Take one garden and ten people from five different cultural backgrounds - mix slowly together, sprinkling photography and creative writing workshops  into the mixture until all cultural responses are released then, gently, pour into a a suitable container (we found that a book was ideal for this).

The result? A beautiful illustration of all that diversity offers.....

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Inspired by YUMI's International Community Garden and the community of volunteers who worked there, photographer Karen Lennox approached YUMI with the idea for a project that would culminate in the creation of a book. Through images and words, the book would express the volunteers' individual perspectives  on the produce they grow and the memories and stories that growing, cooking and eating together evoked.

Working in partnership with Karen and the writer and broadcaster Jenny Zobel (JZ), YUMI developed the ‘Hands in the Earth’ project, which ran from 2011-2012, offering some of its volunteers the chance to:

  • learn new creative photography techniques
  • develop story-telling and creative writing skills
  • design and create an art book using their own images and texts
  • exhibit a selection of their work.

Two groups of YUMI volunteers were established involving 15 participants from 7 different cultural backgrounds - one group learned about photography at workshops led by Karen and the other about creative writing at workshops led by JZ.

Hands in the Earth3

The photography workshops involved exploring ways of making images both with and without a camera, including cyanotypes, scanner photography and photograms. The participants made and used simple pinhole cameras, developed their skills in using conventional cameras and developed a critical eye for the medium. They discussed and developed imagery reflecting their own responses to the garden and those involved in its creation. And, they learned from each other about cultural legacies, traditions and taboos in picture-making

The writing workshops explored the personal and cultural associations, memories and stories evoked through the plants, activities and food cooked in the garden. Drawing on their involvement in and observations of the garden, the participants worked together, learning to speak with clarity and confidence in public and enhancing their listening skills. They worked from voice to text - learning how to record, transcribe and edit - developing their creative writing skills as they produced copy for their book.

The final element of the project involved two participants from each group working alongside professional book designer Ned Hoste, who supported and guided them to make decisions about style and layout: learning how to structure a coherent narrative from disparate materials; developing the skills of negotiating, listening, expressing ideas, discussing options and possibilities; and, using self-publishing software to create draft spreads for the finished product.

After a total of 50 supported sessions involving not just the participants, but dozens of others who had their photograph taken or helped with coordination of events and publicity, the outputs from the project were staged in an exhibition of the words and texts created by the participants in three city centre venues in York.

The project aims were to inspire confidence in the participants by their learning new skills through collaboration with each other and experts; to encourage their future participation in arts projects and to increase public awareness of cultural diversity in York. Feedback from all involved suggests those aims were more than amply achieved: 87% said they feel more confident in their creative skills than they did at the start of the project (the remaining 13% said they feel as confident as they did at the outset); 82% of participants said that taking part has made them more likely to want take part in other arts activities in future (the remaining 18% said they are as likely to take part now as they were before).

‘Projects like this give you a real insight into how these things work and inspire you to get involved’

'We gelled really quickly as a group and it felt like this evolved quite naturally. I found myself speaking to different people each week. We all became quite close and it felt like there was no ego and no barriers’

'My work surprised me. Even though it is not professional. I’ve learned technique to develop and expand my writing.’

'Won't stop now I've started - love it!'

YUMI conveys its thanks and appreciation to the Arts Council England for the funding provided to make this project possible.

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