Nick On The Radical Self Care To Be Found In A Community Garden

When Nick moved up to the North East from London, he offered his services to Extinction Rebellion in the region as a photographer of XR actions and events – for which we are very grateful. He’s now setting up a community garden and we’re delighted to have this opportunity to find out more.

How did you come to get involved in photographing and videoing Extinction Rebellion events in the North East?

I first got active with the Green Party, then Momentum, and found that videos and photos were a useful way of contributing along with the door knocking, organising, and later, more direct forms of action with XR in London.  Since I moved up to Newcastle, it’s been great to connect with XR people and contribute some time.

Why do you consider this to be an important role?

Images can help to reach a wider audience.  I also hope they give activists a boost when they see the action they organised positively reflected – I always shoot activists with a deep sense of admiration so I hope that comes across.  Everyone has their role to play but there is no substitute for people who are prepared to organise, show up to meetings and put themselves out there.

What have you learnt/observed from recording these diverse events/gatherings on film?

That there are some very brave and creative people in this movement.  It’s a unique perspective being able to watch and reflect on the actions people are taking.  It’s also an education – my experience is people involved in this type of action tend to be well informed and deep thinkers, so I learn from listening to them.  I love being a witness to protest but I also have to remind myself to be rooted in the world and not just observing events.

How did you get interested in creating a community garden?

One of my day jobs is in horticulture but in truth, a lot of that work is, maybe counter-intuitively, very detached from nature and damaging to wildlife.  Our consumerist, neurotic culture has led us to see gardens as outside rooms instead of the interface with the wild world they could be. We could also think of them as a potential wildlife refuge from our intensively farmed countryside and sterile public spaces.  I try to slip native plants into clients’ gardens and won’t use chemicals, but I spend way too much time on ridiculous tasks like high pressure spraying their  patios. Gardens, and gardening can also feel quite lonely. Our obsession with private, tidy, respectable plots of land leaves us isolated, detached from nature and for the most part, pretty bored if we’re honest with ourselves.  A community garden, where we could create a refuge for nature together with other people seemed like a good antidote to all that negative stuff.  I was on the lookout during lockdown and saw this piece of land. I asked a few people locally and eventually got the contact for the land owners. I thought they were bound to dismiss me out of hand but found I was pushing at an open door. So here we are!

Talk to us about the community garden you’re involved with – where it is, who it’s for, what you grow there, the vision….

Wild Roots is a community wildlife garden in Ouseburn.  It’s for everyone and everyone is welcome to take part.  The idea is to help nature thrive by creating habitats, growing food, learning about nature and in the process, rediscover our wild roots.  Human beings may be capable of some grim behaviour when the culture we exist in is toxic, just like a plant needs certain conditions to flourish, but we have the capacity for cooperation, playfulness, creativity, empathy, mutual support and sympathy.  These are the wild roots we’ve been severed from, generation by generation.  So the idea is to rediscover them on this little plot of land.  Not too ambitious!

What do you believe are the benefits of community gardens and how can more people be encouraged to get involved in them?

I have been dealing with some stress in my life lately, manifesting in a tight chest and the feeling of not being able to take a full breath.  Every time I’m at the garden, those feelings evaporate, so I can testify to its being good for mental health. Through the sessions, neighbours are getting to know each-other and that will hopefully encourage cohesion and solidarity through some rough times ahead. We’re skill sharing and all of us are trying new things like building dry stone walls or planting veg. When you complete a task you didn’t necessarily think you were capable of, it gives you a lot of confidence.  We know that getting out of the house, getting some exercise, cooperating with like-minded people and being around nature are all good for our health. Seeing nature benefit from our presence instead of the opposite is a pretty inspiring thing at this moment in time.

What difference do you think projects like community gardens can make to the climate emergency that we’re facing right now?

Angela Davis said “Anyone who’s interested in making change in the world also has to learn how to take care of herself, himself, theirselves.”  Self care can’t be seen as an indulgence if we’re going to sustain the action needed to change this broken system.  What’s that got to do with a community garden?  Here’s another quote.  This one from Davi Kopenawa – a member of the indigenous Yanomami tribe who live in the Brazilian rain forest: “The environment is not separate from ourselves; we are inside it, and it is inside us; we make it and it makes us.” Drawing from this wisdom, we can say that working on a community garden – as long as you’re doing it with a sense of guardianship and not using chemicals and other harmful practices – is a form of radical self care.

Our ethos is to reuse materials and try to be as low impact as possible. We’re harvesting rainwater, building our greenhouse with old sash windows, sourcing compost materials from local restaurants…

Of course if we were doing this in a detached microcosm, it wouldn’t have any discernible impact – like every positive action, it’s when we work as a movement and inspire others that we create change. I’m very inspired by in the ARK movement set up by Mary Reynolds to create a global network of nature friendly gardens and public spaces and we hope Wild Roots will form part of a gentle education going on in our communities about how interconnected all of nature is – and where we sit in that delicate web. Building that understanding is a means of building the consensus we need to shift the political dial.

Whatever decisions our governments make now, we know that a destabilizing level of climate breakdown is now inevitable. Part of the task, while pushing for change, is to create resilient communities that can weather the storms ahead. Leaning to grow our own food will both reduce our impact on the environment and make us more resourceful. Making connections in our community with people from different backgrounds and perspectives to us will help keep us together when opportunists try to divide us.

The permaculturist Bill Mollison said “All the world’s problems can be solved in a garden”.  Utopist perhaps, but it is really empowering and rewarding to be engaged in doing something positive – attempting to create a version of the world as we’d like it to be!

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Rebels from Tyneside XR are looking forward to supporting Nick in this vision over the coming months. Watch this space!