National Outdoor Expo


On the weekend of 18-19 March I attended The National Outdoor Expo in Birmingham for the first time. This large event ran for the first time in 2022 and will run again next year. For a £10 entrance fee (for both days), there were a variety of talks, chats and panel discussions. In addition, being an exhibition, there was a massive amount of sponsors, products and services on display, from energy drinks to ice baths, orientation guides to hand gliding classes.

In these post-pandemic times, the palpable feeling of being able to gather in large crowds and discuss the great outdoors might not be for everyone. I realise Covid-19 has not disappeared entirely, but the restrictions have. An event like this shows how important it is to have some relative freedoms to be able to go outside, energise yourself in nature or to choose your own adventure. Putting this on in March is perfect, with Spring arriving and the summer months ahead. However, adventure can be had at any time and it does not need to mean going long distances. It starts with a positive attitude.

My main reason for attending is my new interest in the concept of ‘Green’ Social Prescribing and a renewed interest in the outdoor life. Social Prescribing can be defined as ‘a innovative model of integrated care, in which primary healthcare staff can link patients to the social care sector.’ Although this can occur in different ways and few studies have looked into the complex system involved (Rothe, D., and Heiss, R., 2022). As someone who has taken medication in the past for poor mental health or to cope with my diagnosed condition, the concept of a GP or other medical professional prescribing nature instead of prescription drugs, and engaging other practitioners as part of a holistic treatment method, really appeals to me*. As well as doing a lot of long hikes last year, I also attended an inaugural ‘View from the Summit‘ event put together by the Social Prescribing Unit at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), along with Mind Over Mountains, a charity started by Alex Staniforth and Earthing Revolution. My extensive review of that event has paved the way for me to volunteer myself for this year’s event. More on that later.

The talks were not live-streamed. Furthermore, I did not record much video other than for posting on Instagram over the weekend, Neither did I take any notes. Instead I immersed myself in the talks, rather than fully documenting what was said. Therefore, this is not meant to be an extensive, detailed review of each session I attended, just a brief account of who was there and what was discussed on both days. The photos are mostly mine and there are links to speakers’ websites, a few videos and other related articles.

Bushcraft Area


The first day (Saturday) coincided with Global Recycling Day. The main Expo hosts, Danny Bent and Lucy Mills transferred their enthusiastic energies to the attendees and kept both their social media accounts and the official Instagram one busy. It all kicked off with a ‘fireside’ chat with Ben Fogle on the inspiration stage, although there was no campfire lit. Since first appearing on BBC’s Castaway, an early example of ‘reality television’ in 2000, Ben has gone on to present many TV shows and created a name for himself for undertaking big challenges and risky adventurous. He has climbed Mount Everest, rowed across the Atlantic, crossed the deserts of the Empty Quarter in the Middle East and retraced the original South Pole expedition by similar means. This was an extended interview rather than a presentation, which drew on various feats that Ben had done featuring anecdotes of his experience, much like all the ‘fireside’ chats at this event. Clearly his name was a big draw to start things off, but I soon realised there were some equally amazing people, well-known and lesser known, who had arguably overcome greater challenges.

Later on, I listened to a remarkable talk by Alastair Humphreys. He is an adventurer, which many of the speakers would describe themselves as and author of 14 books and counting. He spent four years cycling around the world, taking him through 60 different countries. More recently he has walked across Southern India, run six marathons in the Sahara Desert and, most interestingly and probably the most challenging experience, retracing writer Laurie Lee’s story of a young vagabond and his violin, by busking through Spain. There was nothing more terrifying for him than knowing months of practice were not enough and that each day you had to start from scratch with no money – only income obtained from busking would see you through the journey. The chat moved on to talking about his pioneering idea of microadventures, starting with a circular route of London, following the M25. Keeping it more local and achievable as explained in the video embedded below. He spoke about the traditional, daytime 9-5 work schedule, then asked about what you can do between 5pm and 9am – an interesting way of flipping what might be possible, given restrictions that many of us have in daily life. Instead of heading home and ‘flopping in front of the TV’ go climb a hill and watch the sunrise from there. I remember doing exactly this with a work colleague, Marianne and my Director of Studies, Barry, after a day teaching online at the University of Sheffield. when we climbed Mam Tor one evening in the Peak District. It’s the art of the possible and more can be squeezed in!

