60 Seconds with Victoria Rogers, Cardiff Story Museum

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Hi Victoria thanks for meeting me,

Supporting a project in a museum is pretty unusual for Grow Wild, could you tell us about Cardiff Story Museum and what you do here?

Well, we’re the city history museum of Cardiff.  We’ve been open for 5 years, so we’re really new, but we were set up to not only explore and celebrate Cardiff’s past, but to very much look at how that has created our present, and how we use it then to shape our future.  Our galleries explore this using artefacts, paintings, photographs and film footage from the past, but also very much through people’s stories and memories – so it’s a real personal insight into the city, its identity, how it’s become the Cardiff we know today - and the role we all play in that.

The Wild in the City exhibition has just finished, what was it all about?

Our exhibition was part of our Grow Wild funded project and it looked at how nature has changed in the city over time, how it has formed the city, shaped its identity.  We worked with young people to research and then create and install it.  We also ran lots of events and activities through the year too.

Sounds amazing, what were some of the most interesting stories you discovered while researching the exhibition?

We’ve had people sharing stories of their fathers who worked at Cardiff Docks telling them of the Scandinavian wildflowers that grew around the dockside.  The seeds had been imported with the tree trunks that were used for pit props in the Valleys.  I love the idea of a really industrial place being full of delicate, pretty looking flowers! 

Some older people shared stories of the 1930-40s - cycling from Splott over to Leckwith Woods in their childhood.  They’d be given sausages by their mothers and would disappear for the day to the woods, build dens and fires, cook the sausages and then pick bunches of bluebells to take home for their mums.  They all seemed to express a bit of guilt for doing that – I suppose because they know bluebells are protected now – but it also shows how plentiful bluebells were then.  It was lovely seeing how happy those memories clearly were – you could literally see it on their faces!

Telling the story of why our cities are so important for wildlife is probably more important now than ever before. How have visitors responded to it?

It has certainly sparked an interest, and discussion between visitors.  We wanted the project to help us all value the difference nature makes in our lives now and in the past, and hopefully use that to decide what we want for our future.  There has definitely been an air of regret in discussions, especially from older people when they talk about the birds and insects and flowers they remember from their childhoods and then think about the fact that they see less now.  But the younger people have been fascinated by that.  At all our events and throughout the exhibition we’ve been giving away loads of seeds, so we’re hoping that a whole generation of Cardiffians have been busy planting, and soon Cardiff back gardens will be full of wild flowers!

So do you think that the exhibition has brought out the wild side of the Cardiff people?

It’s certainly brought out an interest!  One of the things I love about working for the Cardiff Story is seeing those discussions that visitors have with each other while they’re here or participants have between themselves on our projects.  This has been no exception.  Hearing the older and younger people comparing their experiences of wildlife and nature in their lives has been really interesting.  And I definitely have got the sense that our participants want to ‘do something’ about it.

The exhibition has a strong future focus, do you think wildlife and wild spaces have a bright future in Cardiff?

I certainly hope so.  And actually, the exhibition research has reminded us that over the recent past, great improvements have already been made in some areas.  The Taff for example is much cleaner than it used to be, and over the last 30 years salmon populations have increased greatly.  Cardiff is one of the greenest cities in the UK and we’re well served with beautiful parks throughout the city and the county.  But I think the risk is to the wildlife in your back garden.  From the memories that have been shared throughout our project, it’s obvious that older people remember much more wildlife in their localities during their childhoods than younger people do now. 

Hopefully by working with the young people during our project we’ve sown a seed (oh dear, what an awful pun!).  There’s a group of young Cardiffians now who are much more aware than they were, so are more likely to think about this in the future and will be advocates for wildlife and wildflowers in their own, and their communities’ lives.  

The Wild in the City exhibition