Objective Identities?

It has taken me some time to actually put pen to paper to share the learnings from this project, during which time it has come up in many discussions and been shared in other ways, but I present to you here some thoughts.

During UmbrellACT eight workshops were held around the country, and the format of the ones I held was just to put the umbrellas in the middle of the room, tell people to take them apart to the smallest pieces possible and make something. Every person who came made something different, most were surprised!

What I realised during the process is that, in our society we are used to consuming objects from centralised sources, through the hierarchical domination of the ‘expert’, similarly to how we consume information and rules from centralised sources. We are mostly not involved in making those objects from resources (i.e. raw materials), we receive them with an already fixed identity given from the authoritative source (i.e. this is a water bottle, this is an umbrella). We are not accustomed to challenge the authority of that identity, therefore when that object breaks it no longer fulfils the identify and becomes useless, becomes waste. We cannot see past that fixed identity to the raw resources which are still there, now waiting to be transformed and reused.

You can also see this underlying paradigm reflected in how we treat buildings and people, and the desolation it causes. I am not sure if by simply giving people the experience of transforming an umbrella to another object you can give a catalyst for them to start transforming other objects or even their lives. But finding ways to give people permission to challenge the authority of given identities and the authority to be creators themselves is important, and experimenting in ways to do that I think is a valuable exercise.

Umbrella as Laptop case

Umbrella as_ Bat Poncho

Elemental Umbrellas by Kate Farrow

The Umbrella. Mary Poppins had one, Paddington Bear, you can’t move for them at Wimbledon. It’s an object that doesn’t discriminate even the Queen has one. In the eyes of the umbrella, we are all equal. As are we in the eyes of Nature and so to use one to raise awareness of the other felt like the perfect union.

We have all seen it countless times, the humble umbrella, carelessly discarded on pavements and sticking out of rubbish bins, broken, unwanted, unloved but within the twisted, torn and bent frames of these peaceful protectors lies far more than you might believe.

It’s truly amazing what you find when you dismantle an umbrella. So many elements brilliantly designed, each with it’s own unique potential to create, rather like us as we sat staring at the floor now strewn with all manner of metallic treasures.


Our workshop was by no means the largest, we had but two umbrellas to upcycle but from that we created a protective cover for new shoots, a lampshade, decorative flowers and bunting to brighten a community garden and a bird scarer to ensure the new crop wasn’t eaten before it’s prime. All of this made from two broken, abandoned umbrellas that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill somewhere.

Just because something is broken, doesn’t mean it’s beyond use.

Permaculture is about sustainable living. About living in conscious awareness so that we might enjoy this spectacular planet for many generations to come. Rather than heading to the first shopping centre when we need an object or more commonly, if we’re honest, want one, why not take a wander around your local area. We focused on umbrellas but there’s no end of treasures just left abandoned on our city streets.

I remember being told that what sets us apart as a species was our decision to look up. Perhaps what will ensure our sustainability will be our decision to look down and again at all those bits of ‘rubbish’ we throw away. With an open mind, some pliers and a needle and thread, you’d be amazed at the great potential at our feet, everywhere, each and every day.

lampshade_lit lampshade1

Umbrella as lamp…

Umbrella Act will be exhibiting at Spitalfields City Farm May 3rd – 16th (Launch day May 3rd) See the exhibition page or our facebook event for more details

Helen O’Grady – Umbrella Artist from the ReStore, Dartington

Some Umbrella Creations from the wonderful Helen O’Grady – an artists working with the ReStore Dartington … She shared with us some thoughts about why she works with umbrellas:

“I feel strongly about protecting the environment from further human damage. I feel sad about the destruction of our environment and the disposable culture that we now live in and I feel worried for the future of our planet and the legacy which we are leaving to future generations.

I think everything has value and sometimes we need to look hard to see it. In saving things like broken umbrellas from going to landfill, we get to use our creativity to extend the life of the materials which no longer serve their original purpose.

For me, the things I most enjoy upcycling are the things which are not generally recycled. Then I feel I am helping a little to reduce potential landfill waste and to make useful and beautiful items from what would otherwise be seen as rubbish.

I love working with umbrella fabric as umbrellas come in so many different colours and patterns. I am always checking in bins to see if I can find any broken ones, especially on wet and windy days!”

