Charles Dimmick Community Engagement Project
The Charles Dimmick Community Engagement project was led by local artists Teresa Grimaldi and Sarah Vardy and ran throughout July and August 2020 during the Covid-19 Pandemic. The project drew upon Ryde High Street’s forgotten heritage as a horticultural centre and explored the life of Charles Dimmick, once a Ryde councillor and nurseryman who lived and worked within the current Heritage Action Zone (HAZ.) The artists explored an integrated approach to the project, using both growing and creativity as ways to engage young people with local history. The project targeted young people from three sources: Network Ryde, Ryde Academy and the Homeschooling network.
Shortly after the project launched, lockdown restrictions were eased and we were able to evolve the project from its digital core. We used a workshop space at the Depozitory with established Covid safety protocols that enabled the participants to try out the video tutorials posted via the group’s Instagram account. these workshops enabled a positive and creative dynamic to develop between the group, lead artists and Network Ryde youth worker.
The Charles Dimmick project in progress
Participants were given a resource pack with seeds, propagation materials, drawing materials and a sketchbook to record observations throughout. The weekly workshops explored making weeds from wire, stop motion animation, stencilling and street art, and printmaking techniques. With permission from IWC and Island Roads, the young people created flower inspired graffiti stencils and breathed new life into the social distancing dots throughout the high street. The project use an Instagram account and the windows of community hub, Aspire, in order to showcase the work in progress made by the young people and to advertise Charles Dimmick’s Fantastic Flower Market, which marked the end of the project.
Charles Dimmick's Fantastic Flower Market
Charles Dimmick’s Fantastic Flower Market brought together seven not-for-profit community groups; Network Ryde, Ryde Arts, Green Island Veg Economy (GIVE), Haylands Farm, Vernon Square Conservation Society, Ventnor Community Shed and the Ryde Society.
The market took place in Minghella Square which directly connects with the heart of the High Street. The Network Ryde participants printed their own tote bags and cards and made badges and seed bombs for their stall. They also propagated cuttings which were available for sale. The proceeds raised went towards the purchase of equipment for their new allotment.
Impact - Young People
The impact on the young people that participated was overwhelmingly positive.
100% said they’d learnt something new about Ryde’s heritage by taking part in the project.
Further comments said:
“I learnt about different plants, the history of Charles Dimmick and his place in Ryde”
“I learnt about the different aspects of Ryde’s rich culture and history”.
Comments and suggestions for improvement on the project focussed on having some more opportunities to be involved in similar projects.
Impact - Project Leaders
The HAZ Project 2020 provided the perfect opportunity to re-engage face to face with Network Ryde’s young people, following the Covid-19 lockdown. For some of our young people, this was the only chance they’d had to socialise with others in months, due to school closures. The project itself was innovative and inspiring; the artists had great communication skills and were able to get the young people involved with activities enthusiastically throughout the project. They [Theresa Grimaldi and Sarah Vardy] also introduced the young people to new art forms and experiences which they had not encountered before, such as rust prints and spray painting.
The horticultural and historical element of the project was engaging and worked well; Charles Dimmick’s connection to ‘147’ gave a good reference point for the young people, which perfectly led into the arrival of Network Ryde’s new allotment.
Artists Teresa Grimaldi and Sarah Vardy reflected on the project in an independent evaluation. They considered what they have learnt, what they would do differently and suggested areas with the potential for further development. As the project was undertaken with Covid-19 ever present their project faced unforeseen challenges yet brought much enjoyment from all directly and indirectly involved.
Impact - Community
The following are the reflections of Phil and Lou from Ventnor Community Shed. Both Phil and Lou helped construct the market stalls and Lou ran the Haylands Farm stall:
The Flower Market project brought added value through its strong visuals and accessibility. These stimulated and encouraged natural community interaction. There was a powerful sense of identity and generation of positivity which was focussed on the High Street by the earlier display in the Ryde Aspire shop window. In terms of being part of the team, we felt strongly that the project created and enhanced the spirit of communal and community working. On market day especially this was endorsed by seeing all folk, public and stall holders coming together without barriers. The team would relish the prospect of using the principles and lessons learnt for future events.
During the day, the resident of a flat above the shop opposite the square came to say how much she appreciated the square being used in such a positive way. She commented on how the square, rarely used for anything, is ordinarily populated by vulnerable people, gathering to drink on the benches. Other visitors to the market asked whether the event would be a regular occurrence and many people brought with them stories of Ryde’s horticultural past, some passing on information about the horticulture histories of their current residences.
An unexpected but delightful visit came from two sisters who are the ancestors of Charles Dimmick. They invited Teresa and Sarah to their home and showed them the original autobiography which is shortly due to be rebound at Quarr Abbey. They also told us that a brother has an original seed catalogue which we hope to see once it is unboxed from storage and that photographs exist depicting Dimmick’s shop and nursery. We also have an audio recording of their visit. These resources have the potential for further exploration for further projects and will aid re-engaging local people in Ryde’s horticultural heritage.
The discovery of Dimmick has highlighted a heritage resource ripe for exploitation. The horticultural history of the area enables new cultural traditions to be built into Ryde’s calendar.
Abigail Wheeler, Ryde HSHAZ Community Engagement Project – 20 October 2020