Welcome to the Cathedral

Becky Lyon softly directs us into a circle, 12 strangers gathering in a little nook in Stanmore Country Park, Harrow. The trees on each side of us rise and rise, then their branches reach towards each other to create a canopy of leaves to provide shade and a filter of light. It is indeed like the strong beams of a church, sheltering a public space, the woodland floor a carpet of bluebells past peak bloom.

In this meeting place we begin a physical and cognitive foray into Bodies, Borders and Boundaries. London National Park City Ranger, artist, and creator of Ground Provisions, Becky guides the group on a walk through the park, pausing periodically to pose a few questions to the group for discussion or for the warden to offer tidbits of information about the park – from funding to stewardship, ownership to planning.

We looked underneath leaves and nettles through mirrors, curated a temporary gallery of mobile photos, and created tiny interventions to soften borders. There wasn’t a specific “lesson” for the day; what you took home was up to you.

Becky Lyon Forests at the Edge Existence as Resistance

This was the second of three walks in Becky’s ‘Forests at the Edge’ series, as part of the Urban Tree Festival. They explored “what forest ecologies on the edges of London might have to teach us about sharing space, finding community and co-flourishing alongside each other in the city.” Each took place in a different London park. The first, Existence as Resistance, in Barnwood N2 Edible Forest; the second, Bodies, Borders, Boundaries, in Stanmore Country Park; and the final, (Soft) Edgelands, in Horsenden Hill.

The approach is inspired by the idea of ecology as the teacher, which sits at the core of Becky’s practice.

“Ecology is full of relationships, practices, processes, phenomena that is knowledge. It’s something we’ve become quite detached from. We’re living in times where current systems aren’t serving us very well – and by us I mean the broader co-flourishing of everyone. So where can we look for inspiration? Ecology is an almost infinite source of wisdom, ideas, inspiration and teachings. That’s my motivation and philosophy,” Becky said.

Becky uses ecology rather than nature very deliberately. Ecology is the branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings (Oxford Languages), and you get the sense that this is what Becky’s walks are trying to unpick – how people relate to their surroundings and to each other, and how they fit into the broader environment. A philosophical walkshop.

“I’m particularly interested in what stuff means to individuals. The workshops, gatherings, reading groups, study sessions that sit alongside [my art practice] are almost like sources of research and a way to test out ideas in the company of others. Sometimes people associate workshops with turning up to something and learning a skill, and I’m the teacher. I don’t see myself as a teacher, I see myself as a ‘phil’cilitator/facilitator of discussions and opening up. I set the plan, but people kind of tell me what it means. I’m inviting people to input, share. Let’s work things out together, let’s ask more questions, let’s complicate things together. We complete the workshop together.”

The workshops took off after a few experimental walks kept drawing positive responses and returning walkers. It’s now grown into Ground Provisions, a concept centred around being “schooled by the forest” and will form a curriculum that follows the offerings of the forest, though not necessarily bound by seasons. For example, the walk I went on wasn’t about spring or pollinators; rather, it was about the spaces at edges and how they influence our ideas of access and borders.

“My offering is that every time we do a session, let’s dive into what’s happening. The material sits in the forest, and how can we expand on that?”

Becky Lyon 2 Forests at the Edge Borders Boundaries

Despite the popularity of her walks, art and research are still the core of Becky’s practice; the workshops and walks are the manifestation of her work. She sees this as part of a wider movement to engage people in climate and social justice.

“What is wonderful about the Ranger programme is that it illuminates to the wider public the many different ways that you can join the movement. For me, it’s bringing reenchantment back to nature, joy, playfulness, community, wonder. If you’re taking joy and pleasure and companionship with others that lifts the heart and inspires you to care for it, do more, and get involved. That’s my contribution.”

Being a Ranger has also helped provide a network of support for Becky. She talked about the amount of labour and resources that go into the preparation and delivery of events, on top of having to grapple with heavy subject matters.

“Movements like this are incredible, but there is so much work that goes behind it. I think people have no idea the labour that goes into it. A lot of it is invisible. We’re not here for glory or for payment, but we do need to have conversations around how movements like this can be sustained. I think there is a whole piece around who takes care of the caretakers?”

She remains optimistic, though, that being part of the London National Park City Ranger network can galvanise people into doing what they can in their areas of life or work. Prior to becoming a Ranger, Becky said she sometimes felt like “a small droplet in a very big sea”.

“In joining the LNPC movement all of a sudden I felt that I had family, I had companions. I’m here in Barnet and there are other rangers in other spaces, so I think we’re cool, we’re covered. It’s really inspiring to see the range of activities that are happening and that influences my practice, whether it’s a campaign around keeping your front lawns or making banners for your local high street or measuring sound pollution. It’s problem solving, problem finding. This whole ecosystem of ways is what makes the National Park City really magical. No matter who you are, no matter what your practice is, your skills, there is something for you.”

Want to learn more about Becky’s work, current projects or join an upcoming event? Visit the Ground Provisions website to get all the information and follow on instagram and Twitter.

Becky was interviewed by Ingrina Shieh, a London National Park City Ranger based in Southwark/Lambeth. Ingrina organises monthly walks in and around Greater London and loves talking to people about walking, trekking, and boosting wellbeing by doing stuff outdoors.

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