Sprout! Community Projects Bring Nature to City-Dwellers

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

How might we...?

Practicing the Japanese art of shinrin-yoku - ‘forest bathing’ - with stressed-out urbanites. Creating inspiring home gardens and play areas with salvaged materials. And creating events to counter commodification of the environment. These were three projects that emerged from the six-month process known as Sprout! Community at IofC Australia. The program, now in its third cycle, works with participants who want to create a better world in their local communities.

“Everyone has the resources to make change, but not everyone is clear about how to take the first step,” said program coordinator Kirsty Argento, introducing the project showcase on 21 September. “The program catapults them into taking that first step.”

Through monthly workshops, participants learn the principles of Human-Centre Design (HCD), a framework for progressively refining project design through research and immersion in the needs of their intended beneficiaries. A key question is ‘How might we…?

Participants’ projects

    Dugald was seeking a career change when he joined the Sprout! Community program. “Working with a group gave me great encouragement,” he said. As his ideas took shape, he began approaching local councils and community groups to find out who could benefit from the wicking beds that he makes with recycled materials, including discarded building debris and even old nails. The results were so encouraging that he is launching his own company, Bowerbird Gardens, working out of his garage in the Melbourne suburb of Armadale.

    Shannon (left) and Anvita  conduct a word association exercise to reveal and share participants' views of nature.Photograph by Sudarshan Suresh

    Shannon and Anvita wanted to revive  traditional wisdom around protecting nature. Each tapped into their own roots - Shannon into her mother’s Quaker practices, and Anvita into Indian traditions that view nature as sacred. Their prototype project was a potluck dinner that posed questions to diners about their own connections with nature. The duo will follow up with a participatory event on the theme of “decolonizing nature.”

    L to R: Felicity, Ariane and Albert Ariane, Felicity and Albert wanted to address city people’s lack of connection with nature. They came up with several project ideas before settling on shinrin-yoku - the healing practice of taking in the forest atmosphere through one’s senses.

    For their pilot, the team offered a forest bathing experience at Royal Park in Melbourne. Three people came. “We were initially a bit worried - what if they thought it was silly?” said Ariane. “But we found that the first group bonded strongly even though we weren’t talking to each other…The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.”

    The team plan to run other forest bathing experiences, and discovered that ‘nature is much more accessible than we thought.’


      Being with a group of like-minded people who were also trying to figure it out, but had a strong sense of trusting in the uncertainly and complexity of the process, was really affirming. It’s something I’ll take with me whatever I do.’ - Felicity

      Navigating on a golden surfboard

      Mentors with experience in community development and sustainability support participants as they experience the inevitable tensions of working together.

      Bronywn, a mentor, recalled a participant speaking about ‘navigating the ocean of uncertainty.’ Extending the metaphor, Bronwyn identified ‘the golden surfboard of inner direction.’

      ‘Each student had already arrived with their own golden surfboard. but this course taught them how to best deploy their golden surfboard - where to put their feet, how to get their balance, and what to do when they ended up inevitably flailing in the water,’ she said. ‘At a certain point I could see each student pulling it all together. They suddenly know which ways to lean and which waves to pick. They were getting back on their boards in record time, into the increasing swell.

      ‘The highlight for me was seeing each student arrive in their own time and in their own way.’

      • IofC Australia is offering Sprout! Community workshops around Melbourne. To discuss partnering with us, contact us via email.

      ‘You’ll never get to the top of the mountain if you don’t take small steps. You want this big shiny thing? What’s a step you can take towards it?’ - Ariane