“Planting the seeds of change”
As part of our learning programme in 2022 we ran a year long series of peer learning sessions where participants were from different organisations and with a range of different life experiences. This was called ‘Creating Change’.
The group were brought together, with facilitation from Rob Fountain, to explore issues and opportunities relating to disability and/or mental health conditions in Gloucestershire. One of the projects which has come out of these sessions is an exciting new art exhibition which explores the link between biodiversity and neurodiversity. This has been has been co-produced by members of the Creating Change programme, in collaboration with Westonbirt Arboretum and Artspace Cinderford.
Writer, producer, and Creating Change participant Liz Bell explains more about the story behind the project and the exhibition.
“ When you plant a seed, you don’t always know what will emerge. But if you create the right conditions, give it some time, and trust the process, something wonderful just might grow.
This was the idea behind ‘Creating Change’, an experimental peer learning programme developed and funded by Barnwood Trust to explore new opportunities to benefit disabled people and/or people with mental health conditions in Gloucestershire.
Each of us who took part in the programme brought our own experiences and perspectives to a series of monthly discussion sessions, supported by a trained facilitator. There were no expectations for specific programme outcomes, so we were free to decide as a group on the overall direction and purpose of our time together. This bold commitment by Barnwood to meaningful community involvement, along with the agency it afforded us, was exciting.
As we got to know each other and began exploring the potential of various approaches to change-making, we were struck by the diversity of our collective capabilities. While each of us had relatively specific skills and knowledge, our combined expertise included strategy development, partnership working and community engagement, along with an extensive advocacy network spanning the disability, neurodiversity, and mental health communities.
This presented fertile ground for collaboration, so in partnership with Westonbirt Arboretum and Forest of Dean-based arts charity Artspace Cinderford, we developed a project to explore the role and value of diversity through creative expression. We wanted to show that, just as a forest with a high degree of diversity is more resilient and abundant than one with only a single type of tree, a society with lots of variation in how its inhabitants perceive and interact with the world is richer and more creative than one in which everyone thinks alike.
Working closely with both partners, we co-produced a series of artist-led workshops at Westonbirt and in community support groups and organisations across Gloucestershire. During these workshops, people with experience of dementia, brain injury, learning disability, autism and/or ADHD were invited to reflect on the role and value of diversity in nature and society, and supported to express themselves creatively using a range of artistic techniques.
Images of the resulting artwork were used to create a digital showreel that will be projected, alongside a short film about the project, as part of the upcoming exhibition in the Great Oak Hall at Westonbirt in May 2023, as well as in an online gallery and in a printed anthology.
We hope that this exhibition will inspire more people to think differently about neurodiversity. After all, diversity can only flourish in an inclusive environment. If we want to create a society in which every kind of mind can thrive, we need to accept and accommodate diversity by changing the way we view, act towards, and talk about people who think ‘differently’.”
The ‘Thinking Differently About Diversity’ exhibition will take place in the Great Oak Hall at Westonbirt and will be open to all visitors to the arboretum between 1 and 10 May 2023.
More information is available at: www.forestryengland.uk/westonbirt/diversity-exhibition
More information about Liz can be found at The ZIG/ZAG Project, which works in partnership with organisations in Gloucestershire and beyond to inspire curiosity about neurodiversity.