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Planting Change: The Waiting List – An Artistic Manifesto for a just food system

A Vision Takes Root: The Genesis of ‘The Waiting List’

In a world engulfed by a climate crisis, the need for creative, grassroots solutions has never been more pressing. Enter ‘The Waiting List’, a project by the artistic collective comprising Dr JC Niala, Julia Utreras, and Sam Skinner from fig.studio, in collaboration with Greenpeace. This initiative worked at the intersection of art and activism to address the role of industrial food in climate change and inspire imaginative strategies for change.

It began when JC was sent by several different friends a call-out by Greenpeace, seeking projects that blend art and activism to drive change. ‘The Waiting List’ was born from this call to action, igniting the collective’s desire to make a big work of public art that would hopefully engage people and their communities with positive action. The collective sees their practice as one of possibility and joy.

JC’s doctoral research on allotments played a pivotal role in the project’s conception. Her research encountered Section 23 of the Allotment Act of 1908, which enshrines in law the right of people in Britain to have access to allotments. One aspect she wished more people knew about was the “rule of 6,” where individuals from different households are legally entitled to band together to request an allotment from their local council. During the course of her fieldwork, she met people who had been able to successfully enact this rule. She found that, even if it took time, they had been able to create new allotment sites for their communities.

Sam was intrigued by the data from JC’s research and wanted to know how many people were currently on waiting lists for allotment sites across Britain. The last time a freedom of information request had been exercised to find out was by Campbell and Campbell in 2011.

Julia, meanwhile, pondered the representation of these individuals, collectively working to demand more allotments on behalf of everyone on the waiting list.

A Secretive Symphony: Challenges and Triumphs Behind the Scenes

Collaborating with Greenpeace expanded JC, Julia and Sam’s artistic capacity allowed them to do more than they could on their own, and marked the beginning of a transformative journey. The trio knew from the outset that they would incorporate the burnt Amazon rainforest ash Greenpeace provided into their artwork, as a symbol of the violence and destruction caused by the industrial food system. Climate-critical forests across Brazil are burnt and cleared to make space for cattle and to grow soya for UK meat and dairy production. Ash can also be used to improve soils which struck a chord with the way in which the artist’s practice works with challenges while looking to solutions.

Creating a work of art on the scale of an allotment plot was a daunting task. Yet, Greenpeace generously provided the necessary resources alongside lots of collaborative meetings. The artistic trio worked closely with members of the Bad Taste project team to bring their vision to life. A unique challenge arose as the nature of the artwork required secrecy. For artists accustomed to working in public, this transition was a significant change. However, it ultimately led to a deeper, more focused creative process, growing the art in unexpected ways.

Simultaneously, Greenpeace supported the artists with freedom of information requests which updated the data for their project by reaching out to councils across Britain. Julia designed a symbol representing those on allotment waiting lists, which became the motif for the artwork. Suitable urban land for the project was identified and the seed selection for the artwork was tailored to address soil toxins while promoting soil health.

The Artwork Takes Shape: Symbolism, Seeds, and Demand for Change

The artwork itself, spanning the size of an allotment plot (a doubles tennis court), was not just a visual spectacle but a powerful statement. It incorporated sheets of tissue paper sprinkled with brown mustard, white clover, sunflower, red fescue, and rye grass seeds, all designed to germinate, feed and heal the soil from the autumn of 2023 and into the spring of 2024. The message “We, 174,183 on the waiting list demand allotments” adorned the artwork, a deliberate choice of words to emphasise its legal grounding as well as the urgency of the request for change in the industrial food system.

The project reached its climax outside the Department of Levelling Up, where the artwork was unfurled in a performance by the artists, Greenpeace, and volunteers on a crisp autumn day. An attempt to deliver a letter to Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, to enact the demand further underscored the project’s mission. In the context of government cuts to local authorities, it is vital sufficient funding is also provided for councils to deliver. “The Waiting List” was not merely a work of art but a call to action. Volunteers then used the artwork to reclaim land in Liverpool from the industrial food system, demonstrating the power of community action and the potential for change.

Your Voice Matters: Be Part of the Solution

As the echoes of this project resound, you too can play a pivotal role. Join the movement for change in your own community. A little known fact is that if six people from different households apply for an allotment together, their council has an obligation under the 1908 allotment act to find them a space. Use the template provided to draft a letter to your local authority, urging them to establish allotment sites. Change begins at the grassroots level, and by nurturing these small patches of land, we can cultivate a future that is abundant, sustainable, and inclusive. Together, we can turn the soil, plant the seeds of change, and be a part of a flourishing, resilient community taking root.

