Remember just before COVID-19 struck our shores? The climate crisis was finally beginning to ride a media wave and Greta came to Bristol. Now we can be grateful to have seen traffic drop to 1950s levels and images of clear skies in Delhi and Bejing, but cars will return and the skies will thicken again as people want to return to ‘normal’ life.
Back at the Cumberland Piazza we’re doing our best to maintain an attractive environment for people to safely enjoy while we all adapt to restrictions on our movements and difficulties within our lives. Just before lockdown myself and other local volunteers, most notably third year Fine Art Students from UWE, refreshed the paint work on the pillars. Katya, Josie and Clara began a new mural inspired by fungi and plants on the Hotwells Voices wall, inviting people to join- we were lucky to have artist Luke Palmer turn up with his boys
Katya and Josie are part of a growing group of students and staff at UWE who are interrogating the sustainability of materials and projects. We have been meeting regularly over the past few months to talk about art and climate change and develop initiatives to further our community aims of increasing planting, especially new trees. Our challenges are that we have minimum water and need plants to thrive with minimum maintenance. At the moment, most of our planters are doing really well and some of the sedum even survived the 2019 weed killer episode.
Keen to work with the Hotwells community that they are part of and encourage their successors to do the same, we began to make plans to create more planting opportunities. Our aim is to involve as many people as possible by spreading the word through HCCA and city wide through arts, sustainability and gardening networks and organisations.
Inspired by Bricking-it Bristol, the Bristol based organisation making eco-bricks, we want to create an activity that everyone can participate in. Katya has managed to receive a donation of apple saplings and Josie has been experimenting with cob. Meanwhile, I am working out how we make the new planters move so that we can dry the cob and how we care for the apple trees until they are strong enough to live independently. I’m hoping to entice some local creative talents to write and direct our Travelling Apple Grove Festival idea in spring 2021.
Bricking-it staff wanted to come and do a demonstration. Planters are an ideal way to use those eco-bricks that might not conform to building regs (see here for more information) and obviously a great way to use plastic that is not easy to recycle.
Back to the reality of our ever changing world and physical distancing has made it more difficult for us to realise our ideas, but we’re going to persevere as restrictions lessen and degree work is complete. We will let you know on our Facebook page. In the meantime I have been doing some safe distancing maintenance work and continue to do what volunteering I can
Why do more when the Cumberland Basin could all be developed and the very flyovers we are under could disappear? The work we have been doing since we learned of the council’s ‘Western Harbour’ proposals is all ‘light touch’ and moveable. If we don’t make an effort, then we will see the piazza revert to the grey state state it was in before we started cheering it up. And by showing a space is loved we can maybe persuade the authorities to talk to us about their plans, and maybe even adapt them for our changing world. Remember when Greta came to Bristol?
Stay well and keep growing stuff
Since 2010 we have been asking local people what they want to see happen in this space and the three top priorities have been greening, art and facilities and activities for kids, families and especially teenagers.
Our programme has continued in 2019 with legacy funding from Ray Smith, who instigated changes to the piazza in partnership with his daughter, Zoe, a landscape designer and artist Anna Haydock-Wilson, who manages the piazza projects.
New mobile planters for Hotwell Road railings & sociable bench planters
We designed & commissioned Bristol Wood Recycling Project to make 10 mobile planters for the Hotwells Road ‘entrance. Planted by locals at the Community Gardening day on 19th May, these are now flourishing with pollution absorbing pollinators which should flower year round.
Modular bench planters were also designed and built with BWRP and installed in September. We had help from locals to plant them. Six year old Bori loves gardening and she did most of the work.
In June Luke Palmer fulfilled his long held ambition to paint his beautiful view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, for which we are all very grateful!
In September Anna devised an engagement activity with Amy Hutchings to coordinate with the BOB 170 celebrations. This giant game of scrabbled involved over 50 passers by of all ages who were invited to contribute positive words about Hotwells. This initiative was in response to some really unpleasant tagging that had recently occurred and negative words being slung around the world more widely.
Friends of Hotwells Piazza
We are developing a ‘Friends of’ group to help with the maintenance and develop future plans for the site. We’re looking for people who like gardening, especially communally, people who are interested in urban greening and re-wilding, artists, community sports coaches and anyone else with ideas of improving the largest public open space in Hotwells. We have a facebook group if you would like to get involved. We are proud that the flora on the piazza needs so little maintenance and delighted to announce that we have only had to water the plants a handful of times this year and only once emptied out rain water butt.
