Library of Creative Sustainability

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VeloCommunities Embedded Artist Project

Bike For Good’s VeloCommunities project aimed to engage people on the benefits of cycling for tackling climate change as well as for the wellbeing of individuals and communities. As part of the project, embedded artists Lewis Hetherington and Geraldine Heaney worked closely with the Bike for Good community to produce a film creatively documenting work at their hub in south Glasgow and its broader significance. The film was screened at a wide variety of events and made available online.

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Project Description

The initial aim was to creatively document and celebrate the VeloCommunities project run by Glasgow cycling charity Bike for Good, the 1000th project to receive funding from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund. VeloCommunities aims were twofold and interconnected: to get people out of cars and onto bikes and to raise awareness of climate change.   

Prior to the artists’ recruitment, Creative Carbon Scotland (CCS) worked with the Scottish Government, Keep Scotland Beautiful and Bike for Good to develop the artist brief from a role focused purely on documentation to a wider exploration of Glasgow’s transition to a more environmentally sustainable city, through the eyes of the artists and communities engaged in the VeloCommunities project. At the time, reporting on Scotland’s carbon emissions showed that transport accounted for 27% of the country’s total CO2 emissions with road transport accounting for 73% of the total transport emissions – a 4% increase since 1990. This highlighted the need for bold re-imagining of how cities function and support individuals and communities to get around in more environmentally sustainable ways.  

Following these early stage discussions CCS met with a number of artists and, after further consultation with Scottish Government officers, recruited theatre-maker Lewis Hetherington as the project artist, based on his relevant skills and experience including script writing and story development. He then brought in filmmaker Geraldine Heaney, with her technical skills in filming and editing, and their joint experience of working collaboratively with communities and groups to co-produce creative works.  

It was agreed that two films would be produced, the first to be released and showcased at COP24, taking place in Katowice, Poland, and the second longer version to be launched at a community gathering in the Southside Hub during Climate Week 2019. A series of shorter film ‘portraits’ of community members would also be produced alongside a series of blogs written by Lewis which would document his journey and insights over the course of the project, to be published on the CCS website. 

The project team felt there was a particularly important story to tell about the evolution of the Hub in Govanhill as one of the most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods in Scotland (2011 census data), an area with a rich history of migration and with high levels of deprivation (as measured by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation). At the time the area was also undergoing significant infrastructure changes with the development of new segregated cycle lanes connecting the Southside of Glasgow to the City Centre. The project provided an opportunity to amplify the voices of those who are typically less represented in media coverage concerning climate change and to celebrate actions taking place at a local level to reduce carbon emissions and build a more sustainable community.  

Velocommunities Embedded Artist Project 7

Between June and September 2018 Lewis and Geraldine embedded themselves within the Southside Hub and became regular attendees of the Afterschool Bike Club, while taking part in cycling lessons for adults and children, bike maintenance classes, climate change engagement events and film nights. During this time, they worked closely with the young people participating in the Afterschool Club, documenting their activities and introducing them to camera equipment such as GoPros to attach to cycling helmets whilst cycling and filming techniques such as interviewing one another for the first short film.  

A highlight of this time was a day trip to the Isle of Bute, which involved taking the ferry from Wemyss Bay and cycling across the island for an afternoon of beach activities and swimming. For many of the group this was their first time exploring the Scottish coast and islands and for some, their first trip out of the city and into the rural environment surrounding Glasgow. The positive energy and feeling that was captured on the day was a key theme that Lewis and Geraldine picked up and developed over the course of the project: taking action on climate change does not equate to a more restricted or diminished life, it can contribute to enhanced physical and mental wellbeing, increased social connection and connection to the natural environment, and more sustainable, resilient communities.  

The first short film was launched at the annual Climate Challenge Fund Gathering at Perth Concert Hall in December 2018, as the original plan to show at COP24 was unfortunately no longer possible. The narrative of the film revolved around an interview with Bike for Good Development Officer, Shgufta Anwar who introduced the aims of VeloCommunities, and a conversation between Marek and Ianco, two of the young people from the Afterschool Bike Club, who shared their enthusiasm for the beach, Bike for Good and why it is better to go by bike, shot from the comforts of a favourite local ice cream shop. 

Between March and August 2019, Lewis and Geraldine developed film material working with a wider range of groups involved in VeloCommunities such as the ‘Spokes not Blokes’ group and women only rides. They also decided to more actively bring their own voices into the film narrative. Alongside this, Bike for Good identified five adults to be interviewed and tell their personal stories relating to cycling. The themes that emerged from these conversations included tackling social isolation, building confidence, and overcoming cultural barriers to cycling. The interweaving of these stories across generations and tracing Lewis and Geraldine’s journeys over the twelve months created a powerful, observational narrative constituted of multiple voices, encapsulating the ethos of celebrating diversity and inclusion in Bike for Good’s work.  

The final project film – Let’s Go! A film about cycling and climate change – was launched at a celebratory community event at the Southside Hub in October 2019. Its sustainable ethos was reflected in all of the materials being borrowed, repurposed, or upcycled including a red carpet leased from the National Theatre of Scotland’s storeroom and a giant golden throne hired from Re-Set Scenery. Bombay mix popcorn and vegetarian catering was provided by local caterer Kale Yard and at the centre was the film itself, presented using a pedal-powered projector.

