Ellie Shipman is speaking at our Catalyst Bootcamp about her Green Education & Career Path
Job title: Fun Palaces Ambassador at University of Bristol, and freelance artist and Director / Founder of something good, something useful.
Qualifications: MSc Sustainable Development in Practice at UWE, BA Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, UAL
Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?
I have always had a deep concern for the environment. I remember as a child being shocked when I first saw someone openly drop litter, or when I found out that beer can plastic strangles animals and people still throw it away knowing that. As a teenager I would read climate change supplements in the papers, and I remember being deeply concerned when I heard on the news that the hole in the ozone layer was bigger than Australia. It felt, as it does now, that I was in on some sort of horrendously open secret, which I knew was true and huge, but those few talking about it weren’t being heard.
I felt overwhelmed by this growing awareness. Whilst at university I tried to channel this through donating monthly to Campaign Against Climate Change, but stopped when I never heard anything back from them about where my money went (or even a thank you!). I was suspicious that it was all being spent on flyers and publicity, which in my view was not the right approach to instigating a massive culture shift. I continued to practice relatively superficial environmental behaviours in my early twenties – I recycled, took public transport and cycled and had a veg box – but I pushed my environmental concern deeper down whilst I finished my BA Fine Art and lived my arty, student life in London.
After graduation, I spent a few years working as a freelance artist and in roles for various charities and arts organisations before founding my creative consultancy ‘something good, something useful’ or SGSU. SGSU is a collective of 6 associates in sustainability, architecture, anthropology and urban realm practitioners who collaborate on public art and participatory consultation projects. The idea for it came as I took a step down into part time work, which gave me the headspace to develop my own practice more. I was still struggling to live in London though, so in 2014 I suddenly decided I had had enough and moved to Bristol on a whim! My quality of life increased drastically. I was healthier, happier and my city was finally liveable. My personal awareness of climate change and sustainability started to increase again: Bristol appealed to me because of it’s well known reputation as a ‘green city’, and I moved just before Bristol became the European Green Capital 2015.
I commuted part time between Bristol and London for eight months while I looked for a job. I wanted something to bed me into the city, so I signed up for a short course at UWE in ‘Creating Sustainable Behaviour Change’, which I thought would be useful as a professional development course for SGSU. The people I met during those four weeks were what inspired me to pursue a career in sustainability. I thought, these people are the ones who are going to change the world, and I want to be part of that. I signed up for the full year long Masters. I took the leap into the world of sustainability, staring climate change in the face again for the first time in many years.
During the Masters I started my first role in the city at Bristol City Council, working in the Community Development Team to help residents connect with each other and do things in their local areas. This community wellbeing and cohesion is still a key element of all I do, and I believe it to be integral to sustainability and climate change issues: if we don’t know our neighbours, it will make it that bit harder to come together in times of need. It will keep communities and cultures divided, and strengthen the fear and lack of understanding that pervades even the most subtle street-level interaction between strangers.
The Masters enabled me to combine my participatory art practice, community development experience and concern for public awareness of climate change as I wrote my thesis: ‘How can participatory art use Asset-Based Community Development methodologies to catalyse more climate-resilient communities?’ Through first hand interviews with artists, sustainability leaders and researchers as well as reflecting on my own art practice, I developed a toolkit of recommendations for artists and community workers looking to engage people around climate change. These included: collaborate more, exchange knowledge between ‘expert’ and resident and, most importantly, have hope.
This led me to where I am now. I am developing this toolkit further through embedding it into my own practice through SGSU, running creative workshops and projects using recycled materials, exploring place, change and sustainability and inspiring people to get to know each other and share their cultures. Alongside this I work part time at the University of Bristol as Fun Palaces Ambassador for a global campaign which aims at bringing arts and science together through Fun Palace events led by and for local people. My role is to connect health and sustainability researchers to community Fun Palaces taking place across Bristol. This puts my own research into practice as well, and gives me the ability to connect an amazing range of researchers with local people and community groups to exchange knowledge, share skills and have fun.
What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?
Empathising with others I believe is one of the most important skills as a sustainability professional. Empathy enables you to consider the upstream and downstream impact of your actions. Unfortunately this can lead to feeling overwhelmed. I often find myself thinking about the people involved in making my phone, or my clothes, or the lives of the animals I am eating, or the scum in the ocean from my washing up, or where the black plastic I can’t recycled will end up… The list is endless. However, as a positive, it can help you considerately reduce your own environmental impact and spread the message to others that we are all part of a very complex system, but you can control how you interact with that system.
What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?
Have hope and look after your own wellbeing. Burnout is a real thing and facing global challenges on a daily basis can be daunting and frustrating. Surround yourself with people who inspire and support you. Joining a network or a course is a great way to bed in with a group of people who share your vision and understanding of the world, and of course working with them helps too!
Ellie Shipman, email@example.com
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