To celebrate five years of Women’s Trad Festival, Rab commissioned the film ‘Over the Edge’ to tell the story of the women behind the sell-out festival.
We caught up with festival organisers Ellie Fuller, Charlie Low, Gilly McArthur and Hetty Key for a chat about inspiration, values and inclusivity.
Your festival is unique in that all you do is centred around three core values – mental wellbeing, accessibility and sustainability. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Hetty: Our values came about very early on. We took a lot of time identifying what we cared about the most and what was fundamental to the running festival. We all naturally prioritised the same top three – accessibility, sustainability and mental wellbeing. They factor into every single thing we do – whether it’s how we run the festival site or sell tickets, they’re always considered.
Gilly: These three are really close to our heart. The outdoors is amazing for alleviating and soothing a whole host of maladies around mental wellbeing, and we want to provide a safe space for this. We want to acknowledge everyone has a right to take up space, so we try to make the event as friendly as possible. Some folks prefer a more female-focused environment as their entry point to climbing, and we provide this space.
Hetty: In a similar way we want to make the event as accessible as possible – this takes form in lots of different ways. From running workshops to help leaders teach disabled climbers, to making sure everyone has an equal chance of getting a place at the festival by moving to a ballot ticket system – we’re constantly trying to think of how we can bring our values to the forefront of what we are doing.
We’re sure you’ve been asked this many times before… why do we need a trad climbing festival for women? And can men join?
Ellie: With instant sell-out rates and huge oversubscription, the message from the community couldn’t be clearer: this kind of space for women in trad climbing is absolutely needed.
There are many reasons why. Among them, rock climbing and trad climbing, in particular, has traditionally been a very male-dominated world. Some folk prefer to learn in a more female-focused environment with majority female instructors, as for them, it provides a space that they feel more comfortable in.
Another reason is role-modelling. Many women don’t have a community of role models and mentors to be inspired by. So at the festival, being around other women can be (sometimes surprisingly!) powerful. Seeing someone you identify with being strong, confident and trying hard, can be an incredibly empowering experience, opening up possibilities: ‘Oh maybe I could do that/be that too..?’ Of course this applies to all gender as well as all other aspects of identity which one reason why diversity is so important!
Also, in the UK only 10% of instructors are women. Our brilliant instructors show other women that it can be a career option for them, so that hopefully in the future there can be a greater diversity of instructors and role-models to empower new climbers of all genders.
In terms of men, we have about 10% male instructors to invert the typical ratios at a trad crag. We’ve written more about why men attend here. We are also passionate about inclusivity and diversity, and that extends to including men. The feedback has been extremely positive from all genders that there is absolutely a place for this type of event in the climbing world. In the bigger picture, we believe that working towards equity in the climbing world and beyond must necessarily involve everyone.
Charlie: All genders are very welcome to attend, and we have had really positive feedback from men who have attended. They felt they had a real insight into a female-dominated environment and got to experience how it feels to be in a gender minority. The male instructors often said they felt it improved their practice and they felt more able to empower the women and girls they taught.
What barriers still need to be broken down in the outdoors?
Gilly: We need to see more diversity in the outdoors, and within this I mean in age, ability, shape, size, gender and ethnicity. There is a long way to go, and it’s not just climbing, it’s biking, surfing etc.
Hetty: I think there are always going to be barriers we need to break down – from ethnicity, age, gender and finances, to access to green space and even combatting new restrictions – this is a constantly changing landscape. We need to take the time to listen; hear what these barriers are and how we can address them, realising they are going to be different for different people and will also shift and change over time. It sounds cliché but there is no ‘one size fits all’.
What have you learned over the past 5 years of running the festival?
Charlie: That there is absolutely a need for something like this to exist. Although not all of us might feel like we need a female-focused environment to learn in, for some people that is fundamental to being able to overcome the barriers they face to learning these skills. There are not enough events like this out there!
Ellie: That community, role-modelling, and mentorship are all incredibly important, that they catalyse learning, change and so much more that goes beyond climbing. That climbing and WTF in particular can be a container for creating and enabling people to strengthen their connection to self, others and the natural world.
