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Lockdown Landscapes: A Journey of art, healing, and connection after the Covid pandemic

“The biggest thing that I have taken away from these workshops has been that I can leave the house and be around people and do things and be okay, which after lockdown, my own anxieties and diagnosis has been a huge boost in confidence, and I have genuinely loved every minute being involved in the project.”

12 Feb 2024

That’s how one member of the Lockdown Landscapes programme described their experience after taking part in a series of workshops designed to explore people’s connection with the environment, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

Specifically designed to complement the design of a future Covid Memorial Woodland at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA), Lockdown Landscapes was a nationwide community engagement programme. Led by the NMA in partnership with the National Forest Company, Westminster Abbey, Sampad and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the programme explored and recorded communities’ experiences of the pandemic, especially relating to their own local landscape.

Four areas of the country were invited to take part, with four distinct projects:

Breaking Ground: Burton upon Trent, artists Anna Horton Cremin, Natalie Linney, Rebecca Lee and Dawn Jutton worked alongside a local social prescribing group to produce eco-dyed textiles and a soundscape inspired by experiences of outdoor spaces during and after the pandemic.

Citizens of Coventry: Coventry, artist Sebbie Mudhai and videographer Tom Chimiak held workshops with communities living in Citizen's supported housing, creating a poem and a film inspired by the residents' individual and collective stories.

Memory Benches: Westminster, artist Alix Smith and members of St Andrew's Youth Club produced a series of park benches covered with illustrations created by the young people themselves, exploring their own experiences and encounters with outdoor heritage throughout lockdown.

Together in a World Apart: Birmingham, artists Tasawar Bashir and Nafeesa Hamid gathered stories from communities with South Asian heritage, bringing them together to form a sound artwork installed along the pathway leading to the Arboretum's Trees of Life Glade.

Jo Maker, National Forest Arts Officer, explained how the Breaking Ground concept was born: “Listening and sharing stories is an important way we understand the experiences we have been through. This was about looking back at our experiences through the pandemic, as well as looking forward to how nature can help our own and other’s wellbeing.”

The workshops were delivered in two phases, with the first set focused on research and exploration of the Washlands area. Historian Mark Knight and nature enthusiast Nicola Lynes from Transforming the Trent Valley shared their knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Wetlands, together with its history.

Everyone was encouraged to record the sounds, collect objects, and write down ideas from the area, including drawings and stories of things they had seen, or walks they had enjoyed during lockdown.

At the end of this phase, the group were invited to visit the National Memorial Arboretum, before moving on to phase two - creating their final pieces of artwork for the Lockdown Landscapes exhibition. With guidance and support from the artists, the group created eco-dyed textiles, poetry, mixed media and a soundscape representing their own connections with the living world around them.

The exhibition was then displayed at the NMA for visitors to enjoy and encourage them to reflect on their own experiences during lockdown.

Summing up their experience, one person said: “I learnt how to create art with minimal environmental impact, how people all have different views and feelings toward nature and the landscapes around them, but it seems to be close to everyone's heart and important for us all.

“I learnt that despite what my anxiety tells me, meeting new people with similar interests is not as scary as it seems, and it quickly became the highlight of my week. I also learnt that writing poetry is an incredibly deep and personal thing and it's a wonderful way to express feelings that I personally have never been able to.”

If you’ve been inspired by this story and would like to help support further art projects in the National Forest, then please do consider making a donation.

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