Culture Spotlight - Flock Together

Culture Spotlight - Flock Together: Ollie & Nadeem

Meet Ollie Olanipekun & Nadeem Perera – founders of Flock Together, the UK’s first birdwatching collective for people of colour. They hosted the launch of their debut book Outsiders: The Outdoors is Yours at our Spitalfields home in July 2022.

Check out the interview below to find out more about their story, the simple steps on how you can get into birding & why pigeons are misunderstood.

On 20 July 2022 Flock Together hosted the launch of their debut book Outsiders: The Outdoors is Yours on the rooftop at our Spitalfields home; including a Q&A and a book signing with the authors; Ollie & Nadeem.

Nature is a powerful source of creativity, inspiration and healing; however, it has not always felt like a safe space for people of colour. Flock Together are here to change that, by inspiring everyone, regardless of race, religion or economic status, to build their relationship with the outdoors and embrace all that nature has to offer.

Founded by Ollie Olanipekun and Nadeem Perera in summer 2020, Flock Together is the UK’s first birdwatching collective for people of colour. Ollie and Nadeem share a mutual love of nature – it is their outlet when faced with neglect and prejudice, it is a place for deep thought and discovery, and it is the foundation on which their friendship and community is built.

We had the chance to sit down with Ollie & Nadeem to find out more – read below!

Photo credits: @isseymg 

In one sentence can you explain what Flock Together is? 

Ollie: Flock Together is a bird watching collective for people of colour.

Nadeem: Flock Together is what the future of wildlife looks like.

How did you come up with the name? 

O: I said ‘Nadeem I’ve got a name in mind: Flock,’ Nadeem said ‘Together.’ Like literally it was that. It was mind blowing. And we were like ‘that’s a hit, that’s a hit.’

What does community mean to you? 

O: Everything, everything. Your safety net, your protection, your inspiration, your future, your past, everything.

N: If you can find your community that shares your chosen level of identity at any given time then I think you’re in a good place. Community is everything. 

When do communities thrive? 

O: When they all work to the common good. When they listen to each other.

N: I think that communities thrive when they have their own platform & they definitely thrive when they’re given power to ‘govern’ themselves. You see that with the likes of Flock Together and all the groups that have gone on to come after us, like more power to all of them, all those communities empowered themselves, they know what they want for themselves.

What did starting Flock Together teach you?

O: We’re not here saying we’ve got the answers – we’re inviting people to create their own answers and to show us. That’s what our role is.

N: Flock Together is massive, Flock Together is bigger than the two guys you see sitting here and Flock Together wants to achieve goals that are far beyond anything that anyone following us can even imagine.

Could you tell us a bit more about your individual backgrounds and how that adds to the Flock Together project?

O: I’ve worked consistently for some of the biggest brands in the world helping them work with and support marginalised communities – that’s been the thread through my career. Social impact – helping big brands connect. So, when Flock Together came it was an idea that had been in my mind for a long time, I just applied all of my learnings throughout my career into Flock – hence why it’s accelerated from the gate. 

N: I was a football coach for a long time, teaching kids in East London, doing that for 5 years, eventually moved on to become a PE teacher as well and then always had, for like ten years before I was coaching, had always been birding as well. Football needs green space, birds need green space and for me to try and figure out how to connect those two worlds was always very fascinating and it’s something we’re still working on today.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve found setting up Flock Together and trying to run it in your spare time? 

O: I guess balancing ambition with infrastructure.

N: All these opportunities that were coming through and we were just in a position where we were saying ‘yes, yes, yes we’ll do this, we’ll do that.’ We actually have our foundation now, we have our base, we actually don’t need to be chasing every single opportunity that comes our way and it’s just picking out the right ones the ones that work for us and our community the best.

You’ve just released this book – what’s next?

O: If you had any understanding of what we’re working on in the background you’d be like ‘nah these guys are ridiculous,’ because our ambition is crazy, we entered a space where we’ve seen so much opportunity, so many benefits for the world – you know we’re not going to stop. The Flock Together Academy, something that we’re so passionate about, you’re going to see some innovation, we’ve got some exciting stuff around our walks, some good conversations happening in the art space. It will blow your mind when you see everything that we’ve got coming up. 

N: Getting the Flock community; its creativity, its energy, its vibrancy, its fresh perspectives – bringing that to the wildlife space and any industry that’s connected to it. Just shaking it up because it’s in dire need of some diversity, for lack of a better term, but we mean diversity in terms of difference of approach and perspectives and ideas. 

What’s your favourite bird and why? 