As well as showing to an audience of 120 people on the day, the film was also screened at the International Healthy Streets Summit, Creative Carbon Scotland’s Green Arts Conference, and the Climate Challenge Fund Annual Gathering – meaning it reached a wide audience including community organisers, cultural organisations and policy-makers, estimated at 200 people. 

Partners & Stakeholders

  • Bike For Good, a Glasgow-based cycling charity, the key project partner.
  • Theatre-maker Lewis Hetherington was recruited as the project artist. He brought in film-maker Geraldine Heaney to co-produce creative works.
  • Creative Carbon Scotland, a charity focused on connecting culture and climate change, supported the project artists and had a mediating role between different parties.
  • The project was commissioned by the Scottish Government.
  • Keep Scotland Beautiful, an environmental charity working across Scotland, are managers of the Scottish Government grant programme The Climate Challenge Fund and were a partner on the project.

Sustainability Issues

  • The film supported Bike For Good’s goal of getting people out of cars and onto bikes by increasing the visibility of their work and the positive community they had created in an engaging and creative way that could reach members of the public, as well as policy makers. 
  • The project sought to develop understanding of climate change in ways that connected it more strongly with local issues and everyday life for people in Scotland. This accords with research from Climate Outreach that foregrounds the importance of sharing stories of ‘real people’ and ‘telling new stories’ as effective means of engaging people on climate change issues.
  • The project provided an opportunity to amplify the voices of those who are typically less represented in media coverage concerning climate change and to celebrate actions taking place at a local level.
  • The project was run in an environmentally conscious manner, with attention paid to minimising any negative environmental impact of events such as film screening.

Lessons, Tips & Advice

  • The opportunity to reflect upon the less tangible but equally valuable aspects of the work of organisations like Bike for Good is one clear benefit of working with artists or creative processes, as a means of understanding their contribution to wider society.
  •  The exploration of the ‘co-benefits’ of action on climate change is one area where artists can bring a different perspective and explore social-cultural aspects including emotions, feelings and imaginations as well as wider structural or systemic issues through the use of metaphor or storytelling.
  • The skills of co-production which Lewis and Geraldine brought to the project were key to its success, both in terms of the process of engagement but also in creating an end product which reflected a multiplicity of voices and perspectives relating to community-led action on climate change.
  • The development of authentic stories fostered by Lewis and Geraldine helped to create an open, creative space in which Bike for Good participants and staff could share their personal perspectives on cycling and climate change to a wider audience.
  • The project had to respond to changes beyond the organisers’ control, such as reorienting the first film for a new audience when the context for the screening was changed.

‘It was important to us not to create a film that people watched and felt “it’s good that THEY are doing that” but something that reminded them how taking action on climate change is everyone’s responsibility.'

Geraldine Heaney, Project Artist

Funding

The project was funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Division and the funds were administered by Keep Scotland Beautiful as managers of the Climate Challenge Fund. Creative Carbon Scotland was responsible for budget management and payment of artist fees and expenses. 

The total project budget was £25,000. The artists were contracted for 50 days at the rate of £300/day in accordance with the Scottish Artist Union rates for artists with five or more years’ experience. CCS was contracted for 18 days at the rate of £250/day. Budget was provided for the closing community event and travel and subsistence coming to £1500. Both the artists and CCS spent additional time on the project which was remunerated with the remaining budget. The artists provided their own filming equipment and insurance. 

Quotations

‘The services that Bike for Good offers are wide-ranging and often nuanced, they're really embedded in our local community - these things often make it difficult for us to summarise our work succinctly to people we look to engage with, and our funders too… The creators did a fantastic job of capturing the atmosphere of our hub, something which is often near impossible to do with data reporting tools alone.’  Lorna Stubbs, Bike for Good, Events and Communications Coordinator
'We wanted to explore the tension between the very real threat of climate chaos, and the joy of the activities at Bike for Good - and how ultimately the latter is the route out of the former. We wanted to try and explore the idea that whilst we must face with honesty the reality and scale of the climate crisis, we must also think about what we want instead, to imagine a world which is better. Of course that is a massive topic and I think something which you could make a hundred films about and still have more to say - so this whole project was an urgent light shined on the fact we need lots more conversations about the climate chaos - through film, events, workshops, creative play. It's the defining issue of our time so should inform how we manage and reflect on every part of society. So we were trying to hold all of that, whilst also just capture the immediacy and fun of spending time with the young people at Bike for Good whose future is in all of our hands.' Lewis Hetherington, Project Artist
'It was interesting to reflect on the reactions of attendees at the International Healthy Streets Summit to the film. These were people who might be seen to be in the positions of power when it comes to decisions concerning active travel in our cities (policy-makers, city planners etc). Although they may be used to reading the figures or facts about the success of projects such as Bike for Good, the film seemed to operate on a different level and provoked a wide range of personal and emotional reactions, stimulating discussion around what more could be done to support such initiatives.' Geraldine Heaney, Project Artist

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