Branching Out: participatory creative practice

I run a group called Branching Out at Speedwell Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Bristol. It takes place weekly during term time and is open to anyone, although nursery staff and family support workers also signpost it to parents who they think might enjoy it.

The key design of this group is to enable people to participate in creative projects involving collaboration and self-expression, and we have found that expressing individual perspectives as part of a shared purpose allows social connections to form. The continuous provision consists of a free crèche, refreshments, family support information folder, books documenting previous sessions, art materials, and myself as an experienced facilitating artist. We hope that the group will enable people to develop friendships, build positive social networks for themselves and their children, raise aspirations for them and their families, and have a positive impact on community cohesion.

Kitchen Cultures: recipes from around the world
Our most recent project is our recipe book, Kitchen Cultures. One of the most enjoyable ways to appreciate our different cultures is by sharing food, and the recipes in this book are tried and tested favourites that people cook at home. All of the contributors to this book are living in the UK but many of their recipes originate in other parts of the world – Bangladesh, Turkey, Somalia, Sudan, Hungary, Kenya, Thailand and Brazil – to name but a few. We all cook in different ways and have written our recipes in our own styles and illustrated them with block prints of some of the ingredients and cooking utensils that we use to make them. Kitchen cultures cover image

Connection to Nature
Cover photo
In this project we asked, ‘What connects us to nature?’ and found that it was many different things. Not all of our dealings with nature are accessible or easy and in these pieces people explore what separates as well as connects them to the natural world.

If you would like to see the full text and images
you can download the pdf here.

Welcome banner
In this project, we made a welcome banner for the entrance foyer in the centre. Each woman embroidered the word welcome in her mother tongue and we assembled the individual pieces. Doris Salcedo suggests that ‘art sustains the possibility of an encounter between people who come from quite distinct realities’ and this project supported an exchange in which women could share their diverse ethnic, cultural and religious views.

“I love this group. It’s a very good opportunity to learn new things and meet other parents. Even to just have 2 hours rest from your kids. Very friendly atmosphere which makes you feel welcome.”

Through the creation of the artwork the women talk about their experiences and concerns. As we sew, the art object acts as a mediator and discussions take place that might not happen within more direct interactions. This allows us to broach sensitive subjects like FGM, khat use, and local perceptions of Muslim women, refugees and asylum seekers.

Families are made to feel welcome. Differences are respected and celebrated, as seen in the beautiful ‘welcome’ embroidery in the entrance hall.
Ofsted report, October 2014

The group encourages skill sharing. Some women had not done any sewing before, and some were old hands, so they helped each other. Literacy levels vary greatly within the group, and the women supported each other in writing the words to be embroidered.


Kurdish Sorani


Women of about 14 different nationalities come to the group, and it took a while to embroider all the different languages. We used a limited palette of colours and fabrics, so that each woman’s individual ‘welcome’ would fit in with the overall design.



The centre strongly supports and promotes equality and diversity. It does this through carefully designed courses and targeted programmes for parents. Examples include learning English as an additional language and supporting social cohesion through creative activity, such as the ‘welcome’ embroidery. The centre’s artist in residence supports parent volunteers in setting up groups, for example as support group for Muslim women from different branches of Islam.
Ofsted report, October 2014

When the words were finished, we arranged them onto a large piece of material.
“I really enjoy to do something with my hands. I really like to come here because everyone is very friendly and I love you. I also learn something. My English get better. I learn drawing and painting because I never do something like that at home. When I come here I feel really relaxed.”

“Doing the banner was really good fun. It was lovely to concentrate on something so beautiful. Working with so many lovely women on this project was really uplifting and fun. It is also very satisfying to see all our hard work up in the nursery.”

The women were very proud of their finished banner and it has received much positive feedback, which has helped to build their self-confidence. The combining of many languages gives a sense of our ethos of respecting and celebrating diversity, and acts as a stimulus for discussion with other groups and individuals using the centre.

“I’m very happy to finish the banner. I was very proud. In the holidays, I missed this group for 2 weeks. I’m happy with what I get here.”

“I like the idea of it, that mothers get a chance to have at least two hours for themselves to do something creative. It makes me feel very happy by the end of the session. The fact that I have my kids in the crèche is great. Gives them time to be more independent too. I love what Luci gives us to work with. I think that her thinking and ideas brings all of us together.

