Black Nature In Residence

Black Nature In Residence is a project which aims to reconnect communities with nature, help remove some of the barriers which prevent people of colour from visiting the countryside, and encourage more people of colour to get involved in rural projects.

‘identity on tyne’, a programme driven by Dr. Sheree Mack, was developed in 2003 to provide a supportive and encouraging space for writers and artists of colour in the North East of England, thanks to Arts Council England (ACE) funding.

Further funding from ACE in 2019 brought the Black Nature in Residence project to fruition, with Northumberland National Park welcoming Sheree as its writer in residence.

Sheree first made contact with Northumberland National Park in 2018, wondering if there were any opportunities to introduce groups that ‘identity on tyne’ was working with, in North Eastern urban areas, to the natural heritage of their nearest National Park. Through a collaboration and support from the Northumberland National Park’s Historical Environment Officer, Chris Jones, and Engagement Officer, Mandy Roberts, 2019-2020 saw a number of visits and activities throughout the National Park.

Dr. Sheree Mack

“I’m a Creatrix with a practice which manifests through poetry, storytelling, image and the unfolding histories of black people. I engage audiences around black women’s voices and bodies, black feminism, ecology, and memory. I advocate for black women’s voices, facilitating national and international creative workshops and retreats in the landscape, encouraging and supporting women on their journey of remembrance back to their bodies and authentic selves.

I have a PhD in Creative Writing from Newcastle University, focusing on Black British women poets.

Currently, as the Project Coordinator for a National Lottery Heritage Funded project called Wayfinding: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Great Outdoors, I’m working with partners such as Northumberland National Park Authority, Durham Wildlife Trust and the National Trust, to offer opportunities to people of the global majority (PGM) to spend time outdoors to develop and deepen our relationship with nature.”

Wayfinding

As part of the National Lottery Heritage Funded project Wayfinding: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Great Outdoors, ‘identity on tyne’, with Sheree project coordinating, offered a number of groups such as the SHEROES; a group of young Muslim girls and young women from The Angleou Centre in Newcastle, the opportunity to spend time in nature at places such as Walltown Country Park, the Breamish Valley, Steel Rigg and The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre.

A group of young woman stand on a rocky outcrop of Hadrian's Wall

The visits focused on women and girls of colour exploring these places which they may not have found easy to get to independently, and reconnecting with nature and themselves.

International Women’s Day Writing Workshop

Sheree led an International Women’s Day workshop which saw women, from as young as 13 years old, come together for a nature inspired writing workshop. Sheree said: “We started off at The Sill getting to know each other and loosening up the writing muscle with a ‘free write’. We then explored our relationship with nature and the landscape, and it was good to share experiences and memories here as it helped open people up more.

“We then ventured outdoors to the top of the crags where the group wrote down words and thoughts in handmade nature journals which I made myself. The women then shared their experiences of the outdoors; the crags and the Wall, and why they loved being out there. The views got them as well as the history, and who’s footsteps they were walking in.

“We extended our writings into impressions of the walk. We then went into the Lost Words exhibition and talked about the pieces, and went on to create ekphrasis poetry (words created in response to an image). Some beautiful work was created; the women really captured specific details of the landscape and wildlife.

“Throughout the day we shared our writings as well as our thoughts on the process. We listened to each other and connected.”

Feedback following the International Women’s Day Writing Workshop

“I really enjoyed the session. I felt that I really got something worthwhile out of it and that Sheree was very knowledgeable and kind.”

“I really enjoyed today’s session. It was very welcoming. I liked the pace and relaxed atmosphere, and the opportunity to write again.”

“Sheree, I had no idea what to expect and a I’ve absolutely LOVED today. Thanks so much. I’m now starting to write from now.”

“Fantastic and magical time. Reconnecting whilst being creative. Sheree was fantastic.”

A photograph of a woman's hands talking part in a writing exercise.

Online Nature Journaling Workshop

With the impact of COVID-19 came adaptions to the Black Nature in Residence project. Instead of an in-person workshop, Sheree hosted an online nature journaling workshop which took place on International Earth Day, 22 April 2021. The group of five women involved had different experiences of writing, but the enthusiasm among the group was amazing.

Northumberland National Park’s ecologist, Gill Thompson, also attended the online event, sharing her in depth knowledge of the National Park’s flora and fauna, and personal insights into our surrounding landscape.

As the workshop was online, instead of setting the group out into the National Park, they were encouraged to head out into the landscape on each of their doorsteps. The group then came together virtually to discuss what they’d seen, how they felt, and created literature from their exercise. Sheree said: “What I used to structure their musings while in the outdoors was something I picked up a few years ago from the book Writing Wild by Tina Welling. There’s three parts to the exercise; naming, identifying and interacting.”

Dr. Sheree Mack at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre

Alongside Sheree’s work with Northumberland National Park, three other writers of colour will also take up residence in other parts of the North East including Harehope Quarry, Durham Wildlife Trust, and Northumberland Wildlife Trust.