Since September last year, Arbarus and I have been working on a commission for Chester Zoo‘s new Bumblebee Garden to create a home for Bumblebees. Based around a used garden shed, the structure houses a number of Bumblebee boxes to provide a safe, dry environment for the bees to nest in.
The project kicked off last year on a sunny day in September with a drop-in workshop at the Zoo’s Wildlife Connections Festival. We worked with Chester Zoo’s visitors creating lots of artwork to decorate the outside of the shed, whilst learning about the best flowers to plant in your garden to attract bumblebees.
Over the winter, Arbarus did lots of research into the right type of home for bumblebees, designed and built the shed and then we worked together to finish it, using all the artwork created at the festival to decorate it. The shed was installed on a chilly January day, to give it time to bed in and for the brilliant horticulture team to create the shed’s green roof and plant up around it before the queen bumblebees start to emerge. We aim to return soon to get some pictures of the shed with some green around it, instead of just some January mud! Fingers crossed that some bumblebees will have moved in too…
STOP PRESS! Whilst we await with bated breath for good news from Chester Zoo, Arbarus has had success with his own bumblebee boxes. Two of the homes are now occupied by queen bees and there is a quiet satisfaction in watching them go in and out of their nests…
As part of the Abirdabode Exhibition, myself and Richard Dawson couldn’t resist creating some of our own art bird boxes. We got so carried away we couldn’t fit them all into the Gallery as part of the main exhibition so came up with a sneaky plan to install them into the library downstairs.
Having got the go ahead from Oldham Library, who were brilliant and completely open to our weird requests, we spent an afternoon installing the boxes on the shelves in the main library. The ten boxes have now formed an art bird box trail amongst the books and the only clues to find them consist of Dewey Decimal numbers and subject headings.
On 14th March, Richard Dawson (Arbarus) and myself launched the Abirdabode Exhibition at Gallery Oldham. The exhibition celebrates eight months of hard work by various groups across Oldham to create art bird boxes* and showcases these bird boxes alongside the Art Bird Flock, which was created at public drop-in sessions over the last year. Almost 250 people attended the launch and was a great success – people seem to really love the art bird boxes and we got a lot of great comments and feedback.
All of the bird boxes created have been made to the BTO’s (British Trust for Ornithology) recommended guidelines and following the exhibition, will be installed around Oldham to become the Oldham Art Bird Box Trail.
The groups we worked with included the Dove Stone Youth Rangers, the Barrier Breakers, Grassroots Community Project and Age UK Oldham.
Dove Stone Youth Rangers (DSYR) are a group of young people from Oldham aged 11-19 years and meet every Sunday to plan and participate in activities focused on the environment and the outdoors. The Dove Stone Youth Rangers created their bird boxes from concept right through to finished product, drawing plans, making macquettes, using power tools and bandsaws to create the nest boxes. They also spent several (chilly) sessions in my workshop painting and decorating their bird boxes ready for the exhibition.
The Barrier Breakers are a group of young people supported by Oldham Integrated Youth Service and gives young people the opportunity to have fun with friends whist working on issues that affect children and young people with additional needs. The Barrier Breakers came up with their own ideas and themes then created their bird boxes from kits of parts, using power tools to construct their boxes and also cut out wooden detailing for individual designs.
The Grassroots Community Project is a community orchard and allotment and supports adults with additional needs and young people excluded from education. We worked with Grassroots to create the ‘Andy Abode, a large-scale bird box created from reclaimed and re-purposed materials. The group created the bird box from scratch, constructing the frame, creating the different claddings for each side and also building a sparrow hotel to be installed on the inside. Following the exhibition the ‘Andy Abode will return to Grassroots and will be used as a shed and storage for Andy, who works there.
We also worked with a group from Age UK Oldham to decorate some bird boxes. The group created a ‘terrace’ of boxes with each one representing a redbrick house, complete with windows, doors, chimneys and even a TV aerial. Though they didn’t make the exhibition launch, Age UK Oldham organised a special trip to Gallery Oldham so the artists could see their creations. We met them there to show them round and indulge in a spot of tea and cake at the Naked Bean Cafe.
