Cambridge City Council
Friends of Mill Road Cemetery
Mill Road Cemetery in Cambridge was closed to burials some years ago and now forms a valued public open space within what is a very urban part of the city. Plan Projects was appointed in 2009 to work with the Council and members of the community on an environmental art project designed to enrich the environmental condition and biodiversity of the Cemetery and improve it as a place for social and community activity.
Given the nature of the site and the passionate concern of local residents, painstaking work was required to agree a commissioning plan and artists’ brief, arrive at a group of candidate artists and work with council officers to navigate a passage through an approvals process that involved not only the local authority, by also the Anglican Church.
Plan sourced the commissioned artist, Gordon Young, who went on to develop a detailed proposal, one inspired by bird song and the rich biodiversity at the site. Over a period of 12 months, Gordon undertook his own research including extensive public engagement to inform the design the final artworks and propose appropriate locations in the Cemetery for their installation. The final work, consisting of six granite sculptures, were installed on site in February 2014.
Each has text, poetry and fonts which are bespoke to stone and location. The text includes a translation of birdsong into phonics of the sound of a specific species of bird, together with an extract from the Kings James bible or a poem relating to birds.
People in the surrounding area feel passionate about the Cemetery. The procurement process for the project has been necessarily lengthy given the acutely sensitive nature of the commission and the need to seek the views and input of the community at each step of the process.
The final strand of community engagement, facilitated by Plan Projects, delivered a rich programme of events over the summer 2012 designed both to generate material that the artist was able to feed into his final proposals and encourage a greater sense of ownership of the project among local people. For example, working with different groups within the community to chart birdsong activity at different times of the day noting in which order the species start to sing and organising events in the cemetery, such as those involving mothers and pre-school children, designed to turn participants’ attention to the natural world of the cemetery. In this way, we were able to gather people’s stories about birds and transcripts of bird sounds that were used in the project.
A set of six sculptural columns were installed in various locations. Each of the columns was sculpted to provide elements including cut niches and lines to attract crevice dwelling invertebrates; these in turn should encourage foraging by insectivorous birds such as wrens and blue tits. Water is a scarce resource on the site and the addition of cupped depressions on some of the pieces has increased the amount of rain water collection in which birds and insects can both drink and bathe. Features such as these that encourage the biodiversity of the site were developed in consultation with the Council’s Nature Conservation Officer.
Every column has been designed to celebrate a particular bird species. For example, a column has been designed to celebrate the Song Thrush and incorporates ‘anvil’ elements at lower points on the column to allow the thrushes to use them for feeding on snails.