Image: Nadeem Perera and Ollie Olanipekun
Credit: Dharmirah Coombes
Throughout our City of Culture year, our Green Futures programme will be working to reconnect people in the city with the natural world around them, developing awareness of environmental issues and empowering communities to build a more sustainable future.
The site has been recently restored by Historic Coventry Trust, which also looks after the Charterhouse Heritage Park, situated just across the road, which will be hosting a range of supporting events across the summer.
Among these are two birdwatching walks, guided by Flock Together, a collective supporting people of colour to engage with and feel welcome in green spaces. It was co-founded by Nadeem Perera, a Youth Sports Coach from North East London, and Ollie Olanipekun, who grew up in Coventry before spreading his wings and settling down to roost in London.
But in true avian style, the summer season has called Ollie back home, prompting some reflections on his childhood in the city. As an alumnus of the nearby Blue Coat School, he was once a regular visitor to the Charterhouse Park, where he and Nadeem led the first of two guided walks on Saturday 3 July.
Two men watching birds in the Charterhouse Heritage Park
Image credit: Kevin Vagabond
“Growing up in Coventry, I remember being aware that the city had this incredible cultural history with 2-tone and The Specials, and then later a massive club scene with the first 24-hour rave, but there wasn’t really anything like that during my time living here,” he says.
“When I was 19, I started my own clothing shop, and over the next couple of years, it became a real epicentre for youth culture in the city. I was also doing club nights which were really popular, and it was amazing to have all that support from young people and to see how at home they felt in the space.
“Although I don’t think the opportunities were really there for me to build a career here at the time, looking back I think one thing that has always been true about Coventry is the fact that people here seem to have a strange confidence when it comes to creativity. All of the people I’ve met from this city seem to have this real hunger to create, and a real get-up-and-go attitude to making things happen.”
Ollie’s own successes are testament to this. Aged 36, he’s now the founder and Creative Director of an award-winning London agency called Superimpose / Futurimpose, which has social responsibility at its core. On top of this, he’s also a mentor and associate lecturer at UAL, supporting the next generation of “non-traditional creatives” to achieve their goals.
While leading a birdwatching group might seem like a slightly incongruous addition to his CV, it’s all driven by the same desire to bring about change and open doors for those who have traditionally been excluded from certain activities or interests.
“For the last 15 years, I’ve been helping brands to connect with audiences that they don’t really know how to connect with,” he explains. “I do a lot of challenging assumptions around the idea that certain groups of people aren’t interested in certain things.
“While we didn’t really set up Flock Together to talk about racism, the activity of bird-watching has traditionally been presented as an all-white affair, and the brands that operate in that market pretty much exclusively communicate to white people, because they think that’s the only audience which is interested. So it becomes a vicious cycle, and my role with Flock Together is to come in and demonstrate that actually, people of colour are interested in the outdoors, and there is a market for this.”
Nadeem, meanwhile, brings years of birdwatching expertise to the partnership. Described as “a walking Collins Bird Guide”, the 27-year-old has been an avid birdwatcher for over a decade, and has found in nature a much-needed refuge during difficult periods in his life.
“I’ve always loved nature as far back as I can remember, but I guess I really started birdwatching seriously when I was about 15,” he says. “During my teenage years I went through a really turbulent time when I was out of school a lot.