Some of her creations:

blue & green umbrella flower pink & black umbrella button flower The first umbrella bag Umbrella bag 2 Umbrella bag 3

We will have one of her bags on display at our final exhibition at Spitalfields City Farm, opening Sunday May 3rd 12 – 4pm: Launch Event

The exhibition will then stay for 2 weeks from 3rd – 16th May 2014. So if you miss out on this day you can still have the chance to check it out, it will be open:
Mon: Closed
Tue & Wed: 11 – 2pm
Wed – Sun: 10 – 4pm

Umbrella Act in Norwich and Norfolk

Artist and Umbrella Act collaborator Kev Hunn has been at the Eastern Permaculture Gather and at the Stew Gallery upcycling broken umbrellas with people. He is interested in stimulating an artistic response, for people to find ways to represent something important to them. Please see the video below:

He has also been asking people what they think permaculture is, It always seems to be so hard to explain to people. If this has been on your mind as well perhaps these collages of short explanations will be interesting to you too:

Umbrella Act at ReStore, Dartington (April 19th)

groupWEBSunday 19th we also went to the Restore at Dartington. It’s a unique place, part of ReFurnish, whose aims are to prevent materials form going to landfill, to provide employment, training and volunteering opportunities, and to provide low cost goods.


ReStore aims to ReDiscover, ReCreate and Rejuvenate furniture; they provide skill sharing and training, and sell upcycled, vintage and retro furniture and household goods. The perfect setting to get creative repurposing umbrellas!

bike seat coverWEB bath hatWEB bike cover 2WEB

Umbrella as bike seat cover by Philomena Wynne. “I was fascinated but didn’t know what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to do something practical and at first thought of a bird bath, but realised the colour could scare the birds so i made a bike seat cover.”


“I had an idea before I came because I used to make a lot of things with sacred geometry. I got really in to just taking the umbrella apart in to the smallest bits i could. You end up with many pieces the same size, which would be interesting to present to someone as a kit to make something from or for spare parts. They are also great from making geometric shapes”    Umbrella as Sacred Geometric Form by Toby

bag cover backWEB

Umbrella as bag cover by Charlie

“I didn’t know what to make but when I saw the red umbrella I thought it would look good as a bag cover. It was fun to make because I could cut out the shapes to make it fit.”

sea urchinWEB

Sea Urchin Bag by Mo Taylor “It’s just been fun to be creative!”

plant bagCLOSERWEB

Umbrella as hanging plant container by Meg “I love to make things and find reuse things, so this was in my interest really”

Many of the umbrella creations will be exhibited at Spitalfields City Farm May 3rd – 16th. With a launch event on International Permaculture Day (May 3rd)

Umbrella act at Devonport Live, April 18th

the beginningWEBThis weekend we had a lot of fun playing with umbrellas at Devonport Live in Plymouth! It was organised in collaboration the Transition Plymouth Education Group.

We started slowly and as ever there was a moment when we had to hold my breath as we connected through the materials to find our designs. However in this project we always hold the faith in the innate capacity for people to creatively turn materials into useful objects (after all we have been doing it since the stone age) and sure enough some amazing things once again emerged.


working MariaWEB


“It’s a nice material to work with, you can do so many things with it, it has mechanical and material aspects – there’s just a a lot of possibilities”





“As soon as I saw it I had the idea to make a skirt, then I saw an umbrella with a nice ruffle and decided to try and make a petticoat as well – I’m just experimenting really! Later I realised the colours were from the Devon Flag!”  Lisadevon flag


adriana workingWEB


“I have made a kind of banner to be used at protests or to spread awareness, I wanted to use bright colours and different symbols to signify – lifestyle change, not climate change.” Adri






“As soon as I took the top part off I saw a spider, so I just added a head – I used the broken spoke to stick out the bottom so its legs can move!”


umbrella as bath hat side brendaWEB umbrella as bath hat BrendaWEB


“When I arrived I thought, oh eck what am I going to make! Then I realised the material is waterproof so I thought – well I’m going to make a bag. And actually it’s turned out that it could also be used as a shower cap!” Brenda

bertie writingWEB bertieWEB

Umbrella as: HX Walker bot by Charlie and Jesse


butterfly skirtWEB

Devonport Live is a SoDevonport LiveWEBcial Enterprise with a cafe, magazine and workshop space. The primary aim of the project was to bring the George Street Shops back into use by creating a community space, where through fresh food, art, crafts and creative practices, we can encourage community activity. They use locally sourced products wherever possible, and these are also for sale over the counter. All the profits go back to provide equipment, training or other services to the local community.


Organised in collaboration with: Transition Plymouth is part of the Transition movement in the UK, a community-led initiative for a sustainable and resilient future that takes into account the issues of climate change, peak oil and the economy. Transition Plymouth Education is a sub-working group exploring open and horizontal approaches to the learning process about the Transition process. Since 2006, we organise regular public discussions, games, workshops and information eventsabout the climate crisis, the end of cheap oil, local economy, permaculture, waste, building community resilience, inner transition, etc and we support and work in partnership with local groups addressing similar issues. We have a mailing list of more than 250 members and our social networks include groups and individuals working towards similar aims to ours in Plymouth and surrounding areas.
Transition Plymouth Education is happy to support the Umbrella Act project, because it doesn’t only raise awareness about the permaculture principles but aims to do it in a way that is accessible, horizontal, creative and in participation with the community of Plymouth. 


