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 a new soundtrack that puts 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 (see below). 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 at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse at a special screening for supporters and collaborators on Thursday 12 December. They are now available to view on the voicingthegarden.com project website (please use the link to the left) where virtual visitors will also be able to listen to the Voicing interviews, visit the word workshop developed by local writers to support the many who are inspired by the Garden to write. The voicing website also hosts 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.
At the premiere, Director of the Botanic Garden, Professor Beverley Glover, presented 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.