Bringing the Outside In

Daphne Pleace / 6 min read / Inspiring Activist
15 May 2024
Credit: Alice Maynard

Activism comes in all different shapes and forms. Sometimes it looks like sharing the thing you are passionate about with the world. And today’s Inspiring Activist fits this bill exactly. Alice Maynard’s effervescent energy about plants has led her to setting up a bricks and mortar shop – what she calls a “plant studio” – just outside the medieval walls of York.

Credit: Nic Fife 

The Outside In is a place you can buy plants, plant requisites – and get lots of brilliant plant info from Alice – but it’s also an amazing space where she runs her plant workshops, and where she met Sophia. The conversation fizzed: we are With Many Roots after all! Alice has hosted a number of our community workshops in her inspiring space.

Biodiversity Collage being run at The Outside In

As a lifelong lover of plants myself, the first moments of our conversation focused on the huge Monstera deliciosa (Swiss Cheese plant to most of us!) on screen behind her. And then on my own story about the shock of seeing 40 foot versions of my ‘house plants’ when trekking in the Ugandan rainforest.  I had to bring myself back to the interview task in hand! 

What concerns you about the world today?

Many of our interviewees have spoken of their concerns about the level of disconnect with various aspects of the environment and the climate crisis: Alice herself immediately linked disconnect with “plant blindness” [a term coined some 20 years ago by botanists Schussler and Wandersee] and from there to the wider disconnect with the whole of the natural world which she sees as “mostly missing from our education system – we don’t even know what’s edible any more”.   

What positive contributions are you making?

Alice said that primarily she sees her work as “bring[ing] some space for people to connect to plants, to nature, to the soil.” Her strapline is “living better with plants”. In terms of her plant workshops, she laughed as she described them as “adults making mud pies” but emphasised the importance of being “allowed to have messy play” and said the opportunity have our hands in soil, to feel and smell soil, and to engage directly with the roots, stems and leaves of plants – whilst being with a group of others doing the same – is crucial for our immediate mental health and our wider awareness of the importance of plantlife.

Credit: Wojciech Sukiennik

Have you had to make any sacrifices?

As several of our other IA’s have commented, Alice finds it difficult to see any aspect of her work as making a sacrifice. She felt that post-pandemic, even becoming self-employed did not seem to carry the level of risk she experienced before the pandemic. Before she set up The Outside In she’d been employed in both the retail and plant nursery work arenas and took that experience into her own business. Although she did laugh rather ruefully and say that in many ways she operates in an “anti-business way”. She gave the example of advising a customer not to buy a plant if she felt the plant was unsuitable for that customer, or where they wanted to keep it.  

How do you stay motivated?

Alice’s motivation comes from the feeling that by doing her bit – by attending to “the baby of her business” as she calls it – she has some control over what in global terms can often feel like a complete lack of control. She also finds motivation via the sense of making a contribution, albeit in a small way.

What gives you hope?

For Alice, this is a sense of community: whether from her own personal communities, her geographic locality, the groups and customers she works with, or a wider sense of community which she feels can be replicated, potentially anywhere. “I can only start with the people I encounter on a daily basis and go from there…” she said, reminding me of the original 1970’s phrase [first use disputed] ‘think global, act local’.

Credit: Wojciech Sukiennik

What if…we make the changes needed, what will your world in 2030 look like?

“Everyone living better with plants” is Alice’s summing up of her best future, including people growing more food, more allotment ownership, more eating plant based diets, more choosing to shop locally and seasonally. She hopes we will make more connections to the ‘garden in our gut’ and have more awareness of the importance of the gut microbiome. 

A book that has helped you grow:

Alice said, “there were many parts within the book when it stopped me in my tracks, brought tears to my eyes, and really made me reflect. So much of it resonated with me and has been useful to my work”.

A song that keeps you going

Alice said,“this song choice is about letting go, stopping, slowing down, taking a breath and noticing. I go back to it to remind myself of those things when everything feels overwhelming. It’s also a musical illustration of how I want people to feel when they’re in The Outside In”.

A quote that lifts you up

Alice selected two from Braiding Sweetgrass – “In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us”” and

“… it is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.”

Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer

Your message to the world

“It’s about protecting what we’ve got: we need to be protecting plants; protecting animals; protecting the planet. We need to learn more about plants and learn to live alongside them, rather than against them. Then, we can all live with more hope for the future”.

Avatar photo Daphne Pleace Yorkshire, UK Daphne is our well-being director and in-house writer. She has over 50 years’ experience of ‘people’ work in a range of contexts. She has been, or still is, an English and drama teacher, a counsellor in educational and relational settings, a psychotherapist, and a facilitator and mentor in both personal and professional developmental contexts. She chooses now to devote her time and skills to individuals and organisations working with the climate crisis. View all posts
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