Looking forward to 2020
Plans for the year ahead will focus on keeping the piazza as climate friendly as possible and reaching out to the community with events and activities. We’re partnering with some local UWE art students who are part of the Climate Research Group to celebrate Earth Day at the end of April. We’d like to build a sculpture, some planters and some seating from ‘eco-bricks’ and experiment with other re-use ideas
All piazza work is funded by HCCA via the council’s Neighbourhood Partnership programme, the DCLG, private donations and funding for arts. Over the years and with huge amounts of volunteers’ time we have been able to plant trees, create new planters and planted areas, paint the pillars, commission murals by Bristol artists, make a skate spot and some play sculptures and organise events for the Peaceful Portway, the West Bristol Arts Trail and recently 170 years celebration of Brunel’s Other Bridge.
Massive thanks to all the volunteers and artists who have helped garden and paint over the years, to Ray Smith for his legacy money which is supporting the works this year and to Zoe Smith for her landscape design and sustainable planting support.
We are delighted to have a beautiful new painting by artist and founder of Collaborative Painting UK, Luke Palmer, aka Acerone. Funded by Hotwells & Cliftonwood Community Association, Luke painted this stunner in less than two days. Martin Booth, a journalist for Bristol 24/7 happened along while Luke was painting and wrote this article.
Art under the Flyover Facebook page has changed to Friends of Hotwells Piazza & Art under the Flyover. We’re really keen to get more people involved in helping make the piazza more of a community space and while Hotwells’ largest open public space is officially called Cumberland Piazza, not many locals relate to that name. It’s lovely the way people passing by appreciate all the work we’ve been doing, but it would be even more lovely to have a bit of help. Our next Community Gardening Day is Monday 15th July 2-6pm only a couple of days before we get judged by the Royal Horticultural Society South West in Bloom team. If you have ideas or expertise to share, it’s a great opportunity to have your say!
HCCA has also commissioned Bristol Wood Recycling Project to build some new planters co-designed with Anna Haydock-Wilson which locals helped us fill in our last community gardening day on May 19th and Alex from LiveGraft has been back on site to help us with some more greening of the Piazza.
Sadly, in early May, weed-killer was sprayed all over the Piazza, destroying nearly £2000 worth of plants and labour. The sedum beds and chinese poppies were about to burst into flower but were almost completely destroyed along with several hebes, ferns, heuchera and others. We have had to put energy and resources into restoring the beds and we have once again requested that the council does not use weed killer on the Piazza. With climate change causing ever extreme weather around the globe we need as much carbon absorption and as many pollinators as possible.
On that note, we’re in for a prolonged spell without rain and we were unable to expand out rain water harvesting capacity during an extremely wet June as someone had dumped a motorbike in front of the water butt and store-room. Can you help? Waste water is welcome- it can be as little as encouraging kids to water the planters using their water bottle on the way home from school or a more regular offer. Contact Anna by email if you’re able to bring water to site in times of low rainfall.
7/8th September- Brunel’s Other Bridge group are hosting activities in the Cumberland Basin to demonstrate our local heritage and amazing engineering. Over that weekend we’ll provide some arts activities on the Piazza for everyone to join in
We have been thinking a lot about art and climate change and how to adapt urban spaces into ‘climate ready’ community resources. After consulting with the Hotwells & Cliftonwood community in 2010 & 2011 we commissioned a ‘masterplan’ to ‘green’ large areas of the Cumberland Piazza. We used this plan to communicate with the council about what the community would like to achieve, but to dig up the tarmac proved prohibitively expensive, and we have been unable to raise the kind of money we need to do this.
So, we began to take an incremental approach. Local people generously donated funds to match some council Neighbourhood Partnership Well-Being funding for us to plant 8 new trees. Then, we commissioned the Bristol Wood Recycling Project to build us some scaffold planters, which was paid for by money from developers’ contributions. Luckily we have a big pool of volunteers via Hotwells & Cliftonwood Community Association who helped with assembling and planting.
Volunteers gathered again when it came to painting the the pillars, with Anna designing the colour scheme and organising tests, consultation and painting days. Dave Bain and his team responded amazingly to the spirit of the place and produced a ‘hidden forest’ of murals.
