The lads embracing the great outdoors
I caught up with Tashi from OutdoorLads to find out whether I should be pulling on the hiking boots and hitting the trails.
OutdoorLads was established in 2006 — how has the club evolved over the years?
Since our inception, our core charitable purpose and values have been to create adventurous, professional, fun, friendly and welcoming events to encourage gay, bisexual and trans men aged 18-and-over to engage in outdoor pursuits. Our membership has continued to steadily grow since 2006, and it’s been a real joy to see an exponential growth in new activities, such as Water Sports, which has seen a 295 percent increase in engagement.
The OutdoorLads Foundation exists to further develop our events accessibility and support to individuals with financial or other challenges. Furthermore, we’ve strengthened our partnerships with other organisations including Pride Expeditions, to run events further afield in destinations such as Nepal.
One of the key objectives of Outdoor Lads is to improve the mental and physical health of participants — why is mental health such a major focus for a social club for queer men?
Statistically, we’re aware that mental health does have a significant impact on the gay, bisexual and trans men in our community. For example, Stonewall’s Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey in 2011 highlights some of these key statistics. Firstly, gay men are seven times more likely to attempt to commit suicide than straight men. Similarly, half of all gay men have thought life is not worth living compared to 17 percent of straight men. Twenty-five percent of gay men have thought about taking their own life. Gay men are twice as likely to self-harm compared to straight men. Finally, twice as many gay men experience depression or anxiety compared to straight men.
Statistics such as these fuel our desire to continue to improve the mental and physical well-being of our members through participation in outdoor activity, which we know from our own experiences and those of our members, provides significant benefits.
You’ve got a lot of profiles on your website, but not all of them are full members. Why is there a gap between people engaging via your website and becoming full members?
Currently we have almost 10,000 profiles on our website. These are all pay-as- you-go or full members, and all can access our events. Full members pay an annual subscription but then access lower prices on paid-for events, and enjoy many events for free. The system is designed so that people can access OutdoorLads at the level that suits them. Lots of our pay-as-you-go members attend events — we don’t see it as concrete as a gap between membership types.
We don’t see it as problem — it gives flexibility so that people can access OutdoorLads at the level that’s right for them.
How does Outdoor Lads navigate gender identity?
OutdoorLads is an inclusive charity whose purpose is to improve the mental and physical well-being of gay, bisexual, and trans men through outdoor pursuits in the UK. People who support these aims and our values are welcome to join us — however they identify.
Outdoor Lads is a volunteer-managed organisation — how sustainable is that as the club continues to grow?
Volunteers are fundamental to our organisation, and without them there is no OutdoorLads. That’s why they are supported by our three members of staff, who also oversee the key functions of the organisation on a day to day basis. Our membership is constantly increasing, as people continue to step forward to lead events — meaning we can continue delivering and expanding our program of events across the UK.
The Big Spring Camp in May is one of the major annual events for the club — do you have to be a serious camper to take part in that?
Not at all! We really encourage all our members to come along to Big Spring Camp. It’s based at a rugby club and has plenty of facilities. We provide a bar and evening entertainment, and a diverse range of activities to take part in, to suit all abilities. The activities are open to those who aren’t camping with us too — so if people prefer, they can stay in a B&B and still be a part of Big Spring Camp.
Plenty of our members have camped for the first time at this event — and then never looked back, discovering a new-found interest in camping, and leading them to start joining in more of our camping events.
What does the OutdoorLads Foundation do?
The OutdoorLads Foundation seeks to provide financial support to members who are experiencing financial hardship, or otherwise find themselves unable to participate in our events through difficult life circumstances. It’s available for all members to access at the times in life when they may need the additional support.
What are some of the goals and ambitions for the OutdoorLads in the months ahead?
Our goal continues to be to provide excellent outdoor events and activities to our membership to improve the mental and physical well-being of gay, bisexual, and trans men. We have a busy program of Christmas events coming up — from hostel weekends to chocolate-making workshops and trips to Kew Gardens. We’re also busy planning a really enticing programme of events to see us into 2019 and beyond.