Kash Butt and his brother began organizing family walks because they wanted to spend more time together—they didn’t know they’d end up helping get Glasgow’s Asian community into the great outdoors.
When Glaswegian Kash Butt and his brother realized they were only seeing their family at birthdays and special occasions, the duo decided to do something about it. In 2015, they organized a family hill walk—and the idea quickly caught on. “I’d post photos on Facebook and friends would say, ‘That looks amazing. Tell me about the next one’,” says Kash.
Kash organised the first walk outside of his immediate family in April 2016. Fast forward to 2019, and he now leads an organization called Boots and Beards, a growing movement open to all but gaining particular traction with Glasgow’s ethnic communities, to get them out of Scotland’s biggest and busiest city and into the outdoors.
“We originally focused on the Asian and ethnic minority community,” says Kash. “We realized they’re particularly prone to certain medical problem such as diabetes, blood pressure, high cholesterol. The only way we felt we could combat this was to get people thinking about their fitness and diet.”
He’s well aware that getting outdoors isn’t a priority for everyone; he still has to drag his own kids (he has two), who’d rather play on the Xbox or watch Netflix, out with him. “I’ll give them a heads-up, and say, ‘This Sunday, we’re going for a walk,’ he says. “I hear the moaning and groaning, but once we’ve done the walk, they feel a sense of achievement.” As a result, he’s noticed their confidence growing with each walk they do.
He recalls the previous weekend’s walk which included 10 children. “Once they got to know each other, they were taking pictures of the scenery and everything. Such a change from sitting in front of a screen in a virtual world. I want to instil that in them and make different types of memories.
National research shows that just three per cent of National Park visitors come from BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] communities, something Kash aware of and that provides an incentive to collaborate with others. Columbia has partnered with UK National Parks to highlight the inspiring work of community groups across the UK, such as Boots and Beards, who are bringing the benefits and fun of the outdoors to a wider audience.
“Some ethnic minority groups still don’t feel they quite belong to Scotland or England, but when they come outside, it gives a feeling of belonging. You have to be connected to the place you are in.”
Zarina Ahmad, particpant
“And that’s it. It’s about leaving a legacy too, so they pass it onto their kids, and their kids,” says Kash. “I was fortunate in that my father was quite adventurous so on a nice day, he’d take us to different bits of Glasgow.”
A year after the first community walk, Kash and his wife Amber launched Bonnie Boots, a women-only walking group. Boots and Beards also run outdoors programme and fitness bootcamps. Making it easy is key: All participants need to do is check the schedule, register for the walks and events, and get to the meeting point where minibuses and car-sharing are organized.
So why don’t ethnic communities get outside as much? “Historically, our community has spent too much time working, not realizing they need more time for themselves,” says sixty-something Boots and Beards participant Javed Akhtar who joined in 2019.
“As a first-generation immigrant, you want to climb the ladder, so you’re always working,” says Javed. “But this next generation is different, working five days a week instead of seven, so they have time at the weekend and understand the importance of fitness. So different to the first generation who came here to set up a home and make a living—they weren’t thinking about hobbies, fresh air, time outdoors.”
Javed admits he never bothered with fitness before and his own parents didn’t have the time, due to work. “Just the odd trip to Blackpool!” Now he goes on hill walks all over Scotland. “You meet different people each time, talk to strangers, tell them your troubles, they tell your yours.”
Getting women involved has been key, which is where Bonnie Boots has come into its own. “Technically, he dragged me into this!” says Amber, Kash’s wife who started Bonnie Boots with her cousin. She admits she wasn’t initially keen, but soon began to enjoy the walks.
“Asian women have so many responsibilities with the house and family,” says Amber,” so there’s not always the chance to go out or make time for themselves. We started Bonnie Boots to encourage fitness, relaxation and socializing.”
It’s had a big effect on Amber. “I’m more into nature and how we can be more eco-friendly,” she says. “The sense of community has also helped people—everyone has their issues but with a walk, you come out of the house, relax, think about things.”
Zarina is a Bonnie Boots participant, and has been doing a boot camp, aware she’s not as healthy as she could be. But it’s about more than fitness. “Some ethnic minority groups still don’t feel they quite belong to Scotland or England,” she says. “But when they come outside, it gives a feeling of belonging. You have to be connected to the place you are in.”
The positive link between time spent outdoors and better mental health is now widely accepted. Kash talks about one of their members, Tariq Mahmood, a teacher who’d neglected his diet and health. “He attended one of our boot camps where the dietician said everyone present had a high risk of Type 2 diabetes,” he says. “From that day, Tariq has been amazing. He changed his diet, lost weight and runs regular marathons. And he’s instilled that in his family.”
“My friends aren’t interested in hiking—they prefer football and other sports, but I’ve now made a few friends who like walking. I love the scenery and peace and quiet. And I have time to myself.”
Zaim Ali, participant
Kash also recalls a young pharmacist. “This guy suffered from anxiety, but one thing he enjoys is going out for walks,” he says. “He started to come to more walks, was networking, and opening up about things. I could see the confidence growing. He’s hoping to get married soon, something I never thought would happen!”
Once Boots and Beards had some momentum, Kash realized they needed to partner with bigger organizations to create traction. They made contact with Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and Mountaineering Scotland, who were also finding it hard to promote the hills to the BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] communities.
What followed was word of mouth and a lot of networking, to promote walking and rural areas to the Asian community. Kash laughs when he says, “As my cousin Naz said to the BBC Adventure Show, we bring color to the hills!”
It’s through these partnerships that Boots and Beards visited the Lake District with Columbia Sportswear’s initiative to support and celebrate the work by community groups in the UK to promote the outdoors to new audiences, through Columbia’s own collaboration with UK National Parks.
“We maintain the rights of way network, and promote walks and activities through the website,” says Cath Johnson, an area ranger for Lake District National Park. “We want to make the park accessible and for people to feel welcome—it’s important for us to understand the obstacles people might have in coming to enjoy the park.”
For Boots and Beards member Zaim Ali, it was his mother, who’s volunteered with Boots and Beards, who asked him to join her on a walk. “My friends aren’t interested in hiking—they prefer football and other sports,” he says, “but I’ve now made a few friends who like walking. I love the scenery and peace and quiet. And I have time to myself.”
It was his first time in the Lake District. “I’ve met more new people today who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s beautiful to come out here.”
So what’s next for Boots and Beards? “Maybe a singles walk?” suggests Kash.
A ‘first wedding’ would certainly be a story. But one of their biggest achievements was becoming the first BAME organization to obtain the licence to run Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. “Another organization had said they’re having trouble getting BAME children to take on ‘DofE’ awards,” explains Kash. “Once he explained the benefits, I thought, ‘This sounds amazing’—an opportunity our kids are missing out on.”
Last year, Boots and Beards took on 30 children who completed the bronze level. This year, they have 17 children for bronze and 15 for silver, and more female participants than male. “It’s all about the next generation,” he says.
Being part of a community has been key to this group’s success. As participant Javed says, if you get up and it’s bad weather, you probably won’t go for that walk … but with a group, you’ve paid, registered, so you go. “I joined five months ago and feel a lot better for it,” he says. “I’ve lost around six kilograms, made new friends and met old ones who I’d lost touch with. It’s an adventure and a godsend.”
Columbia is the official outfitting partner of the UK National Park Rangers and provides the gear you need to keep warm, dry and protected so you can stay outside for longer.
All proceeds from this article will be donated to The Intrepid Foundation.