How does your garden grow?

How can community creativity centering on communal gardening in St Pauls contribute to unmooring “traditional” Environmentalism from its white supremacist origins and on-going entrapping?

“Our garden in St Pauls is not only the patches of land that we are symbolically reclaiming from years of neglect as rubbish dumps and drug needle debris. It is the individuals and communities who daily engage in a fight to extricate their lives from white supremacist subjugation. Our plan is to deliver a physical gardening project, building on the community allotments, where nutritious organic vegetables and fruit are made freely available to all involving members of the community of all ages in this process of creative nurturing and connection with the land. In tandem we need to dig deep to support community members in drawing on an exploration of creative relationships with rural and urban spaces in the 19th century to inform and enrich our relationship with the environment today. Our plan is to use creative writing, dancing and photography, all taking local nature as their inspiration; a project of discovery, embellishment, observation and celebration.”

What did the project involve? 

This Ideas Exchange brought together a network of academics, environmentalist, horticulturalists, creatives and community crafters to discuss the future of green spaces in Bristol and the links between land, race theory, and colonial history.

The project believed that stories and moments can be captured in a myriad of ways. Centered around a community garden with the shape of blooms and food to come co-designed with a troupe of local volunteers. Surrounding this was the art and literature of a community. Fundamental to this team was the depth and breadth of this project, the different ways it opens up to and embraces St Pauls community and how the strands are interwoven.

The team sought to develop their ideas to form a project that would allow them to transform and reclaim green spaces through physical gardening projects supported by creative writing, dance, and photography.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Erin Forbes (English, University of Bristol) specialises in African American and U.S. literature of the long 19th century, always with an eye toward the relay between racialized formations of the human and the aesthetic. At the time of this project, she was exploring the works of 19th century Black American writer Charles Chestnutt, touching on Black diasporic folklore and spirituality in tales of human metamorphoses into plants and animals. Her research has acquainted her with several diaries and treatises by Black American horticulturalists.
  • Akulah Agbami (BLACK* artists on the Move) is chief executive officer and a founding member of the BLACK* artists on the Move. She is a teacher and educational consultant and has delivered hundreds of projects centring on developing people’s creativity and confidence in the UK and internationally. She is committed to delivering projects which empower communities and enrich people’s lives.
  • Creative and community members from the St Pauls and Bristol area.

What were the results?

The project resulted in a series of conversations in which the academics sought to devise and clarify research goals and objects through a participatory method with the community their research sought to engage.