Branching Out: participatory creative practice

Branching Out thumbnail
I run a weekly group called Branching Out at Speedwell Nursery School and Children’s Centre in East Bristol. Here is how Lindsey Fuller, the headteacher, describes the group.

‘The Branching Out group is run with a uniquely creative and inclusive approach. It is a universal group; participants do not need to be referred although many are signposted to the group as it is particulalrly good at meeting the needs of women from a diverse range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, many of whom are new arrivals to this country. The creative approach breaks down cultural barriers as participants share their own lived experiences in many different parts of the world, through a range of artistic and environmental themes. Everybody is valued and their heritage cherished. Being part of the group has nurtured participants’ sense of belonging and wellbeing, increased their self-worth and confidence, and reduced social isolation.’

We find that expressing individual perspectives as part of a shared purpose allows social connections to form. 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.

Examples of projects
Welcome banner
The sculptor 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. Each woman embroidered the word welcome in her mother tongue and we assembled the individual pieces into a beautiful banner that hangs in foyer of the centre. As words of welcome in 26 languages were sewn by different hands, the women told stories of home and family, distance and loss, ambitions and disappointments – discussions that tend not to happen in more direct encounters. Eszter, one of the participants commented, “We got to know each other’s country a little bit more as we naturally came up with questions about how you welcome people there, and that generated further conversations”.
Welcome banner composite

Kitchen Cultures: recipes from around the world
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

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 so 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. They made some wonderful designs with balconies, fences, gardens, shutters and attics. When we’d finished the houses we took them out into the garden and put them together in a village. It 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 cardboard 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

Collaborative drawing
We experimented with drawing in an instinctive and responsive way by taping sheets of paper to the table and making large gestural marks with sticks of charcoal. Then we moved around the table so as not to become attached to the marks that we made ourselves. After a few rounds of this, we chose marks that we wanted to emphasise and rubbed away ones that we wanted to recede, then chose colours and worked into the marks in front of us in more detail. 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. Drawing in this spontaneous and cooperative way takes the pressure off trying to create a ‘good’ piece of work, and allows people to just respond to what is in front of them. The fact that we all felt pleased with the images we produced was an unexpected and happy by product to an enjoyable process.
Drawing workshop 3
Photographing drawings 1

Participants’s comments
“I have never been in a group like Luci leads here. This is an incredible session.”

“I love this group. It’s a very good opportunity to learn new things and meet other parents. Very friendly atmosphere which makes you feel welcome.”

“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.”

“It makes me feel very happy by the end of the session. I love what Luci gives us to work with. I think that her thinking and ideas brings all of us together.

“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.”

“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. 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 a 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”

“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.”

“I’m happy to come here because sometimes I feel myself isolated because of my autistic child and here I can improve my English.”