Panel Discussion on The positive impact of the outdoors on mental wellbeing. (l-r): Jo Moseley, Alex Staniforth, Dan Stanley, Kate Appleby and Belinda Kirk.

As I stated earlier, the concept of ‘green social prescribing’ which I have become fascinated by was explored in a fantastic panel discussion at the ‘Outdoor Skills Theatre’ sponsored by Montane. This was on the topic of ‘The positive impact of the outdoors on mental wellbeing‘, so I knew it would probably mention the concept of ‘social prescribing’, but mostly focus on the experience of the panelists. The panel featured the founder of Explorers Connect (Belinda Kirk). Because I simply sat and listened, rather than recording or making notes, I cannot report on exactly was discussed, but all the presenters had a shared experience of overcoming some great difficulties to achieve something remarkable and even break records.

This discussion was lead initially by Polly Shute, the main host for this stage, although Belinda did a lot of the facilitating throughout. Despite already understanding the benefits of prescribing the outdoors for positive wellbeing and recovery, I did not expect the stories and experiences of the esteemed panel. Firstly, there was an account from Jo Moseley of taking stand up paddle boarding from coast to coast and writing a popular book about this, in addition to creating short iPhone films which share the health and happiness the outdoors can bring. There was a a former army commando, Dan Stanley, who set up ‘Men & Mountains‘ and ‘Better Men‘, rethinking masculinity after a self-described ‘midlife crisis’. Furthermore, there was an ‘adaptive adventurer’, Kate Appleby, who according to her website, is “a domestic and sexual abuse survivor, who has gone on to share her story; of how her experiences have shaped her story, and how the outdoors has saved her life.​ From an attempt on her life as a young adult, to a diagnosis of Lupus and the day to day impact of living in chronic pain.” So truly about overcoming barriers and health challenges. For example, she once spent one weekend climbing the height of Everest in Kendal. Finally, there was the aforementioned Alex Staniforth from Mind over Mountains. He not only spoke about the tragic experience at Everest base camp, but the purpose of his charity and how much it has fundraised. He had his book, ‘Icefall’ about his epic Everest experience, on display (see photo below).

Straight after this session, I bought Belinda’s book, ‘Adventure Revolution‘ about the life-changing power of choosing challenge, in a book signing at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) stand, which she gave a shout out to at the end. As well as this, she was promoting the Adventure Mind conference, which first took place in 2019 and again in 2022 (which included Bryan Jones) to explore and further promote how adventurous activity has a positive role to play on our wellbeing. The 2023 event, scheduled for November, is already available to get tickets for.

Post-it notes at the UCLan stand

I was happily surprised to find my employer, UCLAN present at this event. In fact, it was noticeably the only higher education institute with a stand at this national event! I spoke with the Sports and Health Sciences team, who were busy promoting the innovative MA course on Outdoor Practice (outdoor adventure leadership), as well as Social Prescribing, already mentioned. I remained delighted that this university is actively involved in promoting this and I can’t wait for the next event in June, which I hopefully will, very likely, be writing an official review of. This time there will be camping overnight! Cleary this was a networking opportunity for the SP unit to gather some bookings – but it remains to be seen who accepts an invitation to come to Preston.

Bryan Jones (Sports and Health Sciences head of Department) at the UCLan stand

Also on day one, I caught parts of talks from Georgie Duckworth about adventuring with family, as well as catching some of the amazing ‘Polar’ Preet Chandi’s recounting of an incredible solo trek to the South Pole across 700 miles in 40 days. The first woman of colour to do this. Although I spent much of the day visiting stands and talking with numerous suppliers of everything outdoors, so was not rushing from stage to stage.

The last speaker I caught in full was the first of two Strictly Come Dancing 2022 contestants, the former Blue Peter presenter, Helen Skelton. She was interviewed by Lucy Mills, wearing an almost identical jump suit – apart from the colour. Hoarse from cheering on another former Blue Peter presenter and current Morning Live colleague, Gethin Jones, for Red Nose Day the day before, she was asked about her many adventures and her spirit for pushing boundaries. One of the most incredible things she has done was kayaking the entire length of the River Amazon for Sport Relief in 2010. 2,010 miles (3,230 km) on a solo journey from Nauta in Peru to Almeirim, Brazil. She achieved two entries in the Guinness World Records: the longest solo journey by kayak, and the longest distance in a kayak in 24 hours by a woman. Two years later, Skelton raised more money for Sport Relief by becoming the first person to reach the South Pole, a common destination for many speakers at this event, using a bicycle! Why? Because footage of her simply walking there would not have given much footage. Skelton covered 329 miles (529 km) by kite ski – luxurious by comparison. She is also the first person to claim a world record for the fastest 100 km by kite ski, in seven hours 28 minutes, which was set during the trip. Blue Peter also made five six-episode specials for this event and, according to her, her tenacity to make things more difficult for herself caused issues for the producers.

