Outdoor People are both a shop and social enterprise with a passion for the outdoors and helping people reconnect with nature – whether that’s through camping, picnicking, yoga, cycling, festivals, walking, scrambling, hiking up mountains, wandering round cities, playing in the street, lying in hammocks, building dens, making mud pies and staring at clouds! They believe everyday outdoor time is essential for wellbeing, especially for children. They launched in 2014, first with a stall on Broadway Market and now with their shop in Netil Market which sells all sorts for picnics, festivals, camping trips; you can also rent camping gear. The social enterprise side of things involves projects and events they run, with profits from the shop being reinvested to further their mission. These are accessible to anyone, but they often get referrals from family support services and carers to help target families and communities which don’t get to spend much time outdoors, for various reasons. I spoke to Harry and Tom about how it started and why they do what they do.

How did it all start?

Harry: “Kitty [who also runs Outdoor People] used to be the director of Play England, she does a bit more hands on stuff and this is the outdoor shop but this is just the front of the social enterprise. The social enterprise tries to get people to go outdoors, more hands off stuff like running camping trips and also just teaching people – we do workshops out here. It’s just anything that makes going outdoors easier. Firestarting workshops, woodworking workshops, playing games when it’s quiet.”

What did you want to do when you were a child, did you love being outdoors?

H: “I did a lot of playing outdoors as a kid, my interests are in education theory and a lot of it is based on how important it is for kids to experience nature if they’re going to have an understanding of their duties for the environment – it’s impossible to expect people who have never climbed trees to care about them, so to me that’s the point, that’s why this is great. So we’re going away next week taking 14 families who have never been camping before away for a 3 days in the woods. It’s really good because there’s this gender problem where a lot of people expect father figures to take kids outdoors and then with single mums it doesn’t happen so we try to show that anyone can do it and just give them the confidence to go out.”

Why this area?

H: “We used to have a market stall on Broadway Market, but we were looking for something more permanent and it’s just nice to have community. As a social enterprise we have to be a shop that’s benefiting the community, so it’s quite nice we’ve got this space outdoors that’s a space we get to use a bit. And really good vibes, it’s family-ish!”

What’s your favourite thing about this area?

H: “I really like all the independent bookshops on Broadway Market.”

What’s been your biggest challenge so far?

H: “I don’t know, competing against the masses of plastic stuff. Everyone throws plastics, you see so much street food thrown away, so much packaging. So we’re just trying to fight that. We’re here trying to convince people that they shouldn’t do that and it’s hard to be part of this community that actually makes all the rubbish but at the same time, we do enjoy the community. So we sell reusable water bottles and forks and things, lunch boxes. We’re really into the whole take your metal tin to the takeaway and not the thousands of plastic things you’re going to throw away. And people get it, and it’s nice to have this space where we can talk about it directly. We even have biodegradable glitter. That’s the fun thing about this job, trying to find good solutions to all these problems.”

How do you advertise the camping trips?

Tom: “We get referrals from family support services. It’s open, it’s for people who haven’t been camping before, haven’t been camping in a long time because of their family circumstances, people who can’t afford to go. Just a mix of people, giving people the confidence to be able to learn or relearn what it takes to go camping so they recognise that it’s actually a really cheap and enjoyable way of going on holiday, give the kids a break. Kitty, her history is from Play work, she used to be the director of Play England so a lot of the work we do is tied in with promoting children’s freedom to play, which especially in an urban environment has become more and more difficult just to go outside for many reasons. So one the things we’re hoping to do for the project work is just talking to parents about their own experiences of when they were children, whether or not they experienced any barriers to go outside and play when they were children, whether or not they feel like they can’t let their children play and why and is there something they can do about that.”

Where do you want to be in 5 years?

H: “We often talk about having a bigger shop with longer opening hours.”

T: “Well it’s a social enterprise and we’re going to spend next week taking these families away camping for the first time. So it’s really being able to grow both sides of the business, if the business grows then it means we’re able to do more of the projects. The more money we have available, the more funding we can draw in, the more impact we can have, the more projects we can do. We put our profits back in to do the projects.”

H: “They work together. The shop helps the project side flourish. Hopefully, in 5 years time, hopefully both of them together. We don’t want the shop to be more important than the projects. And also just be accessible to people, there are no other independent outdoor shops in Hackney.”

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