Roy Kareem - My Wild Life

Roy Kareem - My Wild Life

Roy Kareem is one of the Black and Green Ambassadors for 2021. This is his wildlife journey.

The Black and Green Ambassadors for Bristol started off as a response to Bristol being named the European Green Capital back in 2015. There was a feeling that many of the conversations that were starting around that time were missing out on the diversity of thought and opinion found in the city, specifically from its Black and brown communities. The Ambassador programme was set up in 2016 both to catalyse a new generation of leadership from those communities and to be a platform for other underserved voices.

I grew up in London, with a few parks a five-to-ten-minute walk away. None of them were particularly amazing, but I realise how lucky I was to have access to them. Our real privilege was to have a large (for London) back garden; from birth I could always run out into that space – coming home from school, at the weekend, through the eternal feeling of summer holidays. It was a place of peace, a place to put some distance between urban life and my thoughts. To complete the scene, I need to add in the wild west coast of Scotland. My mum is Scottish, and we grew up going to the island of Iona every summer, getting to be ‘free range kids’ for a few weeks. Such outdoor memories shaped and moulded me in ways I’m still reckoning with now, and I continue to hold a fascination with how other people’s outdoor experiences construct the way they think and act.

Roy Kareem, Black and Green Ambassador

Back to the present: as part of our time as Ambassadors, we each choose an area in which to do some more in-depth community research. I’ve focused on unearthing the untold stories of Bristol’s green spaces from the people that use them. My goal is to mix up the narratives we tell ourselves in the UK about what being an ‘outdoors’ person is – often I think it’s pigeon-holed into the idea of getting out of the city into the countryside and going for a ramble. Although this is a fantastic thing to do, there are so many equally valid ways of connecting to nature and reaping those benefits, and I’d like to help bring them to the surface.

Why this focus on urban green space? There’s now a huge body of evidence showing the benefits of being outdoors (which the pandemic has only underlined), from reducing stress to improving our immune function, or increasing creativity and cooperation.

The main conclusion of all these studies is that nature makes us feel good, for free. What isn’t free or equal is our access to nature, with Black and brown communities both in Bristol and across the UK facing significant barriers to reaping the benefits that time in the outdoors brings – be that longer journey times to public parks or a lack of green space (Black people in Britain are four times less likely than white people to have an outdoor space at home), or the lasting legacy of the UK’s colonialist past in shaping how much
people feel they belong in certain settings.

So what would my ideal nature-rich city look like? It would give each of its citizens access to daily nature-rich experiences. City parks would be designed to give
moments of reflection within a 10-minute walk of home. Trees would replace car parking spaces. Green corridors would allow people to traverse the city by foot or bike. Housing developments would leave areas more wildlife-rich, not less. Nature would be built back into the fabric of the city, not just added on as an afterthought or green flourish.

Organisations like Avon Wildlife Trust can play a key role in making this a reality. The work they do to engage the diverse communities of our city is vital and they’ve already made great strides. However, we are just at the beginning of a journey to put nature back into the very fabric of our cities, so that all its inhabitants, human and otherwise, can reap the benefits.

Find out more about the Black and Green Ambassadors