by members of L'Arche Manchester

In 2022 L’Arche Manchester was approached by Dr Emma Bush, a scientist and researcher with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Jarek Maciejowski who wanted to co-create an audio visual experience for people with learning disabilities.

Over 30 years of research based on the Lope National Park in Gabon highlighted the impact of climate change on the rainforest and the plants, animals and people who live there. People with disabilities are disproportionately affected by climate change but are also often left out of the conversations around it. The hope therefore for our Climate Sense project was to create an experience that would be designed with people with learning disabilities for people with learning disabilities.

Four assistants from the L’Arche Manchester Community, Calum, Csenge, Maddy, and Maria, undertook specialised training about sensory experiences which would underpin the installation. Jarek used the data on the flowering and fruiting of the plants in the rainforest to create different sounds and images which charted the change over the last 30 years. We then held a day in which people with learning disabilities came and experienced different suggested elements of the experience to see what worked, what didn’t and what improvements could be made. The feedback we got was invaluable in designing what would be the final installation.

At the beginning of February, a group of assistants and core members from Manchester ventured up to Scotland. Once in Edinburgh, we were welcomed by the L’Arche community there, who invited us for a typical Scottish Burns Night Supper and taught us the joys of ceilidh. The next day, at the Cottage in the Botanic Gardens we hosted our event. We had two sessions attended by members of the L’Arche Manchester and Edinburgh Communities, people from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh team and other researchers. We started off with an introduction given by Nem, our community leader, using Singalong and gave an overview of the space and the proect. There were two separate rooms. One where you could experience the audio visual installation, and another where you could taste exotic fruit, dig for seeds, play with elephant dung (don’t worry, it was just play-dough) and interact with sensory toys. Emma was present to answer any questions about the research and the Lope National Park. Everyone joined in and engaged with whatever appealed to them the most. At the end everyone could make their own clay medallion to take home and remember the Climate Sense experience.

It was a brilliant experience and we came away very proud of what we’d achieved. We’re considering ways we can share the project with other groups and how we can make it more accessible. We also learnt a lot about co-production, how it can work best and how we can do more of it. Climate Change is something that will affect each one of us and it’s vital that people with learning disabilities are included in the conversation.

Watch the visual story of the event below.