We Go Outside Too with Marlon Patrice
Written By: Merrell
Having tragically lost his son to knife crime last year, Birmingham-based Marlon Patrice sought comfort in the outdoors to help him grieve. Realising the healing powers of nature, he set up We Go Outside Too an organisation to help young kids from the local black inner-city community to experience the same beauty, stillness and sense of freedom that had helped him with his grieving process. We joined Marlon and Leah on a WGOT hike to the top of The Wrekin, a steep and stunning Shropshire hill, to check out the views and test the new Merrell Moab Speed shoes.
Can you tell us a bit about WE GO OUTSIDE TOO. When and why did it start?
I started WGOT after losing my son to a knife crime at the beginning of 2020 and experiencing days and nights of endless tears. Knife crime has always been a concern of mine, as it’s been prevalent in my community for as long as I can remember, but experiencing it first-hand like that brought it abruptly to the surface. I began to go outdoors more to cope with the situation and it felt like nature was calling to me. I’d always felt a deep connection with the outdoors and I just felt more comfortable to let the tears run freely there. It helped me overcome so much sadness at that time.
With the Covid-19 lockdown following this, just a few months later, the idea came about to form WGOT to get more of the community involved in outdoors activities because it became clear that it wasn’t just me going through a challenging time. So, I formed WGOT to get more of the community out into nature and to unplug from inner city living and to encourage solidarity and unity within the black community. My goal was to visit more green spaces and create individual experiences as well as educating people on environmental issues that especially the younger generations can gain from.
What challenges are the kids on your hikes facing back home in everyday life?
Inner city communities face so many social hurdles with the youth being targeted by the police and high percentages of homes having no garden or other outdoor space, particularly amongst ethnic minorities. Black people in England are nearly four times as likely as white people to have no outdoor space, like a garden, at home. I also realised that a very small percentage of the black community were going outside to enjoy nature. For most of them, going outdoors can mean travelling over two miles away from their home so I really felt that this project was important for those who have lost touch with the outdoors and didn’t know where to start in terms of re-connecting with it.
I am really open to welcoming people from all walks of life, but acknowledge that the black community has less access to green spaces in the inner-city suburban areas and I want to challenge and change that narrative with WGOT. I want to make the countryside more inclusive by making it more accessible to those who are unable to afford to do these recreational activities. I also want to offer a variety of wellness workshops for my community, mentorship programs, and outdoor activities with the view of sharing new experiences and adventures and making that a new norm within our community.
What are the benefits of spending time outside and enjoying nature?
Being immersed in nature gives you the tools to keep going and a sense of us all being connected as one, because in the woods everything works in unison with one another. It has rewarded me in the past and continues to give me time to reset and focus on myself, it allows me to refill my cup when it’s empty. It creates a respite for any overthinking I do, especially when living in the inner city as it can get too fast-paced. It can feel almost impossible and overwhelming to focus. Being outdoors and embracing nature can do so much to reduce stress, anxiety, anger and fear.
What have been some of the reactions among your fellow hikers?
I witnessed many shy and introverted children and adults who, whilst on the walks, have become more open and expressive. There is proof that being out in nature is the best therapy for all kinds of problems. I’ve had positive feedback from members of WGOT who previously felt isolated during the lockdown and are now embracing the group. They feel less alone and more connected within this safe and serene environment. Sometimes I would receive messages days after a walk from people saying that they still feel the benefits of having been outdoors as they noticed a positive change in their mood.
Have you ever taken someone out who had never been out on a proper hike in the woods before?
I took both of my girls out for their first walk, as it was something new to them, but then the more they carried on along the route they began to enjoy the scenery and started to adapt to the surroundings. I really feel that it’s given them a new outlook on the environment and that they had fun learning and socialising at the same time. In the evening they slept very well!
How many hikes have you done and where? What place was your favourite so far?
Since the beginning of WGOT, we’ve done four hikes together. We would have done more by now if it wasn’t for lockdown restrictions. The last hike we did was to Lud’s Church, which is located in the Peak District. This was my favourite hike as there were many scenic routes to choose between, even for intermediate level hikers. There was a huge age range taking part, with even kids as young as seven joining in, so it was important to make sure that everyone could hike comfortably and still enjoy the scenery.
What is the 22 waterfall challenge and how can we support it?
My aim is to visit twenty-two waterfalls throughout the UK, so I came up with this challenge. The challenge is ongoing and there is no actual cut-off date, because it gives me the chance to discover the beautiful scenery that our country has to offer. The significance of the ‘22’ is the date 20.02.2020, which is the date when my son was buried. I was reading somewhere that water has a powerful meaning in terms of life continuing and it’s also a reminder of being on the right path. With support and the help of volunteers, the 22 Waterfall Challenge will help to encourage the black community to further explore the great outdoors. The money raised will fund all that is needed to embark on future walks, including transportation, clothing, walking boots, backpacks for children, food, accommodation, and activities. There is still time to support the challenge and any support and contributions are most appreciated.
Except for the waterfalls, what are your dream locations to go for a hike?
I’d love to visit the Scottish Highlands, Isle of Skye and Ireland, but looking further afield I’d like to go to Patagonia for the natural springs and wildlife, Peru for the plants, Japan for the cherry blossom and Iceland for the volcanoes.
What could Outdoor brands be doing to encourage more people from diverse backgrounds into the outdoors?
I think its important that brands create a long-term connection with existing inner-city community initiatives, like WGOT, that are pushing the message to diversify outdoor activities. Brands should also not just assume whats needed but ask and create some kind of dialogue, like setting up workshops encouraging outdoors activities and allowing the communities to meet the faces behind brands.
Tell us about your love of long-distance running, except for the physical benefits can you also see a link between exercise and mental wellbeing?
My love for long-distance running began when I was invited to run the Bethlehem Marathon in Palestine in 2013. As part of the training for it, I joined a running club and built a more consistent training plan where I would get up at 6am to start my day with a running session. It added a sense of calmness to my life, which brought about a new awareness to my surroundings and it made me more focused and determined for everyday life. I reaped so many rewards and health benefits in terms of eating more healthily and my mood and breathing improved drastically. It gave me the feeling that I could achieve anything in life when I completed the race. When you start your day immersed in nature it’s like pressing a great reset button, it adds a positive domino effect for the rest of your day which can be then implanted in all aspects of your life.
You also run a holistic health service called Patrees Herbs and Wellness, can you explain a bit more about your work there?
Yes, I also sell herbal tea blends to aid different body parts in terms of health and performance through organically sourced and wildcrafted plants. I have a wide range of teas to help support the immune system and increase energy levels. My natural skincare products have nothing added to them and just contain locally sourced ingredients. My workshops are focused on skills that have been forgotten and that I want to bring back to the surface again. I’ve also created a range of incense for people’s homes for which all proceeds will go towards the WGOT project, too.
Whats next for WGOT?
Our main aim is to continue raising the profile and increasing the awareness of WGOT to hopefully encourage as many members of the black community as possible to explore and connect with nature and the great outdoors.
Interview by Merrell
Direction / Casting by Document Studios
Photography by Mads Perch
Styling by David Hellqvist
Photo Assistant Rory Ronnie
HMU Artist Amie Joan
Models Marlon Patrice and Leah Bennett
Feeling inspired? What are you waiting for? Grab your hiking boots and head for the great outdoors. Your mind and body will thank you for it. Find out more about hiking on our Hubs, or head to our Trail store and Outdoor store to make sure you have all the kit and advice you need to get started.