The Botanic Garden’s year-long oral history project celebrates the launch of the project website with a special screening of archive and new films at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse

Led by professional filmmakers and animators, these young people have to brought to the big screen the rich memories of the people associated with the Garden, and created a refreshing and memorable visual legacy for everyone to share on the website

Trish Sheil

Voicing the Garden, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through its All Our Stories grant stream, and by the Cambridge University Botanic Garden Association (CUBGA), seeks to collect, celebrate and share the stories of the people behind the plants – the people who have made, grown up in or simply enjoyed the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.  The resulting archive of over sixty interviews is a rich mix of inside tracks, personal meanings, conflicting viewpoints, loves, loathes, life changing experiences, characters and recollections.

These unofficial and, before now, untold histories gathered up by a team of fully-trained volunteers are the opposite of an authoritative guide book to the Garden, says, Juliet Day, Development Officer at the Garden, who has led the project. "Voicing has given us a place to remember the black market in duck eggs, the daughters of a former director jumping their ponies over the winter garden hedges, EM Forster coming to tea and not being remotely interested in the plants, setting fire to the lake – yes really - the ‘slow bicycle race’ at staff parties, the 1950s Glee Club, the schoolgirls who weeded the Garden during the war and then grew up to bring their own grandchildren, the parents who have grieved here."

At the heart of Voicing have been engagement collaborations designed to connect the generations.  Excerpts from the interviews have inspired local groups to make accompanying short films, co-ordinated by the Cambridgeshire Film Consortium.  Young adults from Squeaky Gate, a creative arts charity, have composed, performed and filmed a lyrical and invigorating music video, putting a totally different perspective on the balm and beauty the Garden has to offer.  Working with Cambridge-based Spellbound Animation, Kings Hedges Primary School took as their inspiration memories of the man who could tame robins to create a beautiful, hand-drawn animation breathing new life into the legend (viewable here).

Trish Sheil, Film Education Manager for the Cambridgeshire Film Consortium said "The Consortium very much supports the development of cine-cultural and cine - literacy skills and Voicing the Garden offered a wonderful opportunity for young people in Cambridgeshire, from primary age to undergraduates, to use their creative skills in live action and animation film. Led by professional filmmakers and animators, these young people have to brought to the big screen the rich memories of the people associated with the Garden, and created a refreshing and memorable visual legacy for everyone to share on the website."

The Voicing films premiered Thursday 12 December at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse at 5pm, showing alongside work from the archives.  Director of the Botanic Garden, Professor Beverley Glover, also took the opportunity to present Nikki Driscoll, student at the Anglia Ruskin School of Art, with a special prize for her animation, A Man and A Dog, which illustrates the day the poodle pushed alpine supervisor, Harold Langford, too far.

After the Arts Picturehouse premiere, all the film shorts were made available to view on the project website.  Virtual visitors will be able to listen to the Voicing interviews, view the shorts and visit the word workshop developed by local writers to support the many who are inspired by the Garden to write.  It will also host a treasure trove of archive material to rummage through – clippings from the Cambridge News, aerial photographs of the Garden in development, diaries, reports and publications. 

When phase two of the project website goes live in January, Voicing the Garden will also be inviting visitors to upload their own memories of coming to the Garden, who with and what they did, to the on-line Memory Book.  Visitors will be asked to pinpoint favourite parts of the Garden, and short stories, poems and artwork will be published in the on-line Anthology.  Voicing the Garden will continue to build and share the collective history of what the Botanic Garden means to the people who work, rest and play here.

Visit www.voicingthegarden.com for more information


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