All in all, a fantastic launch of the Abirdabode Exhibition, which runs from now until 2nd May 2015 at Gallery Oldham. If you’d like to know more about abirdabode have a look at the project website here. We are also asking for people to nominate locations for the bird boxes once the exhibition is completed. The location should ideally be in the Oldham Borough and be a ‘community’ space or organisation, a school, a public park, allotments or gardens for supported housing etc. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or to nominate a bird box location.
Here’s just a few of the bird boxes made during the project…
Myself and Arbarus (Richard Dawson) have been delivering the Abirdabode Project for the last eight months. Funded by Oldham Arts Development, the project aims to bring art and nature together by building bird boxes using a variety of different creative techniques and skills.
We are currently working with a number of different groups in Oldham including the Dove Stone Youth Rangers, the Barrier Breakers, an Age UK older people’s group and the Grassroots Community Allotment Scheme in Failsworth.
We’re making lots of progress on the bird boxes which is good as deadlines are fast approaching – there’s an exhibition of them at Gallery Oldham in March and April. The exhibition opens on Saturday 14th March and will have all the bird boxes made during the project on show. Once the exhibition finishes, the bird boxes will be distributed to various communities, gardens, allotments and housing schemes around Oldham – get in touch if you’d like one for your community!
Most of these images are from Grassroots where we’ve been building a large-scale bird box for the exhibition!
One more thing… we’re doing a drop-in workshop at RSPB Dove Stone Reservoir on 22nd February. This is to celebrate National Nest Box Week (14th – 21st February) and to kick off the RSPB’s Discovery Sundays for 2015. We’ll be based at Ashway Gap (halfway round from the main car park) between 11am and 3pm – come and see us!
Richard Dawson of Arbarus and myself have finally got the Bromley Farm cast stone artwork installed! Consisting of three ‘totems’, the artwork was designed by young people from Bromley Farm in Congleton and features their artwork and cast hand shapes. The artwork spells out ‘Bromley Farm Community Centre’, with each letter created by taking a subject or item relevant to the area and incorporating this within it’s design. For example, the ‘B’ features a bear’s paw, which comes from a local story regarding a dancing bear.
The young people came up with the idea and created the original lettering in a series of creative workshops over the summer. Molds were then taken from their artwork to turn it into cast-stone panels to fit within the three pillars.
A bit of a departure this week from the usual visual and public arts stuff I do – I’ve ventured on stage! Don’t worry I wasn’t actually allowed to act, sing or dance (though I did pull a muscle trying to hula hoop on the first day…).
The project, based in Tameside, was to create a theatre piece based on The National Theatre’s production of War Horse. Working with young people from St. John’s Primary School in Dukinfield and West Hill Comprehensive School in Stalybridge, we put on a production at the beautiful Stalybridge Civic Hall on Saturday night called ‘Over the Wall’.
In the lead up to an intense week of workshops at the Civic Hall, StoneSoup and Arbarus worked with some of the students from St. John’s Primary School exploring themes, building prototype puppets and helping to prep the script. Then we arrived in Stalybridge on Monday morning with lots of ideas, lots of equipment and materials, seven artists of various descriptions, a fabulous empty space and 75ish young people.
By the time Saturday night’s 45 minute show in front of 250 people had finished (standing room only), everyone in the group had been involved in most parts of putting on the production including – the music, the acting, the set design and build, creating props, creating (and puppeteering) dog and bird puppets, making costumes, and lots of other stuff I’m sure I’ve forgotten.
The boys from West Hill School in particular were absolutely fantastic and really came into their own on the ‘art department’ side of things, essentially leading on a lot of the design, set-making and puppets with a massive amount of effort put in to get everything completed for the Saturday night deadline.
A special mention to the teachers and TA’s from both schools who got completely stuck in and were brilliant!
I was too busy to take any of the pictures myself, so another special mention to the young people of West Hill who took all of these photographs (apart from during the production – thanks to Richard Dawson of Arbarus).