The impact of the painting helped us get a bit more funding from the DCLG Pocket Park scheme, HCCA & Bristol City Council’s Neighbourhood Partnership Wellbeing fund and we have built some sculptures of recycled concrete cast into re-used pallet boxes. Those pallets got turned into more planters and so did the paint pots.
But, there’s still a lot of tarmac left and more plants are needed to combat emissions in a busy in a road system of flyovers. It is becoming harder to access public funding so we’re constantly searching for imaginative solutions. We have developed a new ‘masterplan’ that embraces the DIY approach and puts re-use at the centre of our approach. Please come and have a look at this and all our interventions.
You can help us plant unusable hard hats and draw a ‘living wall’ on 15th & 16th October. We will also be running a ‘green gym’ which is another way of saying, please help us with some gardening and in turn you will get some exercise! Anna Haydock-Wilson, Luise Holder and Amy Hutchings are around at times over the weekend to show and sell prints and sculptures and talk about their work with re-use and regenerating spaces. If you have ideas for more art projects or about stealthily greening cities, come and share and let’s get some collaborations happening!
Details of times and activities:
- 12-5pm Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th: talk to us about plans for the site
- 12-5pm Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th: ‘Green Gym’ help us clear the weeds and prepare the planters for the winter months
- 12-4pm Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th a chance to meet Amy & Luise and buy beautiful prints and ‘ready mades’
- 2-4pm Saturday 15th: Paint and draw plants on our future ‘living wall’
- 2-4pm Sunday 16th: Plant some re-use objects, including hard hats- bring your own old bike helmets!
‘growing more plants might do more to improve our environment than making art about climate change‘
Last year Hotwells and Cliftonwood Community Association and Art under the Flyover teamed up with some architecture MA students from UWE to try and imagine how we could increase play and ‘hang-out’ facilities on the Cumberland Piazza. Bristol City Council Highways Department need to use the under flyover space to maintain the roads above which presents quite a few challenges, such as not being able to fix any equipment to the ground or the pillars and we have struggled over the years to come up with a solution for local football loving kids. All they want is a cage, but we can’t provide that, so we applied for Pocket Park funding from the Department of Communities and Local Government to see what we could create.
In late January we heard that we got the funding and a couple of weeks later the council’s Neighbourhood Partnership agreed to support us to run design workshops with young people and incorporate their ideas into the ‘park’. The idea is that they also help us actually build it, in fact, the whole community can help too!
So, what are we planning to build? Inspired by creative ideas from around the globe, and by Canvas Spaces, round the corner in Dowry Square, and of course by the flyover itself, we have decided to make a series of concrete structures, each with their own ‘play’ functions, which will be arranged to form a ‘pitch’. To ensure balls don’t get kicked into the road we are exploring putting poles into each corner of the ‘concretes of joy’ and wrapping a mesh or net around. Can’t picture it? Here’s some early design sketches:
We have been doing some informal workshops with local teenagers, mostly football orientated, because the kids who’ve come along are really into football at the moment. They’ve been trying out different places under cover and telling us about the challenges for them. Our current design team, Anna, Luke, Luke, Tom, Rachel & Matt, are looking closely at how they’re playing and seeing how we can match their aspirations with the constraints we have from the council.
We worked in Puppet Place rehearsal space at the end of February to develop more ideas for the concrete structures using plasticine modelling. Crazy golf football and seats that look like space hoppers were the highlights. In the meantime, Tom, Luke, Luke & Matt have been creating ‘forms’ at UWE’s Frenchay Campus and are pouring concrete in to test out how to make it work when we do it for real.
We really want to make this work for the whole community, so if you fancy joining in, we have some large as life workshops planned, when we’ll be testing out ramps and using hay bales posing as the finished ‘concretes of joy’. Come down to the Cumberland Piazza on 13th March 1-5pm, or follow us on facebook to find out how we got on.
We will also be inviting everyone to come and help our teenagers to build some of the form work and ‘reveal’ the Pocket Park once it has ‘set’. We think concrete is beautiful (see pic above), but it can have a negative environmental impact, so we will be using ‘rubbish’ inside, recycled aggregates within the mix, re-used objects to create our forms and we’ll be making lots and lots of small new planters from pallets as part of our park.