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“We know that nature and the environment play a big part in our health and wellbeing.” – Maxwell Ayamba, founder of Sheffield Environmental Movement (SEM)

What is the Sheffield Environmental Movement (SEM)?

The Sheffield Environmental Movement (SEM), a charity set up by keen walker Maxwell Ayamba, is committed to providing opportunities to Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic people and Refugees (BAMER), including access to and participation in the natural environment. The overall aim of the organisation is to improve health and wellbeing for these communities.

Maxwell believes that “there is a lack of black and ethnic minority people in the British environment, in terms of access and participation, which could be down to a host of reasons.”

The history of migration, people moving to the city to find work, social economics, culture, the perception of the British environment as something exclusive and only for the privileged, and lack of action from the government may all be possible explanations, according to Maxwell.

More about the man behind the movement

Maxwell was born in Ghana but has lived in Sheffield for over 20 years. As an academic and environmental journalist, he certainly does not shy away from hard work. As a result of his unwavering commitment to the environment and minority communities, Maxwell was recognised as one of Sheffield’s 2018 Community Champions in a competition funded by The Moor to recognise and celebrate community spirit.

As well as holding a Masters’ of Science Degree (MSc) in Environmental Management & Conservation for Leisure and Recreation from Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), Maxwell has published chapters in books, academic papers and conference abstracts in journals in relation to Black & Minority Ethnic Communities and the environment in the UK. What’s more, he was one of two part-time project managers to set up the Sheffield Black & Ethnic Minority Environmental Network (SHEBEEN) in 2003.

Other accolades and positions of note include:

  • Portfolio Advisory Board Member of the Imperial College’s Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) Explore Nature project 2009 – 2013
  • Member of the Regional Environment Protection Advisory Committee (REPAC) of the Environment Agency for Yorkshire & Humber 2005 – 2010
  • Board Member of Sheffield Groundwork Trust 2005 – 2009
  • Board Member of the Ramblers Association 2005 – 2009
  • Committee Member, Peak District National Park Equality Standard Audit Group 2004 – 2006
  • Board Member of the International Environment Forum (IEF) 1999 – 2000

Maxwell now works with black and ethnic minority (BME) communities to reconnect them with nature, and hopes that by helping these communities understand the natural world, they will be able to use that knowledge to change their lives and the city for the better.

“For over 15 years of my work in the environment, I have succeeded in initiating access to the British countryside and open green spaces for hundreds of BME people both adults and young people.” – Maxwell Ayamba.

A day with the SADACCA

Being a beneficiary of Gift Your Gear, Maxwell invited the Rohan team to spend a day with the Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Assocation (SADACCA) in Sheffield to gain insight into some of the activities the group gets up to, and to find out how gear donated by Rohan customers is used for taking part in those activities.

Sheffield Environmental Movement

The day begins with a warm welcome from Maxwell at his offices near to Sheffield train station. He gives the Rohan team an overview of what has been happening with the group - it certainly seems the charity is busy with media interviews and activities. He shares that the Sheffield Environmental Movement (SEM) is taking the Sheffield And District African Caribbean Community Association (SADACCA) to the Great Yorkshire Show at Harrogate on Tuesday 9 July and this would be the ladies’ first ever experience of such an event.

The team is humbled to hear that Maxwell is using his Pride in Sheffield award prize to pay for this unique trip for the group, some of whom are part of Sheffield’s Windrush generation. Despite living in Sheffield for many decades, this is the first time any of the women will have achieved their long-held ambition to visit the show.

Maxwell explained that this trip would be particularly poignant for those who originally came from farming communities in the Caribbean, and that it will ‘provide the women with an opportunity to reconnect with their cultural roots.

Maxwell said: “It will be a wonderful experience which will help reconnect many of the members with their heritage. For many of the group, moving to England detached them from their culture and rural roots, the Great Yorkshire Show is such a special event and a great way to bring back memories of their former life. It is difficult for many members of the black and minority ethnic communities to access rural events.

“We do run days out taking groups into the countryside to visit rural locations and working farms, but we firmly believe visiting the Great Yorkshire Show will generate even more interest and encourage more visits to countryside events."

Following the initial meet with Maxwell, the Rohan team then met with the ladies at their social club in a room which they each contribute to the renting of to meet weekly. They were truly excited by the prospect of attending the Yorkshire event and said they were particularly looking forward to watching the different classes and seeing the variety of livestock taking part.

After initial introductions, and a presentation from Rohan on Gift Your Gear and the latest items that had been donated to the group, Maxwell led everyone on a short walk to the ‘Cobweb Bridge’, also known as ‘Spider Bridge’, located in the city centre of Sheffield just around the corner from the social club.

Sheffield Environmental Movement

With wires stretching from the winding suspension bridge, the ‘strands’ of the cobweb cling to the overhead structure. On the Five Weirs Walk along the River Don, Maxwell imparts his impressive knowledge of the city and advises the bridge was designed to celebrate the city’s water-powered industrial steel-making heritage.

Though it was an educational trip, the group were energetic and in high spirits, sharing laughter and anecdotes with one another. The Rohan team took a step back, observing the camaraderie between the ladies – it was clear that Maxwell had created something really special here. After the walk, back at base around the table, the ladies took it in turns to thank one another for their contributions and friendships, followed by a joyful break-out into song – Happy Birthday to Teeny!

Then out came the treats – ‘bun bread’ (a Caribbean delicacy), fruity pop and BBQ chicken cooked by some of the group members. While enjoying their snacks, the group continued their Great Yorkshire Show excitement and planning.

Rohan left Sheffield feeling truly humbled from the time spent with the SADACCA and Maxwell, especially as the ladies expressed so much gratitude for the Gift Your Gear donations. Spending time outside with one another is incredibly important to them and their general wellbeing - they feel empowered as a group to explore, go places they wouldn’t have been before and squeeze as much out of this life as they possibly can.

Thank you to SEM, Maxwell and the ladies of the SADACCA for your hospitality.

Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood Award 2019

As one of the panellists to judge ‘Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood Award 2019’, Maxwell was invited to join The Ramblers Association’s reception at the House of Commons on Wednesday 10th July. The event, hosted by Mayor Dan Jarvis MBE MP and Mayor for the Sheffield City Region, included a keynote speech from the Minister of State at the Department of Transport and MP for Northampton North, Michael Ellis.

Congratulations to Falkirk who picked up the Best Walking Neighbourhood award!

SEM and Gift Your Gear

“Appropriate outdoor gear can be quite expensive and unaffordable to most people in communities, Gift Your Gear is therefore playing a pivotal role in enabling people from some of the groups we work with access to the great outdoors environment, which otherwise would have been impossible. We are very grateful to Sarah Howcroft, Rohan and its customers who have continued to donate gear to our charity to support groups to go out walking.”

Find out more about the SEM, its Environmental Projects and Activities, and be sure to follow their adventures on Facebook.

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