Maxwell Ayamba is a countryside enthusiast and environmental champion who has connected hundreds of people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities with the outdoors.
Growing up in rural Ghana, Maxwell was taught to revere nature and act as its custodian, seeing it as vital to livelihoods and a web of life which all humans were part of. When he moved to the UK to study journalism, he found the severance from his native land a difficult one, but he developed a love for the English countryside after moving to Sheffield in 1999 to study a postgraduate qualification in environmental management.
It was here that he started his first countryside access project with two Afro-Caribbean friends. It was called 100 Black Men Walk For Health and was focused on getting middle-aged black men walking, as they are more susceptible to diseases like Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. He says: “We were offering Social Prescribing long before it had a name.”
The group inspired the critically acclaimed Royal Court Theatre play Black Men Walking and has evolved into Walk4Health, which now includes other ethnicities, women and young people. Maxwell’s love of exploring the Peak District on foot also led to him becoming the first black person to serve on the board of the Ramblers Association and he continues to walk eight miles before work each day.
In 2016, Maxwell, 56, founded charity Sheffield Environmental Movement, which promotes access to the natural environment to boost the health and wellbeing of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people and refugees (BAMER). They run activities to foster a love of the outdoors, from fishing and horse riding to air quality monitoring - with the hope participants will be more likely to seek out those environments for recreation as well as conservation work.
“I get joy from seeing people happy and sharing the benefits of nature with them. I call it the Natural Health Service and I’m passionate about preventative cures - doing this to prolong life. Just the act of getting a bit of vitamin D makes a huge difference.”
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