Q&A With Ellis Brigham Ambassador Rehna Yaseen
Rehna is a new member of the Ellis Brigham ambassador team. She is a youth and community worker and outdoor instructor based in our home town of Greater Manchester. She uses the outdoors as her main tool of engagement with young people and the wider community, facilitating the best outdoor experiences to widen horizons and show people that there is so much out there for them to achieve and experience.
Here we ask Rehna about her journey from youth project attendee to outdoor leader.
You’re both a youth community worker and an outdoor instructor. Tell us a little bit about that, where are you based, and what role came first?
We are based in the East of Greater Manchester in a town called Ashton-under-Lyne. The youth worker role came first, then outdoor instructor, and now I combine the two.
It’s my all-time favourite story really. So, 11 years ago there was a youth project in the local area known as St Peters Youth. I attended this project out of pure fluke really - my friends kind of forced me to come along. I remember thinking “WOW!” I didn’t know projects like this even existed. They had activities from the usual youth drop-ins, table tennis, games, youth forums and the most exciting of all, the outdoor sessions. They had a weekly climbing club every Friday, camping trips and weekends away. I got hooked. We went on a 2 week trip to Morocco to climb Mt Toubkal. It was all very life-changing.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, funding cuts meant the project had to shut down but Lindley Educational Trust came forward to pilot a new project 1 year later. I started volunteering, then began getting paid on many sessions, now fast forward 11 years and I am the lead for Ashton Youth Club. We run 5 nights a week with activities varying from detached youth work, football, female-only sports and outdoor pursuits. We take young people climbing, canoeing, walking and on a week-long expedition to Scotland for winter mountaineering every year.
Working for an urban youth project, what’s it like helping kids engage with the outdoors?
I absolutely love it. It’s my biggest passion in life and gives me so much satisfaction. Knowing that these young people have come from similar situations and backgrounds to mine and that they are getting opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise is just amazing. I always thought “wow, how lucky am I to be getting this experience” when we’d be camping below Tryfan or climbing at local crags, and now this is exactly what other young people say to me now.
“Rehna, which other 15 year old Asian lad can say he has climbed up Cairngorm?” that statement really resonates with me till this day.
Ashton is within the top 10% deprived wards in the UK so with that we have massive issues around ASB, drug misuse, gangs and lack of jobs/role models. Some of our young people get kicked out of school and others face many other issues and barriers.
Throughout Covid, young people have been disproportionately affected and have really struggled. Within this whole period, we have worked with 1010 young people - taking them climbing, stream scrambling and on local walks.
This is why my work is extremely important. Young people are the future so helping shape them using the outdoors – creating resilient, happy and courageous youngsters is a dream and I live that every day!
It takes a certain set of skills to become a youth worker, what advice would you give to someone looking to work with young people in the outdoors?
Empathy and relatability are probably the biggest ones for me. Being able to relate to them is huge. When they see that you’re not this adult who thinks they’re better than them just because you have more experience, but you are merely a human who has been through the same things as them, it makes the job so much easier.
I say anyone can have outdoor skills - learning knots, how to navigate, and rigging a climb are skills which can be learnt - but having people skills is what is really important.
What has your own outdoor journey been like, is it something you’ve always enjoyed?
Ha! Definitely not! This is another funny, emotional story really! My first hill walk was in prep for our trip to Morocco. We decided we wanted to go but of course, we had to make sure we had a level of fitness about us.
We went to a place called Dovestones. Anyone who knows of Chew Valley, knows that this walk really isn’t tough at all. Just a wee up and down hill. Anyway, I struggled so much. My boots didn’t fit very well, I got blisters and basically swore the whole way up. I got to the summit, took my boots off and threw them at my youth worker Adnan (I am not proud of this moment) and told the group I wasn’t going to Morocco and that I wasn’t made to do stuff like this.
The next day however, I rang Adnan and asked “so, where we going next?”. I don’t know how or why, but the only way to describe it is that something clicked in my head and heart.
I grew to love the outdoors, it is my getaway and space for thinking and breathing.
No one’s journey is the same but be proud of yours!
Have you found any barriers along the way?
