This is an idea that has been floating around in my head almost since starting Off the Ground back in 2015. It was inspired by seeing how both John Coles Park and Pewsham Park have a small strip of bare soil running alongside a rather unattractive concrete-block wall. Why not dress both of them up by creating an inspiring mural for humans and a wildflower buffet for the bees and other pollinators?
I lived and worked in Bristol for many years, where street art is practically in the city’s DNA. The art created is often beautiful and thought-provoking, and both of these walls seem like the perfect blank canvas. A few months ago, my parents shared some photographs of wonderful murals in my hometown that resurrected this idea, and street art has been jumping out at me wherever I travel. For example, a recent visit to Glastonbury revealed a whole arts trail, the side of the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon is decorated with an evocative scene and quote, and the Co-op in Corsham has a mural depicting the history of the town. Why shouldn’t Chippenham—or anywhere with a similar setup—have something like this?
My vision would be to match street artists—from Bristol or elsewhere—with local schools, and each class would have a panel of the wall to decorate. Imagine it: a blue background with flowers, birds, and insects, each named to form an identification guide that stretches the length of each park. The strip of soil along the bottom, currently a magnet for litter, would bloom with native wildflowers and buzz with pollinators going about their business.
By getting students, their parents, and other members of the community involved, I would hope a large project like this would help people take pride in the area and feel ownership over it. This would hopefully result in cleaner pathways, increased biodiversity, and at least a few people able to identify different types of bumblebees.
What is needed to make this happen?
- Permission: Permission from landowners, nearby homeowners, and other stakeholders would be necessary to get the ball rolling.
- Money: I don’t know how much money would be needed for supplies, hiring artists, and the inevitable touch up when the wall is vandalised. We are fortunate to have charities such as the Chippenham Borough Lands Charity and I am sure other community grants would be available if the other items on this list are sorted. Business sponsorship is also a possibility as was done in Swindon.
- Getting schools onboard: I think community involvement is absolutely necessary so a project like this can reach its full potential and amplify the message. However, we have consistently struck out when trying to reach local schools. Focusing on scouts and other community groups may be an alternative, but it feels a bit like preaching to the choir. How can we reach a wide group of people who might not otherwise be involved in environmental work?
- People power: This is perhaps the most important aspect and the reason that Off the Ground has not been able to achieve as much as I would have liked over the past several years. Instead of relying on only a few people to organise everything, a project of this scale needs many people willing to pitch in a bit of time each step of the way.
So, what are your thoughts? Is this something we could bring to life in Chippenham? Drop me a line and let me know about potential problems, solutions, and ways to move this forward.