Umbrella Act with the Westminster Recycling Champions April 11th


What a lovely day with the Westminster Recycling Champions, for one rainy morning we took over Small Works on the Peabody Estate and got creative! Once again each person with very little prompting created their own unique object from a broken umbrella, many conversations and ideas were shared and much fun was had!



The Westminster Recycling Champions are a group of local volunteers working to encourage people to recycle more and waste less in Westminster. They are set up and co-ordinated by Westminster council with support from City West Homes. With 87% of the population living in flats, a very transient population (30% of the population change over every year) and high cultural diversity engaging people in waste can be challenging.


The recycling champions are seeking to engage more local people face to face in fun and creative ways. For example through workshops, pop up stands, chatting to friends and neighbours and running events. The umbrella project would allow us to reach out to more residents and get them thinking about waste and sustainability. Approaching waste and recycling from a new angle is likely to result in different people from usual becoming engaged.



Umbrella as Laptop case






Umbrella as Laptop case by Shahara Khaleque

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to make, but wanted to make something genuinely useful, I just started folding and ended up with this!”

poncho 2WEB


Umbrella as Poncho by Oshuri Tsuko

“I never thought about making things from old umbrellas, but i made this poncho and I think I’m going to use it!”


Umbrella as Garden Cushion




Umbrella as Garden Cushion by Mair Furlan.

“It was so nice the process, not just creating, but everyone talking and sharing”


Umbrella as Bike Helmet Protector


Umbrella as Bike Helmet Protector by Emma Cross

“It’s been really good seeing how varied everyone’s ideas have been. You would think an umbrella would be hard to make things out of – but it’s actually really easy and everyone’s made really different things that really work”




Umbrella as Hanging Mobile by Colin.

“Mine evolved into a mobile, it’s inspired by Alexander Calder. That’s something that i’d always wanted to do. What’s interesting is that everybody came not knowing what they were going to make. ”



Umbrella as dragonfly


Umbrella as dragonfly by Lola Godoy.

“I loved dissecting the umbrella, i discovered beautiful things that i never would have thought, like the little balls on the end of the spikes – they could be made in to jewellery.”

umbrella as arm protector



Umbrella as Arm Protector by Laura

“i made these sleeve protectors so my sleeves don’t have to get dirty when I am cleaning or typing. I think this workshop really gave me a chance to think about materials and what can be done with waste.”



umbrella as treeWEB


Umbrella as Tree by Wildan Othman





Umbrella as Folding bag

umbrella as folding bag






Umbrella as Folding Bag by Teresa

“I think everyone before they throw things away, should think what they can make out of it.” Tessa



To recycle is a great thing,

Try to use the proper bin,

Do it now and all the time

Your estate will look just fine

Take your time and do it right

so no rubbish will be on site

by Teresa, 2015


There are more workshops throughout April 2015, followed by an exhibition May 3rd – 16th

Watch out for our summer fun activities after that. Follow us on Facebook or twitter to be kept up to date!

Umbrella Act at Repair Cafe Bristol, April 4th

So what an inspiring weekend! The first official workshop, held in collaboration with the Bristol Repair Cafe. “Repair Cafes are free meeting places where you’ll find tools, materials and experts on hand to make any repairs you need. They are held around the country, often on a monthly basis. Learn new skills, chat, have fun, and get your most loved items fixed!” More info here: http://repaircafe.org/about-repair-cafe

working WEB

Ideas were shared and some amazing creations resulted! Each time an umbrella is dissected and makes it’s magical transformation back to materials more surprised, shapes, combinations and creations are waiting to be discovered!

making flowers WEB flower hand WEB

flowers final WEB

Umbrella as … Flower, By Claudia

stuff bag WEB

Umbrella as… Flower, By Fiona Gleed

stiching WEB

purple flowerWEB

We have 9 more FREE upcycling workshops to go! Please see the info on this website!




What this is all about

We want to make positive inspirational actions, to show that nothing is completely broken unless you give up on it. Addressing issues of our throw-away society in a playful way by making symbolic participatory actions that don’t just tell but show people there are more solutions. We think not enough creative people have knowledge about sustainability, and not enough sustainably minded people understand the use of the visual in communicating with wider audiences. We can break the mould, find new habits and do things differently, and in
order to do that a diverse group of people need to be inspired and empowered, we think a good way for them to start doing that is by creating alongside each other

please also see: https://www.ipcuk.events/umbrella-act

Permaculture is both a source of inspiration and The International Permaculture Convergence is one of the places where the umbrellas will be exhibited!