Highland Tourism Ambassadors Girls on Hills win prestigious outdoor award

The Great Outdoors Reader Awards have established a reputation as the UK’s biggest democratic celebration of the people, places and businesses that make our outdoor lives better. In a bumper year, the 2024 awards saw 44,000 votes! Yesterday it was announced that Scottish female-led company Girls on Hills, based in Glencoe, Highland had been voted winners of the Open Outdoors award, despite being up against some notable competition.

The UK-wide award is designed to recognise individuals or groups who have inspired people to head into the outdoors, widened participation, improved outdoor education, or encouraged diversity’.

The Scottish company, which was founded by Keri Wallace and Nancy Kennedy in 2018, has seen dramatic growth in recent years. As directors, the pair juggle parent/grandparent responsibilities to provide a ‘safe space’ for women to explore and enjoy the mountains. Their mission statement is to ‘empower women with the skills and confidence necessary to become independent in the mountain environment’.

We are absolutely delighted to have won this award! – especially in the Open Outdoors category, which means so much to us. Inclusivity is central to everything we do at Girls on Hills; empowering women through hillwalking and mountain running, as we strive for equity in the great outdoors. We’d like to thank all our followers for joining in, lifting each other up and supporting the advocacy work we do’ says Wallace.

In 2023, Girls on Hills delivered 98 events across the UK, with both in-person and online courses on the programme. The company recently set-up a crowdfunding appeal (Access Fund) which will fund a NEW series of fully-funded ‘Hit the Trail’ events across the UK (launched last week). These events are aimed at supporting women facing additional barriers to access, such as mental health issues, underrepresentation or financial difficulties (see full list of criteria here).

Mountain recreation is an effective means of empowering girls and women, with campaigns seeing success worldwide, from school and community level, right up to national scale programs in countries with pronounced gender inequality. Benefits are known to include improvements in self-esteem, ambition and body image, as well as challenging gender stereotypes. Building confidence, developing leadership and mastering a new skill-set feeds an empowered mindset that translates into daily lifesays Wallace

2023 was a year of historic firsts and enormous progress for women worldwide, in terms of gender equality. But there is still much to do before we see equity for women. In our own sphere, we still see a significant gender gap in participation across trail/mountain running and mountaineering, which stems from subtle cultural ‘barriers’ that women still face in our society. These include issues such as career/pay inequalities and financial independence, affordable childcare provision/time availability and healthcare inequalities. There are also inequalities that specifically relate to running/racing, which are beginning to be addressed by race directors (e.g. equal prize money, sponsorship, media coverage and fair pregnancy deferral policies etc)she says.

Last month, Keri Wallace was a headline speaker at the National Running Show at Birmingham NEC, which attracted circa 20,000 visitors. Her talk was fittingly entitled ‘Next level mountain running can be for everyone’.

The health and well-being benefits of exercising in groups, in nature and in open spaces are well-documented. By exploring new places and pushing-back against the boundaries of our comfort zones, we can learn much about ourselves and the value of risk in an increasingly safety conscious society. These are benefits that all women should be able to access’ says Kennedy.