The National Arboretum celebrates a project to engage new groups with botanic gardens

Members of the Macular Disease Society, Awaz Utaoh and the Forestry Commission looking at photographs of the Hidden Voices workshops. Credit Paul Groom/ Forestry Commission

A celebration has taken place at the Forestry Commission's National Arboretum at Westonbirt to celebrate a project that engaged new audiences with botanic gardens.

The Macular Disease Society, Bristol Drugs Project and Asian women's group Awaz Utaoh took part in the Hidden Voices project led by the Forestry Commission's learning and participation team at Westonbirt Arboretum.

The project is part of a national initiative called Communities in Nature; co-ordinated by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Workshops held across the summer at the arboretum included woodland coppicing, learning how foods originate from plants and exploring trees using different senses.

As a result of the project, Westonbirt Arboretum has a series of new tree labels and an audio trail for blind and partially sighted people.

The tree labels use a yellow background with descriptions written in a large, black font. The downloadable audio trail has been created using sensory descriptions of trees. Both of these have been developed in partnership with the Macular Disease Society.

Recipes using tree and plant foods developed by Awaz Utaoh will be published on the arboretum's blog and website and photography taken by members of the Bristol Drugs Project conveying the emotional impact of trees and woodlands will be shared with visitors.

Ben Oliver, Forestry Commission learning and participation manager at Westonbirt Arboretum commented: "Our visitor statistics show that older people at risk from exclusion, black and minority ethnic groups and disadvantaged adults make up the smallest numbers of Westonbirt's visitors.

"We wanted to use this project to explore and overcome barriers, encourage confidence and make Westonbirt Arboretum more interesting and relevant to more people."

More about the Project
The learning and participation team at Westonbirt Arboretum was awarded funding for this project in early 2012 and used the grant to develop the series of activities in partnership with their chosen community and social groups.

Westonbirt Arboretum is one of four UK botanic gardens involved in the Communities in Nature initiative, run by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

The initiative was inspired by a report into the social role and relevance of UK botanic gardens conducted by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester.

The report recommends that botanic gardens work together to reconsider their roles, responsibilities and mission in a world of pressing environmental change.

The participating gardens have been writing blogs throughout the project. Visit http://communitiesinnature.wordpress.com/ to find out more.

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