the first steps…
After 8 months of planning, we put one foot in front of the other, and set out on our first community walk/workshop this Spring. To make this first step – in partnership with originalprojects; – there has been many months of behind-the-scenes fundraising, risk assessment reviewing and some rescheduling. Throughout the project, we will be working in collaboration between 13 artists or arts & support practitioners, 2 community audience partners and 5 funders. At the best of times, this is quite an undertaking, but in the context of the last few months I’ve certainly had a few sleepless nights! Yarmouth Springs Eternal was born out of hope and a desire to support people in Great Yarmouth, and beyond, to nurture their personal relationships with the nature found around them, and within them.
For the first session, ably supported by our excellent Project Assistant Moyses Gomes, in my welcoming introduction I shared how this project is a response to the harshness and isolation experienced in the past year, both informed by personal experiences and wider collective experiences of inequality. I shared how the simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other, when everything else feels out of control, has been my own coping mechanism during this period. And that walking, sometimes slowly over relatively short distances, would be our approach to connecting with the natural world however it presents to us during this project.
We began our first session with a question: ‘where would you go in Great Yarmouth to experience nature?’. This question developed from the EarthWalks training attended by the project artists, as we wanted to work from the participants’ own perspectives of local locations. There were some shared favourite places, such as Great Yarmouth cemetery and the beach. Some of the places suggested were described as having restorative effects, such as giving the individual a sense of ‘peace’, ‘tranquillity’ and space to be ‘alone with one’s thoughts’. These answers will inform the upcoming walks led by our visiting artists this Spring, as a way to get to know each other through personal relationships with a particular place, and to grow new memories together.
We started our walk from our base at PRIMEYARC in Market Gates Shopping Centre, which is far from a calming place, with its artificial light and constant too-loud background music. Within the Centre, looking for nature was a challenge, but not completely barren. We saw plants on sale in shops, a slither of (grey) sky in the skylight spattered with bird mess, and a spider making webs above our heads. Even when we stepped outside, we had to hunt to discover as we took in the perimeter of the shopping centre on foot. Looking really low and high uncovered self-seeded plants in obscure places, and collectively we discovered the site of a Medieval gate squeezed between Poundstretcher and the closed down Taco Bell. It was the tuft of shrub that drew us in and the small plaque that gave us context.
Slowly and carefully with lots of drawing and talking stops, we ambled past KFC, where a buddleja shrub grew up high from the guttering by the bins. More and more tufts of green burst out as we crossed over to St George’s Park where we were guaranteed trees, flowers, birds and plantlife. The hundreds of daffodils gave us the colour we craved on a grey day. As we stopped at the war memorial, on which one of our group member’s relatives are named, a blue tit dashed onto the sign and quickly went again. All around us, the sound of seagulls squawking. Earlier in our introduction, one of our group members said St George’s Park was a place filled with significant memories from them and a place to reflect, so we made our way to his bench, noting and drawing all the living things as we went along.
After our short circular drift around town, we stopped for lunch. In the afternoon, we turned the morning’s thoughts into photography negatives, using acetate sheets and marker pens, and prepared some cyanotype paper. Cyanotype photography is a technique I use often in my own arts practice and a method the group hadn’t experienced before, so it was exciting to share the magic. I was cautiously setting expectations when we set-up our pop-up studio at St George’s Park: ‘it’s a grey day’, ‘I don’t think I got the ratio of chemical right’, ‘we can always use these as collage materials next week!’. And, as I was worrying, the sun didn’t quite break through the clouds, but it glowed noticeably stronger and the chemical reaction between iron salt and UV happened. The group were really pleased with their hand-drawn and found object prints, and were excited to witness the process happen before their eyes, and so was I.
As a reflective practitioner, I welcome feedback from the groups I collaborate with, asking: what worked? What didn’t? What shall we do more or less of next time? Therefore, to close the session, I invited the group to scribble down their thoughts on how the session went from their perspective.
After we said our goodbyes, one of our group members said she was initially unsure whether to come as she wanted to catch up on sleep, but she was very glad she made the effort as she loved the day, which made my day to hear! As Moyses and I cleaned and sorted the workshop materials after the group had left, we had big smiles on our faces (behind the masks and visors) when we read the unanimously positive anonymous feedback from the group. I came away feeling so uplifted and excited to see where the sessions would take us next time.
“I enjoyed everything; being amongst nature”
“Time went quickly”
“I enjoyed the activities and the environment”
“I feel like I achieved and created”
“I am so happy I learned something new. It enriched me today”