The Waiting List was produced by JC Niala, Julia Utreras & Sam Skinner, a collective of artists who live and work in Oxford. The project was made in close collaboration with the Bad Taste project team at Greenpeace: Hannah Davey, Mary Jane Edwards, Sandra Ata, Daniela Montalto, Alison Kirkman, Anthony Lewis, Kat Cotta, Imogen Putler, Isabelle Povey, and Tom Micklewright.

The Waiting List is part of Bad Taste, a project launched by Greenpeace UK in Autumn 2022, which launched an Open Call for artists and/or activists to submit proposals for creative interventions that confront the role of industrial food in the climate crisis.

See project webpage where you can search the data and view short film:
www.TWL.fig.studio

How to Contact your Council

The letter below is directed to Alan Morrow, Parks Development Officer for Liverpool City Council. For Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens, Halton and Wirral residents, alternative contact details are here:

Download the template as a word document here

Download the template as a pdf here

Copy the template directly from the letter below

St Helens:

The Allotments Manager Environmental Services
St Helens Council
Hardshaw Brook Depot
Parr Street
St Helens
WA9 1JR
contactcentre@sthelens.gov.uk
01744 676789
St Helens currently has over 700 applicants waiting for 600 occupied plots

Knowsley:

Simon Sim
Allotment and Assets Officer
Environmental Sustainability Service
KMBC
Council Office Depot
Stretton Way
Huyton
L36 6JF
simon.sim@knowsley.gov.uk
0151 443 4786
Knowsley Council has no information about waiting lists

Sefton:

The Allotments Manager
Parks and Greenspaces (Sefton Council)
Magdalen House
30 Trinity Road
Bootle
L20 3NJ
allotments@sefton.gov.uk
0151 934 2421
Sefton currently has 945 applicants for 665 occupied plots

Wirral:

Jason Gooding
Neighbourhood Services
Wirral Council
PO Box 290
Brighton Street
Wallasey
CH27 9FQ
jasongooding@wirral.gov.uk
0151 606 2130
Wirral currently has over 1246 applicants for 1767 occupied plots

Halton:

Paul Hodgson
Community Engagement Officer
Environment and Regeneration Directorate
Picow Farm Depot
Runcorn
WA7 4UB
paul.hodgson@halton.gov.uk
0151 511 7334
Halton currently has 1029 applicants for 359 occupied plots

The Letter

Download the template as a word document here

Download the template as a pdf here

Copy the template directly from the letter below

Email: Alan Morrow
Alan.morrow@liverpool.gov.uk
Liverpool City Council Parks Development Officer
Direct Line: 0151 233 0829
Subject: Urgent Request for New Allotment Site in Liverpool

Dear Mr. Alan Morrow,

I hope this letter finds you in good health. We are writing to bring to your attention a matter of significant concern regarding the current state of allotment sites in Liverpool. As representatives of six different council tax-paying households in the _ area, we are deeply troubled by the fact that out of the 25 allotment sites in Liverpool, 14 have already closed their waiting lists. Across Great Britain, the average waiting time for an allotment plot has surged to an alarming 3 years, leaving many enthusiastic residents frustrated and disheartened.

We understand the challenges faced by the Liverpool City Council in managing the increasing demand for allotment spaces, particularly in the context of government cuts to local authorities, and that the government must increase long-term funding, powers and flexibility for councils and metro mayors to deliver and better involve local people in policy design and delivery. However, the situation has reached a critical point where residents are unable to pursue their passion for gardening and sustainable living due to the unavailability of plots. According to the Allotment Act 1908, section 23, it is within the rights of the community to request the establishment of new allotment sites to address this demand.
Considering the urgent need for additional allotment spaces in our area, we, the undersigned representatives of the aforementioned households, kindly request the Liverpool City Council to take immediate action in opening a new allotment site. By doing so, not only will you be fulfilling a legal obligation, but you will also be enhancing the quality of life for the residents in our community.

We firmly believe that providing accessible allotment spaces will not only promote healthier lifestyles but also foster a sense of community and sustainability. It will empower residents to grow their own produce, reduce their carbon footprint, and contribute positively to the environment. Moreover, it aligns with the city’s efforts to promote green spaces and sustainable living.

Your prompt action on this issue will be highly valued by the residents of Liverpool and contribute significantly to our community’s overall well-being.
Please do not hesitate to contact any of the undersigned representatives at your earliest convenience.

Thank you for your time and consideration. We eagerly await your positive response and look forward to working together to create a greener, healthier, and more sustainable Liverpool.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[Your Email Address]
[Your Phone Number]
[Signatures of the Representatives from the Six Households]

  1. [Name of First Representative]
  2. [Name of Second Representative]
  3. [Name of Third Representative]
  4. [Name of Fourth Representative]
  5. [Name of Fifth Representative]
  6. [Name of Sixth Representative]
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