Reclaiming the Coventry Canal
Both the canal and the urban environment in Foleshill were designed for economic purposes, prioritising industrial activities and infrastructures over liveable spaces. Moreover, the neighbourhood has been neglected in the recent decades, and the few public spaces that remain are in a very poor condition.
We want to challenge this situation and mobilise the local communities to transform and take ownership of the canal and its surroundings, and make the most out of them. It is not coincidental that Foleshill, being a poor neighbourhood with a strong presence of migrant communities, have long suffered a lack of investment in its public space, including the canal.
by Sergio (ReCC Coordinator)
From ReCC, we want to contribute to challenge the structural discrimination of BAME people, migrants and the working class. We aim enact diversity and multiculturality in all our activities, and to uncover the stories of minorities that have been covered for too long. But not only local people are being affected by the neglect, the environment is also being affected. The water of the canal is polluted, the soil is loaded with heavy metals, noise pollution is a constant around most of the area, and so on. Taking care of the environment is closely connected with the health and well being of the community. We need to take care of the environment, starting at our immediate surroundings and contributing to the global fight against climate change.
However ambitious our goals might be, at ReCC we take the process very seriously. The means, we believe, are as important as the end. Therefore, there are values that permeate all our activities: autonomy and horizontality. ReCC is an autonomous groups. That means that we are a community group working in our own interest and with our own agenda. From the people and to the people. We welcome external funding and donations as long as it does not conflict with our goals and values. And we collaborate with other organisations as long as our goals are aligned and we are able to keep our autonomy. Horizontality refers to rejecting hierarchies and the accumulation of power. In ReCC, we try our best to make participation and decision-making accessible to everyone. This includes offering food, holding children-friendly meetings, and refunding transport costs for those who need it. We reject discriminatory and exclusionary behaviours, and acknowledge internal power differentials. We want ReCC to be a safe space where everyone feels welcome and important.
Connection with CARAG
From ReCC, we have a profound admiration and respect for the work that CARAG has been doing and we are proud to say that we are closely connected. CARAG was one of the first organisations that publically supported ReCC and their experience was really valuable in setting up our group. The most obvious link is The Coventry Peace House, which is the physical space where both groups usually conduct our meetings. In fact, it is a common practice to hold CARAG and ReCC meetings one after another, and to share a common meal in between. The Peace House is more than a community space though, they also run a night shelter for asylum seekers of their own. There is a constant cross pollination of members, ideas and support among CARAG, ReCC and the Peace House. Close contact with CARAG and the Peace House has affected the membership of ReCC (which is composed mostly by BAME people) and our strong focus on diversity and racial justice.
What we have done
We are still a recently formed group, but in our first year and a half of existence we have been really active. The public presentation and kick-starting of our project was the organisation of the Reclaiming the Coventry Canal festival in June 2019. The festival was co-organised by members of several local community groups (including CARAG) and included performances by local artists, food, craft workshops, boat rides and an exhibition. It allowed us to celebrate our values and spread our goals with the more than 250 attendees.
Since then, we have been part of public presentations in the frame of the upcoming City of Culture and we have organised arts workshops. We have also created a small guerrilla gardening project by the canal in Leicester Causeway, which has had a very positive effect on the area. Members of our group and neighbours are benefiting from fresh vegetables, and the condition of the area has improved, since users of the canal are generally keeping a civic attitude towards the garden.
Recently we have been involved in the creation of a community garden at the Foleshill Community Centre. We want it to be an open and welcoming space that fosters the integration of the different communities in Foleshill. With the help of Team Springboard, we have built several raise beds and vegetables are already growing in them. At the moment we are working in setting up a sitting area, a children area, a medicinal garden and a stage among other ideas. We meet twice per week to share a meal, do some work, and plan together the development of the garden.
In July 2020 we will also start a storytelling project with the aim of collecting personal stories of community members in Foleshill and its surroundings that have been organising for the common good. We want to create an online archive where we celebrate the history of the neighbourhood from our view, which is the story of groups like CARAG, ReCC, and others. With the support of Maokwo, we wish to decolonise the narratives of migration, diversity and integration; and to encourage more people to self-organise and participate in their communities.
If you would like to get involved or know more about our group, you can follow our facebook page at: facebook.com/reclaimingcoventrycanal