Grandma's Apple Crumble - The Idea
The area known as "Bearwood" exists in people's minds and memories. It has a high-street, but not a postcode. Technically it is part of Smethwick which is one of the "six towns" of Sandwell. The areas that are part of and closest to Bearwood are known to the locals by ward as Abbey, Smethwick, St Paul's, Bristnall, Old Warley and Oldbury. Although Harborne is nearby it is part of Birmingham and not Sandwell.
A high proportion of people in the area live in council accommodation, including in tower blocks. There are legacies from former industrial communities. This is an area of high social deprivation.
Current arts provision
The Audiences Black Country report marks Bearwood and its surroundings as an area with low penetration, low engagement potential for the major arts organisations in the Black Country; that is to say, few people from the area attend events by the major Black Country arts organisations, and demographically they are unlikely to do so. The high use of green spaces in the area will be used to engage the community with the cultural activities we have in mind both for this pilot and for future programmes of work.
Parks and open spaces
Sandwell has the highest proportion of its area given to parks and open spaces of any of the West Midlands Metropolitan Districts, though much of this is concentrated in the Sandwell Valley and Rowley Hills and, according to the ASB & Liveability Survey 2009, people living in Smethwick are most likely to use parks and open spaces compared to other parts of the borough, which concurs with the pattern that emerged from the previous survey results. Bearwood itself has two well used parks, Lightwoods and Warley Woods. Lightwoods is run by Sandwell Council and has undergone a series of regeneration projects over recent years, the latest that will see the heritage site of Lightwoods House and its adjoining Shakespeare Gardens renovated and turned into a community centre. Warley Woods, predominated by a golf course on one side and a woodland area on the other with central playing fields, is the responsibility of a trust. There is also a green belt around Thimblemill Brook which is managed by a small though very active friends group.
Specific recommendations were given in the Audiences Black Country report about how best to engage people from areas of low potential engagement in the arts. These have informed our approach:
- Partnerships with local community organisations or local authority services to engage
- Outreach i.e. taking work to the communities, performing in community centres and schools, or offering workshops to engage groups with cultural activities
- Engaging with community key workers, gate-keepers or leaders
- Promotion at a local level through shops, local media and radio
- Discounts, subsidised or free at entry workshops
- Local ambassadors
Countershade will deliver performative workshops at Uplands school and Thimblemill Library using art activities to explain England's food situation in WWI, comparing it to now.
Food Forest Brum will teach participants how to plant fruit and nut trees and berry hedgerows, explaining how the fruit trees are for this generation and the nut trees are for the next. The participants can then take fruit and nut trees back to their school and to thimblemill Brook for them to plant with their newly learnt skills.
Eco-Art is accessible and entertaining and breaks down arguments against new ideas and action. The practitioners frequently deal with universal ecological themes that can be appreciated on different levels by participants of different ages and from different backgrounds. We think this makes a great entry arts activity for people who may not have participated in arts events before and too an excellent entry nature activity for people who do not readily use or appreciate green spaces. The art form is also diverse, both in the ways that it is implemented, and the cultures it draws material from. The workshops will be able to offer something for all ages and abilities.
As the Food Abundance project will draw material from local history and traditions, there are links to be made between art, agriculture and heritage preservation and celebration. This fits with our aim to increase the understanding of Sandwell history and the events that shaped the area today. A strand of activity days can complement future programmes of work.
Eco-Art is also cost effective and portable: where most workshops require only one artist supported by a small number of volunteers and a minimal amount of sundries (for this project the thrust of the funding will go towards the trees themselves, healthy food, and time delivering workshops) making the project attractive for carrying out in a community green spaces and venues.
Stephen Whitehead is a local eco-artist and the Creative Director of Countershade Community Interest Company. For several years he has been building up an excellent track record of working with schools and community groups both in Sandwell and nationally. Gavin Young is the Projects Manager of Countershade. Having run a local storytelling event for adults, Utter Bearwood, he has connections to local communities in Sandwell and the wider West Midlands and good relationships with local government and services.
Working alongside Countershade is Felipe Molina, the coordinator and creator of Food Forest Brum, a project working towards creating permanent edible landscapes in Birmingham and surrounding areas. He has also recently developed the Mother Gardens project, a national network of food growing projects propagating and sharing edible plants and seeds with one another, and is passionate about connecting the wellbeing of individuals and their communities with the wellbeing of the planet.
We will promote our project via local community champions and the managers of community centres, with whom we have a good relationship and who, in turn, have healthy and vital connections in the area.
The Children of Uplands School will learn about how, as the town-country interface at the time, food was grown in Smethwick during WWI (covering the 'then' of the heritage lottery bid) and the second day will be for actually planting the trees, with Felipe Molina of Food Forest Brum showing the young people how it is done and explaining how the fruit trees will be ready to eat from the following year (covering the 'now' of the bid) and the produce from the nut trees will only be able to be harvested in twenty years time, for future generations (adding real legacy to the project).
The workshops at Uplands School will offer the young people a memorable link to their heritage through informative art activities which will serve to bypass any inherited arguments or ideas the young people may have against planting trees or doing anything 'green'. As part of the workshops the young people will make banner to carry to the planting day. This is to make way for them to champion the local campaign for providing healthy and sustainable eating options for local people. Then the planting itself allows the children, getting past any notions of whether it is "cool" or not, to actually be young eco-warriors and to have a tangible buy-in to the schemes.
Food Forest Brum (www.facebook.com/foodforestbrum)
Food Forest Brum already works with schools and local communities throughout Birmingham planting edible perennial landscapes and will deliver a scaled down package to this pilot project.
Bulmer Foundation (www.bulmerfoundation.org.uk/)
Bulmer Foundation will offer advice and toolkits for this pilot project and will then become a full partner in the follow on sub-regional project connecting growing schemes and their adjoining art workshops in Hereford to those Smethwick and beyond.
Sandwell Metropolitan Council (www.sandwell.gov.uk)
We have the full backing of the councillor for the Abby Ward, Bob Piper, in which Lightwoods Park exists as this project meets with his promise for a greener Bearwood. The chair for the renovation work being carried out on Lightwoods House, Richard Marshall, is the councillor for Smethwick and he too has offered his full support for this pilot and the follow on project, liaising with local council and creating links with other green spaces in the area. Richard also has links to a network of local volunteers who can be called upon to support our work.
What success means to us
Diversity in participants
Workshops will take place throughout the area and hence be accessible to immediate community groups living near those locations.
High artistic quality
We will not compromise on artistic quality. Workshops will be entertaining and they will be more than entertaining: we believe in the transformative quality of experiencing good art and how it engages people with nature, and we want to make these experiences available to as many people as possible.
We are continuing a process which began 100 years ago in growing food for yourself and your community. Planting edible trees and hedgerows will make heritage relevant to people's lives and will also create new heritage sites.
Sustainability is a core aim of the project which will only be successful if it results in easily maintained healthy food options and awareness for this and future generations.
A follow on project partnering with Bulmer Foundation will have sites in Birmingham, Sandwell and Hereford. There will also be links to Jamie Jackson's 'Food Scarcity' project and other green ventures and organisations.
Having one of the growing sites adopt a nursery from where we can continue to grow fruit trees for future use will be part of our aim in building relationships with the managers at these sites. This would mean, for instance, that we can give trees away to projects like incredible edible Bearwood who have been more than willing to take trees from FFB before and plant them in public spaces in Bearwood.