A tree planting ceremony in Coventry has marked the next chapter of a movement that Walking Forest artists Ruth Ben-Tovim, Shelley Castle, Anne-Marie Culhane and Lucy Neal hope will inspire for generations.
Two saplings, both Black Pines, were grown from seeds of the last surviving ‘Suffragette Tree’ from an arboretum planted by Suffragettes in the early 20th century.
They were rehomed in Floyds Fields near Tile Hill on Sunday, December 12 in an act to honour women activists from the past and present and to inspire future actions that address social and ecological justice.
The tree planting ceremony was attended by Walking Forest artists and Coventry women who had engaged with the project since May, as well as members of the public.
Floyds Field was gifted to the people of Coventry by Lettice Floyd, a campaigner for women's suffrage, who was born in Berkswell in 1865. Floyd was a full-time worker for the WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) and a notable Suffragette. She was also known for her relationship with fellow Suffragette, Annie Williams.
The artists hope that planting the two pines close to one another will metaphorically reunite the two Suffragettes as well as honour both their work and Lettice’s gift to Coventry of the field itself.
Walking Forest supported by the Coventry City of Culture Trust, provided a platform for Coventry women to find their own voice and plant seeds of courage by looking back to the collective actions of campaigners for women’s suffrage who stood for radical democratic change, and looks forward to the next 100 years when articulating and standing up together for the well-being of Earth will be key to planetary survival.
Walking Forest artist Shelley Castle said: ‘The Walking Forest artists had the privilege of working with over 20 Coventry women to co-design a performative action as part of the Green Futures programme.
“Over two days in October 2021, the women carried a tree felled by HS2 through the streets of Coventry in an act of courage, stamina and love for the planet and future generations.
“We were moved and inspired by the work created and it will remain a hugely significant element in the life of this ten-year project.”
Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director of Coventry City of Culture Trust said: “The interest in this project shown by people in Coventry and beyond has been inspiring.
“The passion of this group of artists towards campaigning for our planet has been incredible, and has in turn created a lasting message for people in the local area to consider their roles in society and in nature, and how they can use stories from the past to inform a better future for themselves and generations to come.”
Anne Jenkins, Director, England, Midlands & East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:
“We are delighted to support Coventry UK City of Culture’s Green Futures programme. It’s thanks to National Lottery players that we can support Coventry in becoming the greenest and most environmentally conscious UK City of Culture to date, whilst also reconnecting local communities to the natural heritage around them.”
Cllr Patricia Hetherton, Cabinet Member for City Services, said: “This has been an inspiring project that has managed to combine both the past and future.
“The gift to the city of the land by Lettice Floyd was a generous gift for future generations to enjoy and this planting of these historic saplings and the highlighting of her story will inspire future generations to fight for better futures for all.
“Not only that but as part of the Walking Forest and the commitment we have made to plant a tree for every citizen in the city it will also be a long lasting legacy improving the environment for the people of Coventry.”
The project is part of Coventry UK City of Culture’s Green Futures programme, which explores Coventry and Warwickshire wildlife, natural heritage, and landscape, uncovering the story of its ‘hidden nature’ and increasing local stewardship, and has been funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, with support from Garfield Weston Foundation and Severn Trent Community Fund.
Photos by Maria Raluca