“There Is Another World Out There That You Should Be Exploring”
Coach talks to Kash Butt about the runaway success of community group Boots And Beards, which helps people get outdoors
It’s not overstating it to say that today we’re enamoured with the great indoors. There are more on-demand entertainment options than ever before, and if you’d never been out in the countryside before the idea of tearing your eyes away from a screen and humping your way up a hill may seem odd.
It’s something Kash Butt, one of the founders of community group Boots And Beards (opens in new tab), knows all too well. He fell in love with the great outdoors on family trips as a kid, but now has to drag his youngest up and down a hill.
But Boots And Beards has also found there are plenty of people who want to get outside and they experience life-changing benefits as a result. As part of a campaign from the UK’s National Parks (opens in new tab) and adventure clothing brand Columbia (opens in new tab) to celebrate groups who are helping people experience great landscapes (Columbia kitted out Boots And Beards with some slick new kit as well), we spoke to Butt about how Boots And Beards got started, why he devotes so much time to running it and why it’s so popular.
What was your first experience of the outdoors?
When we were younger, probably primary school age, my dad would have Sundays off and usually he’d get us together and we’d go and have a day away: a wee picnic, climb a hill, go see a few waterfalls, something like that. We had such a great time because there were quite a lot of youngsters coming along, just being out with people your own age, exploring and finding new things to see – we loved it.
How did Boots And Beards come about?
As I got older, obviously, I got busy with life – family and work. Then my cousin contacted me and said, “Kash, we don't really see enough of each other, why don’t we meet up and go walking like we used to?” We just started doing some hill walks every second Sunday and getting our kids out at the same time.
I would start posting on Facebook – “we were here today, we had a great time” – and people saw those pictures and said, “Kash, why didn’t you tell me? I would love to have gone with you.” So from there, we knew there was interest within our community to go outdoors, but there was nothing that we were aware of where people could get together and go outdoors as a group. That’s why we said, OK, we’ll start a group. We kept the format going, every second Sunday, go out for a hill walk and get as many people out with us as we could.
How did it develop?
We formally constituted it in 2016, and it’s just got bigger and bigger. We are at a stage where there are so many people contacting us trying to do different events and activities that we don't have the time or the volunteers to cope.
The main activities that we are dealing with at the moment are hill walks, badminton and boot camps and last year we took on the Duke of Edinburgh Award for youngsters to do through us. We’ve done spin classes, fishing, trips abroad, and local trips to Glenmore Lodge and Balmoral Castle. People want us to do cycling and canoeing as well, but we don’t have the time! I’ve got a full-time job and the people who do this all have full-time jobs as well. We do as much as we can, but obviously at the same time we don’t want to burn ourselves out.
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Why do you think the demand is so high?
In my generation, everyone was just out and about when we were young. Entertainment was there, but it wasn’t on such a big scale, or wasn’t very accessible. People just preferred to go out play football or different sports. My generation want to show our kids that there is another world out there that you should be exploring – don’t just get sucked into being at home.
How about your kids – have they taken to it?
My eldest will happily climb a hill, but he wants to do it as quickly as possible and get down and just go home. My youngest, I have to drag him the whole way up and drag him the whole way down. He needs a lot more motivation to do something like this. So I see the difference from when we were younger. When we were younger, we were happy to get out as much as possible. These days it’s more that they want to stay indoors as much as possible.
What do you think are the advantages of spending time outdoors? Why are you trying to get your kids out there?
Number one is physical health. When we were out and about playing we were just healthier, our immune system was a lot stronger. It’s also a way to get away from all the humdrum of your everyday life of working or education. Out there you’re free, you can explore and do what you want.
Another reason is to do with mental health as well – there’s a calming effect. And the other thing we are trying to do is teach how important our environment is.
What kind of changes have you seen in people that have got involved in with Boots And Beards activities?
Major changes. The first boot camp that we did, we had a dietitian measure everyone up. And from his results, he said he’d never seen a group of people who are more at risk of getting type 2 diabetes – that’s something major in the Asian community. And when we passed this forward to the participants who were doing the boot camp, it seemed to wake them up a bit. I’ve got people now who’ve made drastic changes to their diet and they’re doing more exercise. They’ve taken that into their home life as well, with their partners, kids and family. I’ve got people who are doing marathons, Tough Mudders and major cycling events. It’s just instilled a whole new dimension to their characters.
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Jonathan Shannon has been the editor of the Coach website since 2016, developing a wide-ranging experience of health and fitness. Jonathan took up running while editing Coach and has run a sub-40min 10K and 1hr 28min half marathon. His next ambition is to complete a marathon. He’s an advocate of cycling to work and is Coach’s e-bike reviewer, and not just because he lives up a bit of a hill. He also reviews fitness trackers and other workout gear.