Not so idle: women learning about wildflowers together

When Rachel and her partner, Sis started an arts project on a narrowboat and called it Idle Women, they didn't know it would end up making a permanent home at Nelson in Lancashire.

"We never are idle," says Rachel of the organisation's name. "In the second world war the women that ran the canals wore Inland Waterway (IW) badges and were nicknamed 'Idle Women', so it's a reference to the canal."

"We are never idle!"

They started several years ago by touring the narrowboat along Lancashire's canals, inviting women to come on board and take part in artist-led creative workshops either on the boat or the towpath. They worked with around two thousand women over this time.

ducky blue narrowboat with the name selina cooper under the logo 'idle women'The Selina Cooper narrowboat

When they came to evaluate the project they discovered, to their surprise because it was an arts project, how important it was for women to have access to nature.

"A lot of their residential spaces don't have gardens," Rachel tells me. "So there's not invitation to grow things. The boat had created a safe gathering communal outdoor space and opportunity, which women felt bereft of when it moved on and mourned that access. We realised the boat needed to move somewhere permanently."

At around that time, in an amazing stroke of luck, a garden they knew well along the canal came up for sale. Through crowdfunding they were able to purchase the land in partnership with Humraaz Support Services, a Blackburn-based refuge for women.

"We knew we wanted to create a medicinal physic garden dedicated to the health and wellbeing of women. We also wanted it to be women-centred project: exploring what plant knowledge is and what we all bring to the space, not necessarily recreating models that already exist," says Rachel. "So we decided it's going to be a seven year project and this first phase is all about observation."

three women at a table drawing wildflower smiling at the cameraWomen from the project drawing wildflowers. Riaz is at the back on the right.

This is where Grow Wild came in. Idle Women applied for communtiy project funding and used it to run workshops and events over the course of several months, observing the changes to the landscape and themselves. They called the project 'From Mud to Medicine'. What they have learned will contribute to the next phase of the project, as they start to plan the garden.

Riaz Begum has been part of Idle Women from the beginning, "I've always loved being out in the country, but have never been brave enough to enjoy it in the way I can now."

"We now feel it's our project"

"At first I used to feel it was their project but they welcomed us to the extent that we now feel it's our project."

a woman being filmed in the rain with a man smiling at her from under an umbrella by the cameraRachel being filmed on the day Grow Wild made the film about the project

Grow Wild has loved seeing what they achieved during the year as well as meeting all the women involved. We can't wait to see how the garden develops!

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