Mind Over Mountains co-founder Alex Staniforth talks to Neverbland
There’s nothing like a brisk walk through Britain’s rugged countryside to clear the head and stir the spirit. Mind Over Mountains is an organisation that combines the soothing effect of the great outdoors with counselling, coaching and mindfulness. Neverbland joined co-founder Alex Staniforth for a restorative ramble.
Neverbland: So, what’s the big idea?
Alex Staniforth: To restore mental health naturally through outdoor experiences. We combine the power of nature with coaching, walking in the hills, counselling, mindfulness and inspirational speakers. It’s a safe space for people to reconnect with themselves, each other and build resilience.
NB: What led you to realising that this was such a good way to help people?
AS: I’m 26, and growing up for me presented a number of challenges. I had epilepsy, I had anxiety, I have a life-long stammer. I was relentlessly bullied all the way through school. Discovering the outdoors when I was about 14 gave me the tools I needed to fight back against these things. It gave me a way to prove myself wrong – and prove the bullies wrong. Running, cycling, spending time in nature and in the mountains has given me a purpose. A way of managing the peaks and troughs of life.
NB: How did you get started?
AS: The idea for the charity came in about 2017, when I cycled, ran and walked to the highest points of all 100 counties in the UK. 5,000 miles in 72 days. What shocked me is that it took me longer to get an appointment to see someone about my eating disorder than it did for me to cycle 5,000 miles. This shows the lack of support available for many conditions.
NB: Wow, that’s impressive – and gruelling!
AS: It was, but because of this challenge I was invited by a company called Adventure Uncovered to lead an event that combined hill walking for mental health. I pulled in some contacts – Chris – a qualified coach (and now co-founder), counsellors, mindfulness practitioners, inspirational speakers who have overcome their own challenges with mental ill health. We stayed in a hostel in the Lake District for a weekend with no phone signal and no WiFi, combining all these elements together and we were blown away by the results. This led us to setting up as a charity so we can reach those most in need.
NB: What are the mental health challenges in tech start-ups?
AS: Tech start-ups like MOM witness huge growth, in a short period of time with scarce resources and this can create tremendous anxiety and burnout for both founders and their staff. Covid has only compounded this and being out on the mountains allows people in those start-ups to reconnect, share challenges and gain fresh perspectives. In some ways MOM offers the perfect antidote to digital start-ups anxiety – out in the great outdoors away from tech, unable to get a wifi signal enjoying the beauty of nature.
NB: How do you see the relationship between NB & MOM developing?
We have loved the partnership with NB because there are so many parallels between our businesses. We are a start-up and many of their clients are start-ups. We are both in dynamic growth, trying to navigate a great future. They are great advocates of mental health wellbeing, which is of course our passion. We trudged the South Downs together last year and got to know each other really well because of the 10 mile walk. We plan to run more walks with them this year, organise more mental health first aid courses and get their advice on being a successful digital start-up as it’s difficult to run a business when you are on a mountain without being digital.
As a digital product studio Neverbland have been helping us on the next steps of our digital journey, when to build, when to take breathe and when to launch. It’s been a lot of fun.
NB: What’s next for you guys?
AS: Even though we’re a charity, we are facing the same issues as any start-up. For instance, we’ve grown really quickly, so we’re under-resourced. We want to build a team across the UK of mountain leaders, coaches and counsellors. We need that foundation to scale, but we need to maintain the quality and care in what we do. Ironically for a mental health charity, we need to make sure we don’t burn out too! But we believe everyone deserves access to the support they need, and we’re determined to reach as many people as we can.