Yarmouth Springs Eternal: a reflection on the season

As the Spring season comes to an end in a burst of sunshine and rain to make way for Summer, so does Yarmouth Springs Eternal. Based in Great Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast, this community arts, walking and nature project celebrates and connects with overlooked ‘nature’ discovered around town. We’ve now spent our second Spring walking together around Great Yarmouth – in the streets, park, cemetery, car parks, market place and along the river – using creative practices as a tool for deeper exploration. For both years of activity, we have been based at PRIMEYARC, an arts space, gallery and affordable artist’s studios in an ex-department store in a shopping centre. This space is led by local arts charity originalprojects;

Spring was a conscious choice as the season to build a community engagement project within. There is so much symbolism for growth, awakening from hibernation and the burst of verdant abundance. These are things we’ve been exploring through our creative practices, from our external observations and internal reflections, conversations and shared memory-making. But we’ve also been expansive about what we define as ‘nature’ in our experiences together. We’ve been recognising the difference between gardened and wild, valued and neglected, and how this mirrors particular social conditions too

Yarmouth Springs Eternal was originally born out of the COVID-19 situation, a more-than-human reminder that we’re not just people, but vessels for viruses, bacteria and microorganisms to thrive within and on. The project is centred on the season of Spring, but we know that the predictability of the seasons is becoming more disrupted as a result of the climate and ecological emergency. These changes in the reliable patterns were something our group members brought up this year through our reflective conversations, such as how they’ve started to noticed plants flowering early or at unexpected times, and feelings of anxiety about the depletion of resources

Last year’s programme was vast. We broad-cast multiple ideas and activities; we had a community walk/workshop programme, public events, a conference, 2 printed resources, a video and an exhibition with guest artists and cultural organisations, including Climate Museum UK displays and Associate James Aldridge’s Queer River artworks. It felt right at the time, moving from 2020 into 2021, to burst out into the world in Spring and reconnect in a rich and dynamic way – whilst following COVID-19 control measures, of course! With support from Creative Practices for Transformational Futures (CreaTures) and Norfolk County Council’s Arts Project Fund, the project has bloomed again for the second consecutive year. The sponsorship from CreaTures has particularly helped us to deepen into the project’s themes and to engage with people in a more equitable way

This year, we’ve taken a different approach to the first year of activity. We’ve been nurturing our roots and building valuable space for reflection throughout the process. The group of participants have lived experience of homelessness and/or migration, as well as self-reporting experiences of loneliness, mental health challenges and issues with addiction. Growing from long relationships with the people connected to the project (as participants or partners), our group has developed to make a space for unheard voices and those with an interrupted connection to ‘home’ or place. The relationship between these life stories and self-seeded plants we notice around town have become a symbol of our respect for all lives and journeys. The group took part in a series of workshops – which I led, aided by Moyses Gomes, our creative multi-talented Project Assistant – in March and April with visiting arts and ecology practitioners, bringing their own perspective on engaging with the natural world through arts, science and wellbeing approaches. Huge thanks to Ligia Macedo, Holly Sandiford, Jacques Nimki and Tiffany Wallace for their generosity and inspiration

Through the process of the project, our group members were commissioned and paid (or received vouchers as a reasonable expense, if accessing Universal Credit) to facilitate their own events during Creativity & Wellbeing Week in May. Each event was free and open-to-all, and highlighted Great Yarmouth, Springtime and nature, through creative and walking practices. What really stood out to me was how each event was drawn from the participants’ own perspectives, curiosities and personalities. Not just mirroring back what the team of practitioners brought to the group, but using these as tools to develop and deliver their ideas with authenticity. This included mindful eating and drawing of the sensory experience, ritualistic making-sharing-offering in the cemetery, writing poems, listening to music, breathing, slow conscious walking, noticing patterns and order in nature, and collecting multi-lingual words of noticed objects in Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Hungarian, Afrikaans and English

To bring the project to a close, we’ll be hosting a celebratory picnic in June with the participants and facilitators who worked on the project. This is where I will capture any final thoughts and reflections from our group too, to support the CreaTures wider European research into eco-social engagement through creative activity. It won’t just be me facilitating the reflective process, I will propose that anyone in the space can ‘ask a question, answer a question’, meaning that we’re all actively engaging in instigating and participating in evaluation. Our film-maker Becky Demmen AKA Supporting Your Art – who also created the 2021 project video – sent me a WhatsApp message after she came to film the final public events. She said “it’s rare to find ‘arts’ spaces that feel as diverse as Yarmouth Springs Eternal”. Becky thought that the strength of the project was the inclusion of so many different voices and “that’s why the participants have grown so much, because they have the space to”. I wanted to make a space for growth, to nurture the right to transform, whoever you are

image credit Genevieve Rudd

I’ve been really stretched through this experience to re-consider my own perceptions of ‘participant’ and ‘facilitator’, as we have each embodied these roles throughout the project, sometimes simultaneously. I had a conversation with Jacques Nimki and Moyses Gomes – who have both been part of the project for 2 years now – about the idea of participant-facilitators and facilitator-participants, and the link with boundaries and generosity. Leading Yarmouth Springs Eternal is also about my perspective of working in my home-town, as an activated citizen, and my own lived experience of severe mental illness episodes. From these experiences, I’ve drawn strength and compassion to support the development of others facing challenges. It’s a complex area of work – where generosity could push boundaries and challenge identities – but by being willing to be flexible, reflective and work as a team, I think this work can be rich and rewarding 

This type of engagement doesn’t happen overnight, or even over a season. CreaTures recognised this investment in long-term engagement and I’m grateful for their support this year. I will be reflecting upon and absorbing the conversations, ‘moments’, photos, written comments, drawings, collected objects and my own reflective journal, to see how Yarmouth Springs Eternal could evolve again. I will now start the process of reviewing these materials, to be released by CreaTures under the Creative Commons licence, and choosing materials that will travel with me on the train across Europe to be exhibited at The CreaTures Festival in Seville, Spain in June. Inspired by my Climate Museum UK colleagues and ethos, I will be collecting with consciousness. Throughout the process we have worked with compostable, recycled and repurposed materials. Some of these can be returned back to the Earth after the exhibition, to breakdown and create fertile soil for whatever needs nourishment in its place

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