‘Growing Journeys’ – a workshop project using photography, lettuce growing, fire and pancake making, and exploring.
A commission from Ruth Jacobs at the Bristol Hospital for Sick Children to work with the Lumsden Walker Unit, a day psychiatric unit for children with complex mental health needs, to deliver a photographic project that would serve two purposes. First to help build confidence through engaging both children and their parents / carers in a focused activity over a 3 month period and second to provide a set of photographs by the participants for permanent display in the Unit which is located in an old school building (Fairfield) in east Bristol. Close collaboration with, and support from the excellent team of staff at the unit was an essential feature of the project.
While the old school building had no green areas, it did have a tiny triangular courtyard (transformed for the project with great dedication by the staff) and is within walking distance of parks, play areas, St Werburgh’s City Farm, allotments and a semi-wild open space – ‘Narroways’. Since the project began in April and ran until July and most participants were able to walk a mile or so (car transport was used to assist less able bodied carers), I devised a project around the combined themes of:
a) growing plants from seeds with the group in the school courtyard and encouraging them to photograph the progress weekly
b) making small excursions to visit the local and diverse outdoor resources, where children and adults observed and recorded with cameras particular aspects of each walk and the transition from spring to summer in the parks’ trees, the city farm’s animals, the allotments’ vegetables, and the burgeoning vegetation in the wilder areas.
On these visit I asked the participants to imagine they’d just been dropped into this place for the first time by helicopter and to see if they could capture with their cameras the details that would tell them whether they were in a park, a wild zone, an allotment or a farm.
A visit to the Boiling Wells project introduced the children to making fire without matches, so they could cook and eat pancakes they’d made with eggs from the neighbouring City Farm, where on a previous visit the children had been able to collect eggs themselves, help feed the pigs, meet a farmer and an allotment gardener. All these activities were new experiences for most of the group and were enthusiastically documented by the children, and their carers.
In weeks between visits we worked in the school garden and the children looked at the photographs they had taken, made selections of their favourites, created simple scrap books and printed thumbnails sheets of their photos to add to the books with drawings and hand made maps, sometimes sequencing the photos into an imaginary story or grouping them around themes of subjects they’d photographed eg red things, dogs, graffiti, feet!
I photographed the participants and their activities throughout this ‘Growing Journey’ and for the end of project celebration day I printed sequences of thumbnail images of these, along with the children’s own photographs which were temporarily pasted around the walls of the unit’s entrance to remind them all how much they’d achieved.
At this celebration event at the Lumsden Walker Unit, the children made pizza, and collected salad they had grown themselves from the courtyard and ate their meal surrounded by a selection of their own photographs, that been professionally printed, mounted and displayed on the walls of the unit.
Jane Weeks, Child Mental Health Specialist at the unit wrote after the project ‘Your significant ability enabled the children and parents involved in the group to imagine the world around them in different ways. This allowed them to be creative and thoughtful and have a positive experience with peers and family. They produced some fantastic work and were very proud of their achievements.’