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Creative project reigniting the lost art of flower pressing at Braunton library chosen for European recognition

Posted on 24 May 2024

Libraries Unlimited partnership with arts charity Honeyscribe encourages connection with nature and mental wellbeing.

A Libraries Unlimited project celebrating the importance of the natural world to people’s mental health and wellbeing has been selected as one of the best in Europe.

‘The Gatherers’ is being staged at Braunton Library and Braunton Countryside Centre throughout spring and summer 2024. The project is a partnership between arts charity Honeyscribe and Libraries Unlimited, the charity that runs libraries in Devon.

‘The Gatherers’ invites people from all parts of the community to collect flowers from their gardens, allotments and hedgerows. The gathered flowers are pressed and preserved using decommissioned library books and are then made into beautiful bookmarks distributed as unexpected gifts tucked into the books that go out on loan. The bookmarks are handmade by Afghan women hosted in Braunton through the Afghan Resettlement Assistance Policy (ARAP). The scheme was launched in April 2021 to facilitate locally employed staff who worked with the British Forces in Afghanistan applying for resettlement in the UK.

The project has been chosen by the European Cultural Foundation as one of 50 from 24 countries as partners for The Europe Challenge 2024. This annual programme brings together teams from libraries and communities to address social isolation, inequality, disinformation, climate crisis, and other local challenges.

Honeyscribe is working with the Pickwell Foundation to reach out to the Afghan families who are living at RAF Chivenor. The Pickwell Foundation provides introductions, interpreters, and transport. Each week, over tea, snacks and chat, hundreds of exquisite bookmarks are created by the Afghan women and volunteers from the community in workshops where stories about how various plants are used in medicine, teas, cooking, as well as their symbolic role in culture, are exchanged.

Artist and founder of Honeyscribe, Amy Shelton is leading ‘The Gatherers’. Amy said: “’The Gatherers’ celebrates the importance of the natural world to mental health and wellbeing and how connections between plants and people are powerful conduits for community cohesion. Working with Libraries Unlimited we piloted the idea of using decommissioned library books as flower presses in Okehampton in 2021 to show the importance of libraries in addressing the isolation and loneliness which were so amplified by the pandemic.

“We are working with The Braunton Countryside Centre and community support agency Live Well Braunton, who run wellbeing walks every other week. Participants collect wildflowers from their gardens, allotments and the hedgerows, which are taken back to the centre to be pressed. Not only will this collection become a floral map of the area, the activity of talking about the plants people like to grow and identifying the wildflowers in bloom has helped people to connect with each other.”

The event is part of a series being rolled out by Libraries Unlimited with the help of money from Arts Council England (ACE). North Devon was identified as one of ACE’s Priority Places to bring more cultural activity and engagement to the area.

Braunton Library supervisor Sarah Bushell said: “‘The Gatherers’ has amplified the role of libraries as crucial public spaces for democratic participation and social and environmental wellbeing. Our staff meet many customers every day who feel isolated and lonely, and projects like these can really have an impact. Libraries are the perfect setting for them, as we’re used to bringing people and connecting communities as places of advice, signposting, and companionship. We’re so pleased all this has been recognised by the European Cultural Foundation.”

Reusing and recycling are also strong parts of ‘The Gatherers’ project, with the repurposing of old library stock by converting out of date heavy reference books into flower presses and turning library index card drawers into filing archives.

Amy Shelton’s botanical artworks have been exhibited at many galleries and venues across the UK including The Royal Academy of Art and the Southbank Centre, public collections including the Wellcome Collection, and public spaces such as hospitals and shopping centres. Devon-based Honeyscribe delivers bespoke art projects focusing on the natural world, human health and environmental wellbeing.

The Europe Challenge is initiated by the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) and are the funders of The Gatherers. The project will run until September 2024.

Libraries Unlimited believes…

…in the unlimited potential of library services to make a positive difference to people’s lives and communities through a shared love of reading and access to high quality information and facilities.