Outdoor industry representatives will next month launch a campaign to get the country on its feet.
Britain on Foot is the brainchild of Andrew Denton, chief executive of the Outdoor Industries Association, the trade body for companies and organisations in Britain’s outdoor sector.
The campaign has the backing of the Mountaineering All-Party Parliamentary Group and will be officially launched at a bash at Westminster, hosted by Labour MP John Mann and Tory MP David Rutley.
The British Mountaineering Council and health and tourism ministers are also supporting the move, described by the OIA as the most important campaign in its history.
Mr Denton, who took over as chief executive from Louise Ramsay last year, has busied himself building ministerial support and funding for Britain on Foot.
The idea for the campaign was revealed at the OIA’s annual meeting in March this year.
A spokesperson for the association said: “The formal launch is being supported by the BMC and will be preceded by a high profile media event on the morning of the same day, designed to put the outdoors firmly on the general public’s radar.
“Britain on Foot is a call to action to get the British public fitter, healthier and happier in the great outdoors.
“Everyone can be involved no matter their age, ability or financial status.
“The OIA aims to educate the public about the benefits of getting active in the outdoors and then assist them to do so, whether that is a simple stroll in the local park enjoying the fresh air, or bagging a peak on a weekend hiking trip.
“Walking is just the beginning. BoF will set out to get Britons active in the outdoors through all types of adventures, from hiking, climbing, trail running and mountain biking to family fun with camping trips and other activities such as high ropes courses and geocaching.”
As well as meetings with MPs and ministers, Mr Denton recently met with the Number 10 campaign team to discuss the potential of BoF and other national projects that can unite and promote the themes of the outdoors and adventure.
He said: “As an industry, we can create something very special through Britain on Foot.
“The OIA is privileged and delighted to be leading this campaign, but it will only succeed if the trade gets behind it in a big way.
“That support, combined with the considerable backing of key figures at Westminster, can make a huge difference and transform a good campaign into a great one. I am hugely encouraged by the response so far, but we need to get the whole industry on board to ensure that Britain on Foot has legs.
“This is a pivotal time for the UK outdoor industries. We have made it onto the national political stage, we have gathered representatives from all parts of the sector under one banner, and now we have a campaign that everyone can wholeheartedly support.
“If we all want this to be a success, we can make it happen. So let’s work together and get Britain on Foot.”
Speaking at March’s annual OIA gathering, Mr Denton revealed the continuing recession had hit the outdoor industry hard after it survived the early downturn better than some sectors.
“The actual recession in 2008 and 2009 was weathered quite sustainably and quite strongly,” he said, “but at the back end of 2010 and into 2011 it has hit us a lot harder. Whether that’s a long-term issue, a confidence issue or a visitor numbers issue, I don’t know.
“I know in America, their Outdoor Industry Association is said to be leading the recovery.
“They’ve had a six per cent increase in sales, so I think there’s hope for our industry yet. There are a lot of factors: the staycation phenomenon, and there’s the fact that people might not buy a new car, but they may put on their walking boots to go away for the weekend.
“I think we’re a resilient industry.”
He added: “The Britain on Foot is a campaign to raise awareness of activity and what the outdoors can do for you, whether it’s physical activity, your state of mind, wellbeing.
“When it comes to David Cameron’s project of the Big Society and a happy Britain and wellbeing, we all know that, if you’re a walker or climber or a fellwalker or an outdoor person, it does bring a sense of wellbeing and a positive outlook beyond just activity and health so I think we do fall in line with a lot of Government targets.
“The Camping and Caravanning Club did some research recently and found that campers are 93 per cent happier and more positive with life than other people.
“To an extent, we’ve been through such a lot in the last five years, perhaps there’s a slight re-evaluation of our values in life.
“Perhaps people aren’t just after the latest Goldman-Sachs bonus, or a Rolex and are perhaps re-evaluating what really is, while we see how fragile some of the financial wealth is, the hangover from the 90s, and if the OIA can tap into an increasing interest in lifestyle and richness of life and wellness then not only will the country benefit, but there will be more people into the sport that we all love and our members will commercially benefit in the long run as well.”
The OIA said the formal launch will be preceded by a high profile media event on the morning of the same day, designed to put the outdoors firmly on the general public’s radar.
Mr Denton, 48, is a former teacher in Outward Bound after which he worked with Rohan in the very early days.
He said: “I set up my own business after that working with outdoor clothing. We introduced Macpac into the UK, the New Zealand brand; I worked at Mountain Equipment for three or four years; worked for Sprayway; I was a founder investor in Satmap; a founder investor in the Climbing Centre Group.
“I’m a ski mountaineer; climber on rock, ice and Alpine; mountain marathon runner; Ironman athlete; I’m going ski touring in Antarctica. I’m an outdoor jack-of-all-trades.”
He lives in Glossop in the Peak District, ‘Right next to a gritstone edge,’ he added.
Mr Denton emphasised the importance of the UK outdoors market. “We’ve got the fourth largest market in the world at about £1.4bn a year. £9bn is spent directly on outdoor goods and services, and £10.5bn is spent additionally on secondary activities which wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the first £9bn.
“There are 65,000 small and medium firms directly involved in the outdoor leisure sector.
“The UK tourism industry is worth £123bn and we’ve got a big chunk of that.”
The OIA, which counts among its membership some of the major brands and retailers in the industry, also includes organisations such as the BMC and Camping and Caravanning Club, as well as smaller companies and sole traders.
It moved its headquarters this year from Ratho, Edinburgh, to Windermere in the Lake District. The association currently has more than 120 members.