Helen Skelton on why the producer of Blue Peter ‘hated’ her for being so adventurous!

It was an enjoyable first day. However, having woken up at 2.30am and got down to the National Exhibition Centre from Preston by coach, then an early bus out of town from Digbeth Coach Station, I felt a little tired and overwhelmed. The sights and sounds of the hall required some steady navigation and some conversations were strained due to the general noise. However, I managed to board a solitary train that was running (on a strike day) to get across the city, including a walk from Stechford station to my overnight accommodation.

Weekend Locations in Birmingham (not including a detour to Moseley on Sunday evening)


Having stayed at a the Tropical Garden Oasis Room in Ward End overnight, I managed to get 9 hours of sleep. So, I felt refreshed the following morning and was able to enjoy the second day even more, untroubled by nagging tiredness. After a late train from Stechford, I arrived with the second day underway, but with time to find a good spot for the hosts to get things going once more. Lucy Mills was noticeably rocking a blue jump suit, which looked remarkably similar to Helen Skelton’s from the day before. She joked that it was the same one – but I believe it actually was – judge for yourself in this short clip. Lucy and Danny’s first job after warming the crowd was to introduce the second Strictly Come Dancing 2022 contestant of the weekend – the actual winner. Here he is with dance partner, Jowita Przystał dancing to Jerusalema on the show last year. This is the experienced wildlife cameraman Hamza Yassin, who provided a very entertaining and insightful look into his career to date. Born in Sudan, he emigrated to the UK aged 8, disclosing a significant dyslexia diagnosis at school. He studied Zoology with Conservation, then completed a MSc. in Biological Imaging and Photography. He has presented as ‘Ranger Hamza’ for CBBC, Channel 4’s My Life in the Wild and BBC’s Animal Park. He has a real passion for birds and is a skilled ornithologist. More recently he was on location to film the first ever complete sequence of hunting white-tailed eagles, formerly extinct in the British Isles, for BBC One’s new, David Attenborough fronted series, Wild Isles – it’s shown in episode one. He is also self-deprecating and funny with it.

Hamza Yassin during his talk ‘A Life Through the Lens’
Hamza talking about one of his favourite photographs

Up next was TV presenter, Julia Bradbury. She has been involved in numerous programmes, including presenting Watchdog, Countryfile and this series of outdoor guides with Julia produced by Skyworks and a series of best walks with a view. More recently she gained attention for the personal documentary, Julia Bradbury: Breast Cancer and Me. By way of connecting two earlier references – she was one of the presenters in 2000 on Castaway that starred Ben Fogle, but she also has another connection with him – ‘The Real Richness’ report from 10 years ago – essentially ‘social prescribing’ as it looked into the physical and mental health benefits of camping and being outside. A new joint report by Liverpool John Moores Uni and Sheffield Hallam Uni brings things up to date. In addition she shared footage of climbing Mam Tor in the Peak District, which her parents, which as I said earlier I went up one evening in July 2021. She has a new book coming out in September about walking for positive mental health and this article in the Times about this can be read, via her website, here. Last year, I used walking as therapy, too, and will continue to do my rambles, along with running. Why post about doing this? It becomes a motivation for yourself. It seems obvious, but the more energy used in outdoor pursuits, the more energy we create for ourselves. The mental and physical are so entwined.

Julia Bradbury with host Lucy Mills
Meeting Julia Bradbury

In the afternoon, I caught part of wheelchair bound Darren Edwards personal story of overcoming adversity, after a near-fatal climbing accident in 2016, building mental toughness was hugely motivating and humbling. He shared his journey since losing his father, rowing across the English Channel in his memory, and then taking on the World Marathon Challenge – an incredible story of completing 7 marathons in 7 days in 7 continents – starting in Antarctica – earlier this year. He is the first physically disabled person to do so. Just the logistics was enough of a challenge, without the potholes of Madrid. I wish I had been there for the whole talk, but being a conference I was spreading myself a little thin around the hall.

