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Stoke community celebrates nature in Blockhouse Park

L to R - Elek, Maia Walton, Rachel Dobbs, Tressa Thomas and Stoke resident Jan

Arts University Plymouth students team up with the Village Hub to celebrate local ecology as part of the Green Minds project

Arts University Plymouth students and members of Stoke Village community gathered recently in Blockhouse Park to install a series of ceramic plaques celebrating the local plants and ecology. The plaques were made in a series of community art workshops, led by MA Creative Education student Tressa Thomas and MA Ceramics graduate Maia Walton, and were the last in a series of Green Minds creative micro-commissions involving Arts University Plymouth students working with residents of Stoke Village.

Green Minds is a partnership project, led by Plymouth City Council and funded by the European Regional Development Fund Urban Innovative Actions initiative.

Rachel Dobbs from Take A Part and Karen Pilkington from the Village Hub, were commissioned by Green Minds as Creative Producers to oversee a series of micro-commissions by Arts University Plymouth students. These micro-commissions involved four Arts University students on three different commissioned projects. Karen and Rachel began the project by mentoring the students on community art practice, developing their project ideas, and on the process of pitching project proposals to communities. Members of the local community were then invited to hear the students pitch their proposals and decide on which projects they wanted to see go forward. 

The community members were so impressed with the student pitches, that they accepted three of the proposals for the £3000 available fund. The community also raised an additional £1000, through the Growing The Village Hub project (in partnership with Take A Part, and co-funded using money from the National Lottery by Arts Council England, Heritage Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund) and a donation from Councillor Tom Briars-Delve, to ensure that all three commissions could go ahead.

Dandelion plaque in Blockhouse Park

The winning commissions included the creation of ceramic plaques to celebrate the ecology of Blockhouse Park, a Forest Club for young children and their parents, and the creation of an animation about Blockhouse Park and what it means to people in the area.

MA students Tressa Thomas and Maia Walters met with Stoke residents to lead a series of ceramic workshops, leading to the creation of plant identification plaques, made and illustrated by pressing plants from the park into wet clay, which was later fired and glazed. Since completion of the project, Maia completed her MA and was awarded a Distinction.

MA Creative Education student Tressa Thomas said:

Ceramic plaque before glazing

“We got involved with Green Minds through an Arts University Plymouth callout seeking creative project ideas surrounding Stoke’s Blockhouse Park. At the time, Maia and I both lived in Stoke, so the opportunity seemed like a perfect fit for us. The idea for the project came out of talks with local residents and other park-goers who expressed a desire for more plant signs and art in the park. We decided to make use of our ceramics skills and host two community Ceramics 101 workshops where residents could come and help make the signs. Some of the signs have info about the plants, and others have stories and poems offered by local residents. I think the idea for us was to elevate the lives and diversity of the plant life in Blockhouse and the lives of current residents; this park has a rich ecosystem and we wanted to find a way to talk about that through art and community events. 

“My future work will continue to include ceramics, community, and greenspace, so this was a great chance for me to trial out all those skills and to start thinking about how I want to apply my MA after graduation.”

Participants in Forest Club youth group

In addition to the ceramic plaque project, the other two micro-commission projects were completed in the summer of 2022.

BA (Hons) Illustration student Rebecca Smith created a Forest Club for young children in the area and their parents. This involved Rebecca running a series of participatory art projects in which the children explored nature within Blockhouse Park through various fun activities and art techniques.

BA (Hons) Animation & Games student Lily Bex created an animation called ‘Past, Present, Future: Blockhouse Park’ about Blockhouse Park and what it means to people in the area. To make the animation, Lily Bex worked with the community to include ideas, interviews and a poem from local residents. The animation was screened last August in an ‘Animation and Short Films’ evening event in the park.

Animation screening in Blockhouse Park

Karen Pilkington said:

“It was a joy to work with young people to bring some colour into the lives of local residents. We built some strong and lasting relationships and had a lot of fun as well as learning together how to manage public funds in a community-led way. It’s not always been straightforward, but the difficulties we have successfully overcome together have just added to the overall positivity of the experience and the energy the students have brought has been great.”

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