Interview with Anna Humphries
Anna is a Get Outside Champion for Ordnance Survey, an instructor for Bear Grylls’ Survival Academy, a mountain leader and a Duke of Edinburgh assessor and instructor.
Q: First of all, let’s begin with an introduction. Where did you grow up and what was it like there?
I’m from Worcester, in the Midlands. It’s ace! We’ve got the Malvern Hills on my doorstep.
Q: When did your love of the outdoors first begin?
I grew up before electronics became so widespread; I didn’t have a phone until I was about 15. My room didn’t have a television, so it was just a bit boring staying in. I spent literally all my time playing outdoors with my twin sister.
I loved riding my bike up the hill and whizzing down, walking up mountains, climbing and hanging out of trees. Being outside made me feel free. One of my favourite childhood memories was going on a hike with my family.
Q: I know you’re a Scout Leader, but were you a Scout growing up as well?
I was actually a Brownie growing up! I joined when I was about eight, and although it was quite fun there was slightly more of a focus on staying indoors, whereas I always wanted to be outdoors. We made a kneel pad, but I was never really into gardening. I wanted to do what the stereotypical ‘boys thing’ was, which was to go out and get covered in mud.
Q: As a young girl, was being outdoorsy seen as a normal way to be, or was there backlash and pressure to be more ‘like a girl’?
Yes, ‘like a girl’ was exactly it. Although being outdoorsy wasn’t banned or illegal, people naturally treat you differently. You get called things like ‘tomboy,’ or told you’re ‘doing what boys do,’ or asked ‘Don’t you want to be more girly and play with the girls?’ and things like that.
I wasn’t into stereotyping, I just liked what I did. I’m passionate about the idea that a girl can do anything a boy can do. I wanted to make what I do more acceptable for younger girls, so that was my goal when I began volunteering for Scouts.
I was about 21 and just felt a bit bored. I wanted to get out and do so much more. My first year I had to spend most of my time renovating the meeting place. Since then, about 10 years have passed and we’ve put a lot of work in. We knocked some of the old stuff down, built some new facilities, tidied up, got some grants to help, and our meeting place is much improved.
After that, I went to schools to recruit some young people. They were going to close the place because we only had four Scouts when I joined. We’ve just done the census and I think we’re at about 140 members now; it’s been quite a big turnaround.
Q: What does Scouts mean to you?
Scouts is a place where young people can just be themselves. You don’t have to be a boy to join Scouts, but just because I’m a girl raving about it, that doesn’t mean you need to be a girl either. We don’t care about any of that, I just care that they want to have a great time and we give it to them. We have zero bullying because the kids just don’t see a point in picking on anyone else.
Since I joined Scouts, practically everything else I do has stemmed from Scouts. From working with Bear Grylls, to being a champion for the National Ordnance Survey. It all began in that dingy old room that needed some love.
Q: What were you doing around the time you joined Scouts?
Dare I say it, I was a traffic warden! I joined when I was 19 and I tell you what, it gave me a thick skin. Welcome to adulthood! I only went into it in the first place to be outside. I ended up using all my annual leave to spend a solid month sorting out our meeting place.
Q: Can you tell me if you’ve faced any difficulties particularly because you’re a woman in your career as an adventurer?
There were Facebook friends who would chime into my outdoorsy life with the odd comment, ‘Wouldn’t you rather get married and settle down?’ or ‘Isn’t that men’s work, being outside and getting dirty?’ and all of that. It never really offended me, to be honest. It never stopped me when I was a kid, so I wasn’t going to let it stop me now.
Now, there’s such an emphasis on being a female in the outdoors that it’s becoming more and more heard of. Work is beginning to be quite good for us female adventurers. We all just want to be treated fairly.
Q: Do you think there are pressures today to behave in a prescribed ‘feminine’ way for young people? Do you experience this pressure as a woman?
There’s less pressure I think. My sister is a police officer; when we grew up that was a job traditionally done by men. Now, women and men are police. The world’s a better place when your sex doesn’t matter, when it’s just a question of ‘Can you do it?’
Q: Have you got any advice for young people who are inspired by you to become an adventurer?
Get outside. The world is huge. It’s a massive opportunity to be creative. You notice when you begin to bring young people into the outdoors that they’re bored at first without their phones; they’re used to being entertained by screens. Soon though, they realise they’re with their friends, they’re in a field and they start using their imagination and being creative.
That’s the key to adventure. Getting out there and seeing what could be fun, not just looking at it as a horrible place that is between you being inside. Use your minds, be creative and don’t forget that the world is pretty awesome.
Q: Do you have a favourite female hero?
Yes! Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. She’s always outside, she covers herself in mud, she eliminates bad guys, she can climb almost anything she puts her mind too and she looks pretty epic. She remains feminine without needing to put on a dress and I love that!
Q: To end, can I just ask you what International Women’s Day means to you?
I like International Women’s Day because it highlights that women are equal to men. Years and years ago, gender roles were pretty set in stone. Men were the ‘man of the house’, they would bring home the money. Men would be firemen and policeman and adventurers; women would stay at home and raise the kids.
International Women’s Day is a good reminder that life has moved on from the old stereotypes. Women and men are both parents, we’re both workers, we’re both mechanics, we’re both police officers, we’re both outdoor adventurers. We are the same.