This included Beached: The Final Landing by Jane Lloyd-Francis and Gwilym Morus-Baird; Water Surgery by Jess Allen; Y Gors by Dafydd Sills-Jones, Anne Marie Carty and Nick Jones; Edafedd-dwr by Ffion Jones; The Water Shed by residents of the Borth Community Allottments and Stories, Songs, Science and the Sea by Peter Stevenson, Erin Kavanagh and Lynne Denman.
The following is written conversation between two participants in these events. Tom Payne was involved in organising the Spring Gathering with other members of the local team. Katherine Jones is a former Aberystwyth resident and is a Towards Hydrocitizenship team member working on the Water City Bristol case study.
On Saturday, an open invitation was extended to members of the general public to visit the Borth Community Gardens. From Borth train station platform, which looks out onto Borth Bog, the gardens can be located by walking to the end of the platform and through a walkway gate. This is part of the coastal path walk, which curves inland a great way after Borth to get around the Dyfi estuary. It can be accessed from this direction by passing through the gate and down a lane, across the tracks and past a derelict looking barn with three small ponies moseying about next to it, and then towards the church and cemetery. Just before reaching these, is a slight right turn leading to the gates of the Borth Community Garden and allotments. Started five years ago by a group of people who got together, and were given a small piece of land by a local farmer for whom it was simply more grazing land for sheep (no shortage of that in Wales!), the community garden is the site of The Water Shed; a timber framed building designed using found and recycled materials, with the aim of providing a meeting/workshop space for community members.
Katherine: We are greeted on arrival by Caspar and Anne, who offer us tea or coffee and tell us the story of the community gardens, while we munch some homemade pakoras brought by Anne (made with gram flour). The space is beautiful. Bunting adorns a gorgeous pond as damselflies alight on lilypads, an orchard of fruit trees is punctuated by a chicken enclosure with several plump and healthy-looking chickens, and the place feels full of warmth and buzzing with vibrance and life (or that might be the bees from the two hives also in the orchard!). The top of the gardens afford a beautiful view of the Dyfi estuary in the distance, while the peacefulness of the surrounding landscape of bog and sea soaks in.
Tom: The gardens are partitioned into small allotments. Some are growing seasonal vegetables, others are carefully manicured, while several look like re-wilding is taking place. Our conversation with residents reveals that nettles and thistles are very much a deliberate choice on the part of some community members. Woe betide anyone who tries to cut them down! We are told that within hours of receving permission to use the field for allotments, the first stake went in the ground, marking out one man’s territory. Many sheds are dotted around the various plots, each one is unique, and adds individuality and personality. In contrast to the individual plots, are the communal areas, the polytunnel, the fledgling orchard, the communal tool shed, which are all suggestive of amicable collaboration. Athough we’re told that it pays to be quick if you want save any of the apples from scrumping.
Katherine: The Watershed is the name of the project, and the building that the members of the community garden, led by Jono, a professional builder, are building. The timber frame is up and three men are clambering about on it, hammering in joints and joists (my building knowledge is being tested here). The building will not be connected to water and electricity, but will have solar panels on the roof, and will collect water running off the roof into a storage tank. The goal is to use the energy from the solar panels to pump the water to the top of the gardens. It will also serve as a small hub for the community garden, a space where people can stop for a cup of tea perhaps. Also in process is a pizza oven a little further up the slope, created in the shape of a pregnant woman. I’d like to visit again when it’s up and running!
Tom: The ‘pizza oven’ was salvaged from the Aberystwyth Arts Centre Ceramic Festival. Its former designation as kiln is a somewhat distant one, as it awaits restoration. And it is not the only evidence of such purposeful re-imagining. Salvaging and re-using are themes that stand out strongly in this place. The re-purposing of land, the re-location of sheds, the recycling of materials to build the Water Shed.
