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Common Field

Common Field is set in the centre of Birmingham’s post-industrial landscape, alongside the Digbeth Branch canal.

A landscape image of a large group of people standing in a circle on the banking of the canal side. Several people wear high-vis jackets and everyone is dressed warmly, in coats and hats. The warm light of the setting sun shines through the branches of the trees, covered in ivy but without leaves of their own. The urban skyline of Birmingham is visible behind the canal.

Field Commission talk by Asad Raza, 2022. Image by Tom Harris.

It exists in a place and time of rapid regeneration and the site gives an opportunity to reflect upon our industrial heritage, whilst improving health and well being of both current and new communities in Digbeth. The site, along with other similar stretches of canalside land, are becoming increasingly important for achieving long term, sustainable, targets for tackling green deprivation, developing green corridors and increasing biodiversity in the city.

Since November 2021 we have been working on the adopted land to remediate the soil that contains toxic heavy metals at quantities above ‘normal background concentrations’ for urban soils (British Geological Survey, 2012). Improving soil health is paramount to increasing biodiversity and so we plan to continue the work started with Cooking Sections and artist Asad Raza. This project is unique in its early adoption of emerging remediation technology on public land.  We’ve been carrying out regular testing with soil scientists from the University of Birmingham to measure the impact of our work and now this site has a funded PHD studentship with UOB.

The team of paid workers on the site (who Raza introduced as the ‘cultivators’) have brought a breadth of knowledge with them. Some are mycologists, others are community campaigners, compost enthusiasts, soil health advocates, artists, sociologists or horticulturalists who have all contributed to the diverse planting plan and remediation work over the last two years.

Practically, this work centres on the production of high quality compost from local waste materials; the remediation of the current, degraded soil and the introduction of new plants and habitats that increase biodiversity at multiple trophic levels.

The varied group of contributors form an open learning environment, allowing organic conversations and knowledge exchange whilst working on site. The project will bridge gaps between communities and nature by re-imagining public space in Digbeth, rich in biodiversity and full of learning and engagement opportunities for visitors and those engaging in a more hands-on way.

Through our composting we’ve diverted some of the city’s waste away from long, carbon-intensive processes toward shorter, carbon-sequestering processes instead. The new substrates we make are used across spaces in the community as a high quality growing resource. The work increases biodiversity above and below ground by diluting the soil with this new material and by planting in support of solitary bees, invertebrates, fungi and bacteria. The cultivators also produce habitat for animal species through structural elements on the site such as dead hedges and bird and bat boxes.

Common Field allows participants of The Growing Project to contribute to community-led approaches to land care. We’ve built a strong and proven reputation for bringing together different sections of society to work collaboratively toward environmental and social aims and using visual arts as a communication tool we can demonstrate the soil/person web and its relevance to our daily lives.

Common Field site, 2022.