Known by almost every climbing centre manager in London, Joe Partridge has spent the last few years immersed in the city's growing climbing community. He's a member of Bouldering Bobat, a climbing team with over 180k subscribers on Youtube, and a growing community off it. They make tutorials, set themselves challenges, and have recently opened Hang, a new climbing wall in Hounslow. Having grown up in the Cotswolds, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Joe has always been keenly aware of his impact on nature. A fellow climber told us Joe had turned his local climbing centre, The Arch in South East London, into an award nominee for Sustainability in Sport. So, we thought we'd drop him a line.
We met up at Yonder Climbing Centre in Walthamstow, to hear about his experiences of finding community through climbing, engaging those communities in environmental action, and to see his pair of Brava's Workwear Trousers tested out against Yonder’s walls.
Tell us about Bouldering Bobat. What was the thinking behind setting it up?
So, Bouldering Bobat is a YouTube channel which began at The Arch Climbing Wall in Bermondsey, where a group of us all worked together. It was kickstarted by Omar Bobat (hence the channel name), and then, slowly, we formed a group of six who have been making videos for almost five years now. We’re all proficient climbers, but we’re not elite athletes. So, the videos have always been about making relatable and entertaining content for those passionate about climbing.
What has it meant to you, to be a part of Bouldering Bobat?
After moving to London, I used climbing to help me through the struggles I was having adjusting to the city. It kept me calm and grounded, and the channel was where I found community. When we did our first meet up in London, we expected about 20 people to come down. But, 100-150 people turned up, some of which had only started climbing after watching our videos - one guy drove down from up North on his motorbike.
Making stuff for Youtube has always been important to each of us. If we inspired someone to get into the sport, it’s incredibly rewarding, and it's given us so many opportunities. I wouldn’t have thought that doing Youtube would mean I’d be sat having dinner with [world famous free climber] Alex Honnold.
How did that happen?
We got invited to the premiere of a new film called ‘The Alpinist’ and, as part of the PR drive, they got Alex Honnold to come down and do ice climbing with us and a load of other influencers. None of them had a clue who he was, but me and Tom walked round the corner and the most famous climber in history was sitting outside this restaurant with all of his climbing gear!
Where did your passion for the environment first come from?
I feel like it’s impossible to grow up somewhere like the Cotswolds and not be inspired and enthralled by the five stunning valleys which feed into the town centre. I remember wanting to buy an air rifle to shoot the lights out in a car park in the valley which were left on 24/7. And, crying my eyes out as I clung to the boughs of a Laurel bush my parents were going to cut down.
Have you been able to marry your concern for the environment with your climbing projects?
My first role at The Arch was to develop their sustainability efforts, which I did through a series of workshops. We had people from every layer of the business reflect on what sustainability meant for them, how the company impacts the environment, and then gave them space to think of ideas to reduce these impacts.
We went from being a business with no recycling to being put up for a Sustainability in Sport award. Waste was highlighted in the workshop, so we put a recycling system in place, and got rid of anything from the shop that had too much plastic waste. The shop went vegan for a month, to much uproar. One person tried to explain to me that it was his human right to have a latte. I told him that was bullsh*t - I couldn't take him seriously.
We also switched our energy provider to Ecotricity, and gave the climbing chalk, shoes and holds that we didn’t need to a climbing wall in Sierra Leone. As much as it was me assessing things, these ideas came from the workshop. Everyone bought into it.
When did you first start to consider the impact of your clothing’s footprint?
My father always said “buy cheap, buy twice”, so the idea of having clothes which last has always been very important to me. I believe that a product's longevity is the most important factor in its impact on the environment. Watching my Topman purchases fall to pieces whilst charity shop gems from my early teens continued to last was a clear signal that something was wrong with the fashion industry today.
When we first spoke, you mentioned you only buy clothes you know you'll need. What attracted you to Brava’s Workwear Trousers?
With Bouldering Bobat, we often get approached by people wanting to give us things to wear in videos. All you end up with is a bag full of random garments you didn’t really need or want in the first place. So, I try to only go for clothes I know I'll need. When I saw these trousers and read the specs of the heavyweight fabric, I knew they would add something to my wardrobe. Having a tough pair of trousers when I'm climbing outside that can take being dragged through undergrowth and across boulders is ideal.
Do you have any advice for us on living sustainably?
For me, the clue to living sustainably is in the name - don’t change anything you can’t sustain.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the way you live your life day to day wasn’t either. So, don’t expect to be able to change it instantly. It’s better to commit to the end goal, and build up the foundations of living sustainably brick by brick. Whether it’s slowly changing your shopping habits, or cutting out meat and dairy once or twice a week, small steps are easier to take and are far more likely to get you to your goal than taking an enormous leap.
Thanks, Joe. So, what’s next for yourself and Bouldering Bobat?
At the moment, most of our focus is going into Hang, our new climbing wall. But, with travel restrictions easing we're hoping to head out on some adventures again - South Africa in 2022, in an area called Rocklands - which is called that for a very good reason. My friend Tom went a few years ago and he showed me a picture he took from the edge of the area. It looked like a gravel path, except every single rock you can see is a full-sized boulder. It’s one of the most famous places to climb, so we’ll no doubt meet other climbers out there.
Do you often strike up friendships with other climbers?
Yeah, totally. Most climbers are very friendly and very supportive of anyone wanting to climb. Even on a climbing wall in London, at minimum you’ll have a friendship for an evening. I’ve got long term friendships that started off just climbing a route together and then five years later I’m still friends with them.
Outdoors, you end up meeting loads of different people. When we went to Albarracín in Spain, I recognised a few people from a gym I worked at, and we just spent the whole two weeks climbing together. You don’t need much more than the fact you all like staring at rocks.
Joe Partridge climbs in Brava Fabrics Organic Workwear Trousers ethically made in Portugal by MonteRode, a small family owned clothing factory of thirty to forty employees.
With special thanks to Yonder Climbing Wall for allowing us to photograph Joe climbing.