N: Ollie’s is a pigeon.

O: You’re a joker! [they laugh] That’s a good move! My favourite bird changes all the time but I guess there’s three which always blow my mind – it’s the Barred Owl, a Kingfisher and then a Great Spotted Woodpecker. These three birds, when I see them, my mind is blown every single time.

N: Favourite bird – I don’t know. But my favourite to watch is definitely any member of the corvid family, that’s the crow species. So the bird that everyone knows is a crow, it’s actually part of a big crow family and that one is called the Carrion Crow and in the crow family there’s magpies, jays, choughs, ravens etc. Watching them is just a joy because they are hella smart and they just manipulate everything around them, instead of just reacting to their environment they actually observe and manipulate it which is quite a joy to watch – you see some fascinating behaviour.

Are pigeons misunderstood?

N: 100% – What a lot of people don’t get is that the birds that people hate: your seagulls, crows, pigeons, these are like the top three most hated in London, let’s say. But really, why do we hate these animals? It’s because they disturb our superiority as human beings. Pigeons will just come and take all your food, run up on your balcony, seagulls will come and dive at you and take your chips on the beach, all of these things threaten our sense of superiority as human beings. But when you step back and look at it as human beings alone it’s very difficult to survive in an environment like London, it’s changing so fast, its so fast paced, it’s very difficult to keep up. If these animals, as birds, can manage to thrive in this environment, they deserve respect, they’re very intelligent, they’re very adaptable, and those attributes are worthy of respect in my opinion. 

O: You can respect and not like something though, right? I’ve been out and mistaken some pigeons for birds of prey because of how fast, how agile they are so in that respect yeah, they’re OK but nah I don’t need those birds around me.

N: I’ll take OK.

Any tips for birdwatching? 

N: Go outside, that’s literally it.

O: And look up, just go outside and look up. You’re a birdwatcher.

N: Even if you’re in the hood in London you can step out, cos I’m from there yeah, you can step out and walk down your road and see a lot of birds. If there is a tiny bush on your road, I can guarantee you are going to see a bird, a wren, a robin, a dunnock or something there ‘cos I did and that’s how I fell in love with it.

How can people make the world or cities more friendly for birds?

O: That’s a government question I think. Yeah, obviously redevelopment, lots more green spaces.

N: The onus, in terms of the architecture of the city, it’s not on the citizens to do that. It’s on the government, at a legislative level, at an architectural level, everything around us needs to change because everything on the most part is harmful. But on a citizen level, if you have big windows try to put stickers or bars on them because a big killer of birds especially on skyscrapers is obviously they fly into windows but just putting markings to break up the shape, the panel of the window is actually proven to drive them off. In hot weather leave bowls of water outside for the birds.

O: And lock up your cats!

I really loved the way you described the way you guys met, would you mind telling that story?

[they both laugh]

Ollie: How do we shorten this story so that it’s tighter? Go on Nadeem, you go.

Nadeem: So basically I was coaching a kid and then was having a chat with his dad afterwards and his dad is in the graphic design world and was always pushing me to do more and was like ‘bro, you’ve got to follow this guy, creative genius, everybody wants to follow him, he changed the game’ and I was like, ‘who is this guy that this guy’s talking about.’ So, he goes ‘his name is Ollie Ranger you’ve got to follow him,’ so I followed him and he looked cool. And then two days later I saw Ollie posting on his Instagram stories like loads of bird clips. And I was just thinking, this guy’s supposed to be doing all like fashion and all this, like what’s he doing liking birds?

So I responded to each one letting him know which species it was and then he hit me back straight away and was like ‘bro, how do you know this?’ and I said ‘I’m an avid bird watcher bro this is what I do’ & he goes ‘bro, I’ve had this idea for ages I just needed someone with the knowledge, what you saying you want to do this for our community?’ I just said ‘bro, I couldn’t think of a better idea more suited to me, yeah I’m down.’ 

Ollie: The exchange was that short, like literally direct. I was like, this guy, I’ve never seen anyone in this space, bird watching, that looks like me. Like bro this space is all white, it’s white dominated, so when I saw him I was like I’ve got this idea and then we organised our first walk. It was mad, the day before our first walk I was like ‘Nadeem, we haven’t even met each other yet we’ve done this all online so let’s go and chill before we go and take these people, strangers, on a walk.

So, we went and we sat in our local park for hours, we just talked about everything, you know life, school, education, family, careers – bonded. And knew that we’ve been brought together for a reason and I feel we’ve got something to share with the world. Little did we know it was going to be this scale.

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