“I am absolutely in awe of the city’s allotments”

The new Bristol Photo Festival (BPF) has commissioned photographer Chris Hoare to document allotments and their communities around the city. Chris is also a food delivery driver, so he was able to access the whole city throughout lockdown and reflect on wider issues of the supply of Bristol’s food.

As part of the BPF which launches in the city next year, I was commissioned to slowly navigate my way around various allotments and growing projects in the city and tell the growers’ stories.

I’m meeting people, making images and then returning weeks later to the growing projects to get updates and often bringing back prints of the images from the first visit. I’m learning an incredible amount in the process and am regularly blown away by the beauty of these spaces and the obvious benefits of growing your own fruit and vegetables. I’m making the work with a medium format film camera, which slows me down and allows me to hone in on particular moments which in some way sum up the essence of the space and how feels to be there.

Most of my practice involves working closely with people, a big part of this is building relationships and trust with the people I photograph. I never like to rush this process. Working slowly for me is important, as it allows me and whoever I’m photographing to get to know one another. The more I think about it, cycling is also an important component in my approach, I’m out on my bike a lot in my other job as Deliveroo driver, and it allows me to explore flexibly and spot things that I later come back to.

Fortunately, because of the nature of the environments that I’m walking into, a lot has been possible to do with social distancing and there has been by all accounts a noticeable increase in people seeking refuge in growing spaces. Most frustratingly though in terms of the project and for those involved, is that almost all community and group projects have been put on hold, affecting many people who would usually benefit from such projects. This makes it difficult for me to shine a light on these organisations.

I have continued to work for Deliveroo throughout the pandemic – this has given me a slightly different view of things to those who have worked at home. It was an interesting time to be out on the bike with a camera, watching it unfold and noticing things I perhaps didn’t before. There was also a change in what I was delivering, such as peoples’ grocery shopping often to people who were isolating.

As someone who never really gave allotments all that much thought and my only growing experience being tomatoes, the commission has opened a whole world of discovery. I am in absolutely in awe of the city’s allotments, which are by no stretch of the imagination akin to small oasis’s. Even though I’m from Bristol I’ve gone into areas of the city I never knew existed – many of the sites are tucked away and easily missed. I’ve learnt a lot since the beginning of the work: mostly realising the clear benefits for growing your own produce – both mentally and physically. For many people who juggle their time with full-time jobs, the allotment or garden can be an escape from the stress that life brings.

I’m still very much on the lookout for more growing stories, in particular stories that highlight the fact that everybody should have access to green spaces. It’s clear that they are in demand, but for some people they seem inaccessible, which shouldn’t be the case. I’m also interested in people who are utilising unloved urban spaces for the benefit of the communities who surround them.

Please get in touch on engagement@bristolphotofestival.org if you have any suggestions about spaces to visit. View the Growing Spaces Map here.

BPF are also inviting allotment holders, photographers and the general public to participate in their digital archive by submitting images via the Instagram hashtag #bpfallotment or by email at engagement@bristolphotofestival.org. Images can be taken by you, but they can also be from your family albums.

Growing your own fruit and veg, no matter the amount, is great for wellbeing, unbeatable for freshness, and puts the food you eat in your own hands. Whatever space you have available, now is a great time to get growing. The #BristolFoodKind campaign encourages growing at home as a way to benefit our own wellbeing and the wider community, and contribute to the city’s food response to COVID-19. Watch back to our #BristolFoodKind webinar featuring Sara Venn of Incredible Edible Bristol looking at practical ways to grow food using the things you have around you at home.

Visit the Bristol Food Network website for more information on where to buy seeds, herbs and veg plants locally, and find more tips and help on growing at home.

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