Listen! What Grows Here?

Over the last three years behind the walls of an ordinary looking community centre in a Glasgow housing estate a massive transformation has taken place...

For one of the only few times this summer the sun is shining when I arrive at the Beatroute Arts building in Balornock, where there is a nervous anticipation around the place as the dress rehearsal for a very special community showcase event is underway and strange, eerie musical sounds come floating into the main hall.

Proud parents, grandparents, carers and I gather to watch the end of project performance inspired by the importance of fungi and a celebration of six weeks of hard work.

Beatroute Arts Project Manager Jenny Reeve’s says: “Beatroute Arts provides high-quality arts, music and alternative learning provision which brings people of all ages together from an area of social deprivation.

“This year’s 'Grow Wild Listen! What Grows Here?' project is a collective effort about the wonderful kingdom of mushrooms involving sixteen 8-12-year-olds from five local primary schools. Grow Wild also organised field trips for the children to an RSPB Nature Reserve and Summerhall in Edinburgh.

“At Beatroute Arts we’ve created a safe environment where the kids can express themselves creatively and a key accomplishment of this project is how well the children have bonded.”

The modest music room has been turned into a magical wonderland where the children shine brightly in their yellow fungi inspired costumes and furry white spotty hats with woolly red wigs, that they’ve designed and made themselves with guidance from 22-year-old textile design student Andrew Sutherland who volunteers at the project. 

Although Andrew will be the first to admit he doesn’t have green fingers himself, he says: “I am inspired by colour in nature and fungi and translate this into my textile work."

The children perform their own specially composed song called ‘Mushrooms, Reach For the Sky This Life Cycle of the Fungi’. The singers are accompanied by a small band making big music. The positive energy flowing from the youngsters is infectious and gets the whole crowd tapping their toes and clapping their hands, including an impromptu appearance on the drums from the youngest member of the audience.

Following the performance, we are shown outside by our tour guides 12-year-olds Leah and Hannah who show off the vibrant urban community garden including the newly constructed Mycolarium – a made up word by the youngsters which combines mycelium, the underground part of a fungus, with the word aquarium.

The Mycolarium is a place to imagine where mushrooms might grow and uses artwork so others can see what they might look like too. It is a tall and thin wooden construction and is painted in a kaleidoscope of colour on the outside, including a number of large red and white mushrooms, contrasted with a dark space inside to view the group’s white clay model mushroom display. Today they use this space as a backdrop for their catwalk to show off their fungi fashion designs.

The Mycolarium also serves as the main entrance to the garden and as we pass through the Mycolarium and back outside into the sunshine we are treated to a sensory overload with more singing and dancing accompanied by large-scale musical instruments, including the percussion wall, made from everyday items including a blue water cooler bottle, built two summers ago with support from Grow Wild. 

We are then taken back indoors for the premiere of the children’s film featuring slow motion artwork of mushrooms reaching up to the sky with a funky fungus inspired soundtrack using sounds captured in the garden.

Talking to the youngsters after the big event you can see how proud they are with their achievements and the range of new skills learned is impressive. Leah likes singing and has been coming to Beatroute Arts for two years and helped to plant flowers in the garden last summer.

She said: “Beatroute Arts is one of my favourite clubs. This summer in the photography and film team we learned how to hold a camera to make a film showing the life of a mushroom and how they grow.”

Hannah has been coming to Beatroute Arts for three years alongside her brother Lachlan.

She said:  “This summer I’ve learned about photography and we decided in the first week we wanted our photos to be bright, colourful, phenomenal and make us feel like there was adventure ahead. I’ve also learned where mushrooms like to grow and the most interesting place was inside a book. I think fungi is really cool.”

This is the third year that Grow Wild has supported Beatroute Arts with funding in 2015 kicking off the development of their derelict, infertile empty area, which is now turning over edible crops. Last summer they built a bug hotel and wormery.

Jenny said:  “It has been a brilliant three years working in partnership with Grow Wild who have allowed us to explore and develop outdoor spaces in our Arts Centre in a creative way. We are truly privileged to have a high calibre of team leaders on board who work very hard with the children to help create a strong sense of community here.”

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