Ethnic communities in cities have a tendency to be inward looking and not to venture out much into surrounding areas. It is human nature to stay within our 'comfort zone', but much can be gained from stepping outside this, travelling to new areas, learning new things and interacting with new people. This project was run to do just this for the Nepalese community in Edinburgh, using nature and plants as a common theme. We did this to promote intercultural and intergenerational knowledge exchange and understanding on the medicinal and cosmetic uses of plants both in the UK and in Nepal, and also to encourage the use of woodlands and green space by the Nepalese community.
Napiers/Monica Wilde's primary motivation for running this project was to help preserve and pass on our indigenous knowledge of British herbal medicine and practical applications of it that are easily accessible to everyone. Many modern drugs are still 'discovered' from plant and fungi sources that have been known in the indigenous rural pharmacopeia for centuries. As E.U. regulation formalises herbal medicine, making access more difficult, it is important to make our collective knowledge widely available. The exchange of knowledge between the cultures of the participants has also helped to broaden our knowledge of the use of some common species. Other motivations also included a genuine pleasure in seeing people discover or rediscover the open spaces and forests around our cities, knowing that they will pass on this pleasure to their families and communities.
Scientific outreach is an important aspect of the work of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and we have an active programme of educational events and exhibitions. We are keen to improve our engagement with local communities, especially groups that are traditionally hard to reach out to, and this project was a wonderful opportunity to do this. Nepal is one of our strategic research areas and RBGE has a long-term commitment to working with Nepalese counterparts to document their plant biodiversity. Engagement with the UK Nepalese community is part of this work and we were very pleased to use our expertise on British and Nepalese plants to help people learn more about the nature around them and make links back to familiar plants in Nepal. Plant biodiversity is a vital resource for our continued existence on Earth and so it is also critical that people understand the importance of sustainable use and conservation in ensuring that this is still available for future generations.
Summary of activity:
Workshops were held in Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn, and focussed on the major medicinal and cosmetic plants used at these times. Each day started with an orientation session followed by a guided walk in nearby woodlands highlighting British native plants of medicinal or other use or importance. Participants also worked in groups collecting material for the practical session. RBGE participants gave information on botanical names and relationships, and provided the Nepalese local names of these plants, or related species. This greatly aided understanding and frequently prompting lively discussions. The practical session was run by Napiers, the Herbalists, and included an introduction with demonstration on the cosmetic, therapeutic and medicinal use of plants of that season. This was followed by participants making their own cosmetic or medicinal products which they could take away with them. The scientific reasons behind the medicinal and other properties were woven into the discussions, as were the classification relationships of plants in Nepal and the UK. Other scientific issues such as biodiversity conservation and sustainable use were also discussed when appropriate.
The workshops were:
Winter: Bark and Sap – making soaps and ointments
Spring: Leaves and Greens -juicing for tonics, making scrubs and oils
Summer: Flowers – making creams and perfumes
Autumn: Roots and Berries -making syrups and tinctures.
Nature-inspired creative art and exploration activities were run for the under 5’s.
A wrap-up discussion and feedback session was held at the end of each day. Participants were also asked to complete written feedback forms. Each workshop comprised of two days of similar format, although on some days other experts were involved bringing in additional activities of storytelling, photography and art.
Seasonal outdoor creative arts activities were delivered to children under 12 yrs. during the indoor workshop activities with the adults and older children.
Information sheets were distributed during the workshops and colour leaflets with further information are being produced covering all four workshops.
Feedback forms were filled in after each workshop day, summarised and discussed by the project organising committee, which met regularly throughout the year. Feedback was almost entirely very positive, with criticisms mostly at logistical arrangements (catering, travel, time keeping, etc.). Suggestions were used to improve organisation in following workshops and by the end participants were very pleased with the events.
What went well:
The format of the day worked well. Firstly the group went for a walk (usually around 2 hours) where we identified, collected and talked about the plants we saw. After a short lunch, we ran a workshop making a simple medicinal or cosmetic item using the material gathered or pre-prepared extracts (where appropriate). This helped the participants to relate the end product, often similar to those they see around them in the shops in the cities, to the living plant. They found this really interesting and we think it helped them to remember the plants better.
Walks and practical sessions - breaking the day into diverse activities added structure and maintained interest
Groups Tasks - gathering plants and creating products promoted interaction and friendships
Personal involvement of experts and relaxed format promoted two-way open interactions.
Including funds to engage professionals skilled in project management and workshop development was critical in delivering the project and was key to the success of the project.
Nepalese local names for plants or related species is a great help, especially when written in Nepalese script
What was learned:
As we had four separate events spaced some months apart there was scope to build lessons learnt into later workshops. The final workshop went very smoothly and we would probably wish to just continue with this format. Particular lessons learned are included in the tips below
Top tips and advice for others
Make use of local environment activity networking groups to source resources and contacts for your project. We are part of the Working With Difference Edinburgh group run by the Forum for Environmental Volunteering Activity (www.feva-scotland.org), who have been very helpful in finding funding sources, training and linking with organisations with facilities that we could use.
It is essential that prior to any sessions taking place it’s important to compile a full risk assessment of the workshop site and activities resources in order to identify hazards and action needed to reduce risk to a safe level . This should be done though site visits and group discussion and completing Health and Safety Form taking into consideration : suitability and accessibility of site choice ; ground rules for the day; safety issues surrounding essential tools, resources and equipment; and delegation of individual and group responsibilities. The risk assessment should include location of the site, grid reference, phone number of the nearest hospital and all group leaders should have access to this information.
Transport. It is really important to work out transport links for the places shown to visit. Special maps with information about buses, trains and other modes of public transport should be included. Transport cards to take away, with multilingual instructions on would greatly help to encourage future visits by the participants to the fields and forests. If a minibus has to be relied upon, it limits future access for the participating community.
Be clear about timings and the importance of timekeeping - a lot of time can be wasted waiting for people to arrive/return, and this also causes frustration of those on time (organisers and attendees!).
Provide clear instructions on what to expect during activities - advise on what to bring and wear e.g. appropriate footwear, path qualities (buggies).
Be adaptable - have alternative plans if weather or otherwise stops a particular activity.
Be aware how many young children (under 5s) might turn up. They might need special activities/supervision. Young children might limit what practical activities can be run (use of hot equipment or liquids, chemicals, etc.), and may be disruptive during talk programmes.
Have a good plant names list with cross references to names in different languages and in local scripts.
Do your homework on the areas that you will be visiting, make sure that any material you wish to use is available and in enough quantity. Make sure necessary access and collection permissions are obtained.
Local Nature Reserve/Parks and community led facilities (e.g. village halls) are good venues for running such events as they often have room facilities at very reasonable rates (sometimes at no charge), and the staff are usually very helpful.
Contact your local Countryside Ranger Service before your trip as they can provide valuable support and guidance – even staff support if contacted in advance (we used firstname.lastname@example.org )
Strong involvement of community leaders is essential for delegation and smooth running of many logistical aspects.