Arial View of the Project Field, year 1. Photo : Colin Aldred
On going project, as Artist in Residence with Art Gene, Walney Island. Working with artists and co-founding directors of Art Gene; Maddi Nicholson and Stuart Bastik and a group of local residents (growing in numbers.)
‘Allotment Soup’ is a long term artist-led community growing project developed by Art Gene which began by occupying a wet, unused wild flower field on Walney Island, Barrow in Furness. I have been working as artist in residence and project lead, since it’s beginning in 2015. Much more than just an allotment the design of the site, interventions and actions on it are about growing food, habitats, new ideas and people - all simultaneously.
The project works across the following:
THE NATURAL (Landscape & ecology!)
THE SOCIAL (People!)
THE BUILT (Sheds, shelters & structures!)
The field is a site for play and social connection but also for environmental activism and re-wilding of both local habitats and people.
Together with local residents, families, artists, ecologists, schools, archeologists, teachers and firemen I have been creating programmes of community events and workshops, which seek to learn more about the place, the people and to test and push forward new ideas and agendas for growing food, habitats and healthy people.
Wetland tree planting workshop with Barrow Island Primary, 2016
THE PEOPLE (SOCIAL)
In 2012 Art Gene ran a series of stakeholder workshops called a ‘Charrette,’ Together with residents, artists, academics, council officers, architects and families they began ‘Re-visioning Utopia,’ for Barrow - in - Furness. A key priority identified was ‘increased access to local land for folk to grow, garden and allotment.’ The waiting list for council allotments can be up to 6 years and a significant proportion of residents live in terrace houses, flats and static caravans - with minimal to no back yard. This poses real challenges for quality of life and health. Statistically Barrow Borough is one of the most isolated coastal communities with many neighbourhoods in the top 5% of areas with multiple deprivation.
As a ‘community growing space’ the field offers an autonomous alternative for accessing a plot of land for the benefit of the health and well-being of both people and nature. Use of the site is free, people are supported and then trusted to access the field and it’s use is guided through ethos and principals (many based on permaculture) rather than a ‘rules system.’ Through workdays, training and the events programme, we have been taking a core number of project members on a journey to empower ownership and shared responsibility for the site and to find their own motives for caring for the space, be this social or educational value, health or economic. Together with the members, we are working to develop the site into a really rich resource for local education and health and wellbeing work.