Teasels in relief against a tangle of green hedgerows, gardening tools and workers clearing scrubland are just some of the photographs on show at the West Herts College/Green Gym Photography Exhibition at the Harlequin Centre.
College tutor Alistair Lamb tells me the images were selected from around 1,500 pictures taken at sites across the Colne River Park.
“The students went along week after week and recorded whatever events and activities were going on,“ says Alistair. “There were some individuals who didn’t want to be photographed at first, so as an exercise it not only tested the students’ practical skills of using the camera and technology, but also the way they relate to others.
“I think it was a learning curve for them all round. A lot of photography students anticipate a glamorous or idealised lifestyle but this was a real world challenge and a genuine learning experience. It’s extraordinary how over a 14-week project they developed their skills and effectiveness of communication.“ The Green Gym project, part funded by The Harlequin in conjunction with Watford Borough Council and BTCV, is a programme of activities that allow people to get fit while helping to improve the environment.
The 38 A2 size photographs include shots taken while the volunteers were clearing scrubland and involved in planting new trees in the Timberlake Reed Bed and meadow, Radlett, Waterfields and Munden meadows, as well as Berryfields Community Garden.
The exhibition hopes to raise awareness of the work carried out by Green Gym volunteers. To accompany the photographs, there are personal statements from participants to say what these activities mean to them.
The work of Green Gym volunteers has contributed noticeably to the transformation of the Colne River Park. Over the past two years, the team has learned how to plant saplings and bulbs, coppice trees, create a deadwood hedge and construct an otter holt. During the summer months they also cleared large areas of invasive plants such as Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed, helping to bring back a greater diversity of vegetation to the area.
Green Gym and community projects officer Alex Sylvester adds: “We selected the images that really captured the volunteers in the landscape. The ones that said the most about the benefits of being outdoors and being in contact with nature. The volunteers talk about how they’ve learned a lot from the sessions and how the Green Gym has improved their self-confidence and helped them gained new skills. It’s not purely about the health benefits but the feeling they can give back to their local community.
"It’s also good for teamwork and for making friends – the social aspect of the tea break should not be under-estimated.“
The West Herts College/Green Gym Photography Exhibition opens today, Friday, in the gallery space at the Harlequin Centre and runs throughout March. Details: 01923 250292, www.theharlequin.uk.com