This Could Be A Garden
Over the spring I've been working on a slightly under-the-radar community project in my home town of Linlithgow. The photo below shows one of the 'gap sites' on the town's high street - spaces where buildings have been demolished, and the sites left vacant due to the costs and legalities around redevelopment. They're ugly, damaging, and a waste of space.
Drone photo: Alan Corrie
Along the wire fencing that makes up the perimeter of the site, you might be able to make out a 15-metre installation, created from artificial turf, that reads THIS COULD BE A GARDEN. I created and hung this sign (with the help of some brilliant friends), to prompt discussion about the potential of this site, and to re-ignite conversation about the role it could play in our community.
I was pretty happy with the attention the installation attracted - and it was great to have all kinds of people stopping to offer their support as we put up the sign. We talked to people wanting us to add 'beer' between the last two words, teenage boys wanting to bike in the space, and a parent and child talking about how nice it would be to have somewhere new to play. So far so good.
Then, like all my favourite projects, this one grew arms and legs (incidentally, if I ever write an autobiography, I'm absolutely going to call it 'And then it grew arms and legs').
Over the next few weeks, as interest continued to pick up, people started to add their own creations to the sign. Knitted pom poms, felt bees, laminated quotes, wooden butterflies and floral hair grips appeared all over the fence - around, alongside, and on top of the original lettering:
Then, as people with different skills (and more patience and tact than me!) got involved, a 'Linlithgow Gap Sites Action Group' sprung up on Facebook. A group of people got together to cut back the weeds overgrowing the site one sunny evening, and the project featured in the local community magazine. Meetings were held with local council members, petitions begun, and temporary measures to improve the site proposed at local business meetings.
This is a story without a happy ending… without any ending, so far. The group continues to advocate for change, and is drawing in some pretty locally influential support. We'll see what long term difference - if any - the project is able to realise. For me, it's a really interesting experience of creating 'ripples' - one action in a community triggering others, and going on to create actions and (hopefully) impact far beyond the scope of the original action.
I'm curious about the power and potential of individuals taking action in communities - and the role that small-scale, individual actions can play in helping others to realise their own power in actively shaping the kind of communities they want to live in. Sometimes we might feel our own actions are tiny - too small to make a real difference - but it's exciting to consider the unknown (unknowable) knock-on effects of taking even the smallest action. I had the chance to explore this theme through a talk on art and community activism led by CVS Inverclyde recently, which produced this really nice illustration by Angela Kirkwood (you can download her wider notes from all the excellent speakers at the session here):
So - onward with tiny actions, and let's see where they take us!