Katherine: After a wander around the site, observing the water tanks and taps, admiring the view, and talking about planting and plots, and the amazing transformation this piece of land has undergone in only five years, we return to the gazebo [is that what that tent thing is called?] where several people are painting the bottoms of clear glass jars, which will be embedded into the wall of the watershed, a kind of communal stained glass window. I ask if I can join in and Tom and I then sit and paint jars with several women. A man is sprawled out on a blanket with his two beloved dogs, and a couple of girls sit next to him coloring in books. Next to me is a young woman who tells me her partner has a plot in the allotments and so she comes along. Conversation meanders from the project, to the group of people who are involved, to what brought them together, and to Borth. It seems that there are a lot of artists in the area, attracted to the peace and quiet. And yet people come through from all over the place, there are always international connections. A friend who used to live there is now on an island somewhere off the coast of British Columbia doing organic farming. A couple from South Africa are about to come to stay in Caspar’s Airbnb.
Tom: I believe Owain has stayed there too.
Katherine: Painting the bottoms of jars feels therapeutic, and we talk about this a little. I am reminded of a recent book called Art as Therapy by Alain Du Botton. As we paint, conversation ebbs and flows without pressure, without rush. I remember reading a story in which someone said they had their most heart-to-heart conversations with their mother when they were shelling beans together, and this has a feeling like that. Naturally we talk about the Watershed project, but more so the community gardens, and Anne talks about some future project she wants to do next, using the groynes that are currently abandoned in a tip. She has chainsaw work to do but decides not to disturb the mellow peace of our activity. Several of them are going to ‘True Tales’ in the Friendship Inn in the evening, the last of the season apparently, and they encourage us to come along. These are activities that hold the group together.
Katherine: We talk a bit about the ‘water project’ as they call it. Cymerau or Towards Hydrocitizenship being a bit of a mouthful clearly. One person quotes another Borth-based friend as saysing ‘if one more person comes and tries to talk to me about climate change!’. I express a bit of surprise thinking most of the projects I’ve come across haven’t explicitly mentioned climate change, though obviously it wont’ only be our arts projects but many others as well, which have alighted on this strange and wonderful little place as being in the line of sea level rise. There seems to be an awareness of this among the people we talk to in any case. I mention that our project deliberately set out not to explicitly talk about climate change or flooding, but to allow people’s understandings of and relationships with water to emerge through conversation. And emerge they do. Now that we’re on the topic, people talk about their own relationships with the prospect of climate change affecting Borth. They note that some people don’t want to think about it and would rather put their fingers in their ears and go ‘la la la la’ than hear about it. Others feel a bit helpless and wonder what to do. And others do things like the community garden, building a sense of community, camaraderie and being in it together.
Katherine: I’ve been listening to a podcast interview with Rebecca Solnit, called Falling Together, in which she discusses people’s responses following disasters. The way that people spring up to help, opening their homes, providing food and shelter to those affected, donating blood, showing up and helping. This is something that is witnessed time and again, and a narrative that is often left out of the media. Solnit wonders about how this spirit is fostered at times when there is no disastrous event, and as I sit and paint the bottom of a glass jar, I think this is exactly the kind of way that it happens (or is brought about). These are the people who in a disaster will be there for each other. This is what some would call the building of ‘resilience’, and of ‘community’ and of ‘community resilience’.
As an afterthought, I wonder if this would all be happening without interventions like Cymerau, and I imagine it would. But Cymerau has given such things a boost, which seems the most appropriate intervention that a short duration project could be involved with. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, the project has come along as part of a flow of things and in a fluid way become a small part of existing activities and networks, potentially transforming, in a small way, the relationships within and between those networks... Perhaps in any case the transformation is about us and not 'communities'. In this space, Tom and I both reflect on how this project feels good and how we're glad to have been part of something like this, even in a small way. We are learning something, perhaps many things, from being present in such spaces, without trying too hard to frame or impose our own ideas and structures onto these interactions.
Read more by Katherine Jones