Darren Edwards’ 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents

Darren was followed on the Inspiration stage by Laura Lou Crane, a Devon surfer who rose to minor fame on ITV’s Love Island, despite developing an eating disorder. Laura has modelled for international brands and is dedicated to promoting a healthy body image and flying the flag for talented, female surfers and sportswomen across the globe.

Laura Lou Crane

Many of the talks got me close to tears, but only one actually moved me enough to shed one or two. That talk was from Claire Lomas MBE. A freak riding accident left her paralysed from the waist down. She completed the London Marathon in 2012 – taking 17 days to complete the course in a robotic suit and raising £210k for Spinal Research in the process. She completed the Great North Run in 2016, and a year later became the first paralysed female with a motorcycle racing licence. She also told a funny story about how she ‘bought’ her husband for £20 on the Internet – the cost of joining a dating site. He was in the audience, along with their two children and gets embarrassed by this story. As she spoke, not a beat was missed – clearly talking about this has become so matter of fact, but watching a video of her getting ready with her lifeless limbs as she spoke about her determination was very moving indeed.

Claire Lomas MBE

Finally, the King of ‘Bushcraft’ (and pre-Bear Grylls) ‘survivalist’, Ray Mears. The founder of Woodlore (1983) and presenter of numerous TV shows over the past thirty years. He was referred to as an ‘expert’ but he dismissed this, saying that he is still learning and that there is still much to discover out there. He made a passing reference to the importance of these type of events, post-Covid (lockdowns). It was during the years 2020 and 2021 that a greater appreciation for exploring the outdoors and to get exercise has arguably been increased by those requirements to ‘stay home’. There was definitely a large frisson of excitement and a new sense of adventure from those attending, especially from those who otherwise had not been keen on what the great outdoors has to offer. In that respect the Inspiration stage was well named, as it provided a showcase for seasoned adventurers to overcome their own relative difficulties and achieve great things. There was a brief chat about witchetty grubs, leading to an awkward question about ‘I’m a Celebrity’. Mears appeared to dismiss the light entertainment show, proffering that Ant & Dec should go on jungle survival jaunt with him for real. Now that would be good TV! I like what Ray had to say about people being so risk averse these days. In some ways, the pandemic heightened some of that fear, a misleading sense of what was truly risky. My own views on the whole pandemic and especially ‘lockdown’ have changed recently, but I won’t go into why that is on this blog post.

Ray Mears being interview by Danny and Lucy
Mears on survival with trainees in the jungle in south-east Asia

Official Highlights Video:


In conclusion, this was definitely a worthwhile and rewarding trip for getting further inspired. If these people can overcome adversity (in many cases) and do all of these amazing things, it is certainly well within my ‘achievement zone’ to do a tiny fraction of what they have done – particularly the ‘microadventures’ idea espoused by Alastair Humphreys and the kind of adventuring that Belinda Kirk has written and presented about. Whilst I am not yet prepared to spend a load of money or fundraise again on a challenging trip to the jungle or south pole, my other main take-aways were a renewed sense of adventure, doing something different – every day (or evening) if possible. That has already begun – by taking up ballroom dancing this past week. Inspired by the two strictly contestants at the Expo, my first lesson in Preston on Wednesday involved learning some Rhumba moves to Will Young’s version of ‘Light My Fire’. It might take a while for me to get any good, because I’ve still got ‘two left feet’. So the ‘Glitter Ball’ trophy is definitely a long, long way off for me! However, let’s not just settle for ordinary or comfortable. Be curious, take risks. Do something that scares you a bit – or a lot. That old adage of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ also seems to apply here. I am certainly going to look at options other than simply going to the pub after work, on the way home, instead I’ll borrow a tent and go hiking overnight instead!

Plas Y Brenin Outdoor Centre Map

Note 1*The concept, which I first came across at the View from the Summit event is also an inception of an idea for a possible PhD study.

Note 2*I dislike misrepresenting people – it causes me anxiety when I do it. Where possible, I have linked the speakers to their personal website. But if I have misrepresented anyone here or written something which is factually incorrect, please feel free to contact me and I will correct any errors with immediate effect.


Rothe, D., and Heiss, R. (2022) Link workers, activities and target groups in social prescribing: a literature review in Journal of Integrated Care: Vol 20 Issue 5. Open Access edition available at: Journal of Integrated Care: Vol. 30 Iss. 5 | Emerald Insight

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