications and experience requirements not being industry specific. This, combined with sharing vacancies through organisations and individuals that champion inclusivity, are ways to reach a wider audience and gain a more diverse applicant selection. An organisation comprising only people with shared experiences will never be able to achieve the great things that an organisation with diverse people and their varied experiences can
Heal in-person events are hosted in wheelchair-accessible venues, offer British Sign Language interpreters and set aside low-cost tickets for those on a low income. The panel members at the events have been and will continue to be diverse, reflecting the people that make up communities. In showcasing people active in the sector, the Heal team and audience learn from experiences that may vary from their own and see a different perspective. Connections are also made with local community groups to invite and gather like-minded people in the same room
Heal has developed a space for volunteers welcoming everybody without requiring time commitments, previous experience or indeed extracting any promises other than an enthusiasm toward being part of an organisation that is on a mission to “give land back to nature forever”. The Heal Helper online community is an area that volunteers can share resources and thoughts whilst learning from others. This is perfect for newbies in the environmental space, seasoned pros and all of those in between! Being online, this space is not constrained by the confines of a postcode or timings in the day and volunteers can engage when and how they are able
Of course, this is just the beginning of an evolving area fuelled by conversation and learning, as the diversity and inclusion statement on the Heal website outlines. It details what is currently being done and plans for the future, to tackle and avoid introducing barriers as Heal moves toward purchasing land and opening its first rewilding site. In welcoming questions, insights and ideas to act upon in the diversity and inclusion area, we can be inviting to all, hopefully shaping inclusivity in the greater environmental sector and combining our collected energy to save this wonderful planet we share.