Your ‘Climbers Like Me’ campaign shines a light on diversity within the WTF community. Why is this important to you and what can fellow climbers and the industry do to make outdoor adventures more inclusive?
Hetty: We believe ‘If you can see it, you can be it’ – having visible role models is so vital when it comes to improving participation and welcoming new climbers to the sport. We are incredibly passionate about increasing the visibility and diversity of climbing role models within our community and want to champion the beauty of climbing and its people in every form.
Ellie: Yes, representation really matters, and having diverse voices contribute to the narrative is so important. Climbing media has a role to play: films, books, adverts, brand promotion and articles are important. Who is visible within any form of media plays a huge part in who feels included and who doesn’t.
We would love to see fellow climbers and the industry educate themselves more on what inclusivity,diversity and equity really mean and then take actions. We’d like to see more events explicitly welcoming and including people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities. Some groups might need more support to be able to participate – this is what ‘equity’ means. We need to take this seriously if we want to be more inclusive. You can check out our Climbers Like Me series here.
What does ‘the edge’ of climbing mean to you?
Gilly: Being comfortable to prod an edge and see if it’s possible to go past it into an unknown. To grow and then learn. We can learn so much about ourselves from being slightly uncomfortable!
Charlie: For me, it’s about the edge of my comfort zone, and stretching it ever so slightly more and more until you grow and become a different climber completely. It takes a lot of determination and effort to do it, but it’s so, so rewarding when you do.
Ellie: Another meaning of ‘the edge’ for me is that ‘flow’ state that’s possible right at those edges of your comfort and ability. That magical state where that next tiny edge is your whole world, and thought, time and the rest of the world dissolves.
You have a pretty hairy moment in the film, Hetty. Tell us what happened and how you dealt with it.
Hetty: At the time, I wasn’t sure what happened – one minute I was going up, the next I was going down! Before I felt confident and calm (relative for me) in what I was doing and was thinking about my next move – so the fall completely surprise me. Watching back, I can see my foot popped. I’ve never taken a fall on lead before so was pretty shaken by it. I realise for some climbers, this is standard occurrence – but for me, that was over my ‘edge’ – I already had foot trust issues!
The biggest thing it’s affected since then is my confidence and self-belief. It made me second-guess my ability as a climber – if I was ‘good enough’ to be on routes like that, or if a ‘real climber’ would have cried or got scared. But I’ve been working hard to shake that – taking it steady, trusting my capabilities and letting go of comparisons – because what matters most is that I’m climbing because I love it and nothing else.
What inspires and motivates you as a climber?
Gilly: People trying something outside their comfort zone and being brave to show up. That’s what inspires me – more than E grades and big numbers to be honest. That person struggling on a VS to trust their feet and try as hard as they can when they have two kids at home and limited time inspires me.
Charlie: I find it super inspiring seeing other short, female climbers climbing hard, and also anyone who’s ever struggled with their head game pushing through and making progress.
Hetty: I’m inspired most by the landscape and sense of adventure. One of the reasons I love climbing is because it gives you a totally different perspective on your environment. For me, there is this incredible sense of perspective and insignificance that comes from being high up – it’s very freeing. Whether it’s watching the waves crash below or feeling the shape and texture of the rock – I feel very privileged to be able to have this different viewpoint.
Ellie: The community of awesome, fun people, often-a-bit-weird people I get to spend my time with – I’ve so much love for my climbing friends! The other thing that inspires me endlessly is the wild, beautiful places trad climbing can take you to. Climbing high in the mountains or sitting on a sea cliff belay, watching seals, listening to waves crash, knowing it’s just you and your partner and the rock and the wildness of the moment…!
Film premiere: Rab presents ‘Over The Edge’
To celebrate five years of Women’s Trad Festival, Rab commissioned the film ‘Over the Edge’ to tell the story of the women behind the sell-out festival. The film follows festival organisers Ellie Fuller, Charlie Low, Gilly McArthur and Hetty Key, with conversations about confidence, community and connections made through climbing.
Over the Edge premieres at Kendal with a live Q&A with Emma Crome, Gilly McArthur, Hetty Key & Ellie Fuller.