“I was interested and excited when we made the different languages for ‘welcome’. Everyone from different countries used their language. When we finished, I was very excited because we have done a nice job. Every time when I come to the nursery it give me smile to see something nice on the wall. I took some photos to keep. They remind me of what we have done.”

Connection to Nature
In this project we asked, ‘What connects us to nature?’ and found that it was many different things. Not all of our dealings with the natural world are accessible or easy and in these pieces people explore what separates as well as connects them to it.

It takes a village…

There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and in many cultures this task is done within the extended family. In the UK however, it is increasingly rare to be surrounded by a close community with whom you share your day to day life and we spent some time making an imaginary village together and talking about community.
People are very willing to share ideas and help each other in this group, and in this way their houses became more detailed and beautiful than they might have first imagined.
People made some wonderful designs with balconies, fences, gardens, shutters and attics.

We have some great cooks in our group, and our sessions are often fuelled by delicious treats people have made – like these, flavoured with orange zest and vanilla.
When we had finished the houses we took them out into the garden. It was very enjoyable to put the houses all together. Our village looked handmade and friendly – just the sort of place we would like to live.

Here is a downloadable pdf that gives a basic method for you to make your own house. You could make the house you grew up in, the house you would like to live in or you could put several houses together and create your own village.
You can download the pdf here

Wild drawing!
We explored collaborative drawing processes, experimenting with working in an instinctive and responsive way.
Drawing workshop 1
We taped sheets of paper to the table and began by making large gestural marks with sticks of charcoal.
Drawing workshop 2
We moved around the table so as not to become attached to the marks that we made ourselves.
Drawing workshop 3
After a few rounds of this, when we had all loosened up a bit, we paused to look at the marks in front of us. We chose marks that we wanted to emphasise and rubbed away ones that we wanted to recede.
Drawing workshop 4
We then chose colours and worked into the marks in front of us in more detail.
Wild drawing 1
Although this approach focuses on the process we enjoyed the drawings it produced as well.
Photographing drawings 1
Wild drawing 2
A theme of organic shapes and plant-like forms emerged through our collaboration with seed pods, stalks and leaves starting appearing from our initial random mark making.

Wild drawing 3

Lots of the people I work with have not done any drawing for years and many of them have been put off it altogether by told that their mark making was not ‘good enough’. However, drawing in this spontaneous and cooperative way takes the pressure off trying to create a ‘good’ or representative piece of work, and allows people to just respond to what is in front of them. That we all felt pleased with the drawings was an unexpected and happy by product to an enjoyable process.

What the participants say about the group
Luci provides a relaxed and fun environment offering freedom for everyone to explore their creative potential. She is encouraging and engages with you. Inclusivity is key in her workshops and I really enjoy coming every week. It gives me the space to create and talk with other parents. I look forward to this group every week. It has saved my sanity being able to mix with so many wonderful people, talk to each other, learn about our lives and cultures. Being creative has given me purpose and I feel it’s cemented my relationship with my child – he goes to crèche and it gives me the break to be the best mum I can be.

I am so grateful that I found this group as I cam be me without worrying about my child. I feel refreshed and ready to face up with my day-to-day routine again. I have never been in a group like Luci leads here. This is an incredible session. I strongly believe that this session is an asset for Children’s Centres in Bristol.

I’m in this group since 2013 and I’m happy to come here. Sometimes I feel myself isolated because of my autistic child and here I can improve my English.
Wild drawing 4Photographing drawings 2

I come to Branching Out as I find it really helps me stay connected to myself, parenting and life can sometimes feel like it takes over. Also when things are tough, it is amazing to know there is always Tuesday mornings to look forward to when I can sit and maybe have a cup of tea and I don’t have to explain myself. Everyone seems to be able to relate regardless and there is a shared knowledge of what it is to be a parent without the group being focused on that. The creativity (whilst not therapy in itself) is therapeutic! It’s calming and restoring and uplifting.

I really enjoyed in this group and I get a lot of ideas to get my job and building up a lots of skills and the way to talk with people by English and I meet lovely people in this group so very big thanks to Luci xxxx