Yep most definitely. There have been many barriers that I have come across but I feel there are a few main ones worth talking about.
Kit - this used to be a big barrier for me. Outdoor kit can be mega expensive but we know that without decent kit, your experience can be hindered. I had centre kit I used as a young person but that meant in my free time I didn’t have my own kit or access to any. So, I didn’t go out in my free time really. We started to work with Sprayway a few years ago. Through this partnership they gave us so much kit for our young people and also for me too. I am also now an ambassador for EB which means kit definitely has become less of a barrier over time.
Feeling welcome - I found that through various occasions I have been made to feel like I haven’t belonged in the countryside. Whether that be through funny faces and stares at the Crag or comments on the hillside. I have grown to know that not all people share this view but sometimes the few people that do react in such manner ruin it for people like me.
Are there any changes you’d like to see within the outdoor industry?
Yep, without a doubt. It would have to be around diversity and inclusion. We all know that Black, Asian and other groups are a minority in the outdoors and there are various reasons as to why that is the case. However, these things need to be unpicked. Why the lack of representation? Why don’t I see people like me in outdoor adventure films? Why don’t I see people like me being ambassadors for big outdoor retailers and manufacturers? It’s not like we don’t exist! All these questions go through my mind whenever I’m out. I’m aware that this is slowly changing and it truly is wonderful to see, however I feel that in 2020 we should have been much further than our current situation.
Outside of work do you get to explore much? What are your favourite outdoor activities?
Outside of work I tend to go hillwalking and climbing. I’m more of a land gal really! I went on an adults Winter Skills course a couple years ago and it was great. My first-time ice climbing up a Gully! The exposure was scary and I was well out of my comfort zone but man, it was so exhilarating. I remember getting to the top, looking below and thinking “how beautiful is this?!” Of course I went climbing again the day after #ThisGirlCan.
With pandemic-related lockdown travel restrictions this year, many of us looked closer to home for our outdoor access. How has lockdown been for you - were you able to get out and explore your local areas?
Being city-based I thought that it would have been super difficult to get out and explore, however, I was definitely shocked by the local beauty on our doorstep. We have places like Park Bridge and Daisy Nook within half an hour walking distance and it does NOT feel like you are in Ashton at all. It’s green and actually hilly in some areas!
Also, Youth work has been able to continue so yes, we have adapted everything we do to ensure it is Covid secure but I have still had the most amazing summer taking young people climbing to a local Crag, walking and stream scrambling.
Thinking ahead to future adventures, what destinations are high on your bucket list? Have you set yourself any goals that you’d like to achieve?
So, I had raised 20k to get some women from my community out doing Everest Base Camp. We were supposed to have gone this October but it was cancelled due to Covid. This trip, however, is still in my head and heart and I just can’t seem to let it go. I am hoping and currently planning to go to Nepal next year and do something exciting in the Himalaya’s - I’m just not 100% sure on what just yet! I don’t just want to go to climb, I also want to give back to their community – volunteering of some sort!
For someone planning their first big adventure, what advice would you give?
I’d say having amazing company always helps. Having people around you who will support you when it gets tough or are there to dance around with after you’ve pitched your tent for the night is probably one of the best feelings for me.
Ensuring you have the essential map-reading skills plus; map, compass and any app as a back-up. Having the right kit is also very important – a good set of waterproofs, trusted boots and my Dachstein mittens (Raynaud problems) are an absolute must.
When you head into the hills, aside from the essentials what item do you always pack?
Aside from essentials I always have to pack some chocolate (big sweet tooth) and a flask of Hot Vimto. It just really hits the spot on long, cold mountain day.
If you’re anything like us, food plays a big part in boosting mountain morale! Do you have a favourite crag snack?
This is an easy one. STARBUSTS. It’s become somewhat a tradition for me to take them on walks especially with my groups and whip them out at the right time. When I notice morale is low, young people are struggling I just whip out the starbursts and those smiles are priceless!
You can find out more about the outdoor trust that Rehna works with here - Lindley Educational Trust.
You can also listen to more of Rehna's story and work on the latest podcast of the Outdoors Fix.