Women's Physic Garden

Help idle women buy land to develop the UK's first women's physic garden, built by, dedicated to and in trust for women and girls.

We did it!

On 4th May 2018 we successfully raised £26,460 of £25,000 target with 310 supporters in 49 days

New stretch target

Raising an extra £5000 will enable us to cover the legal costs of the land purchase and the crowdfunding chargers. It will also contribute to the cost of bringing Selina Cooper to Nelson.

Help idle women buy land to develop the UK's first women's physic garden, built by, dedicated to and in trust for women and girls.


Centre image: Weed I by Raksha Patel

About Us

idle women offers a place for all women and girls to belong.

idle women is a small artist led organisation that initiates and creates contemporary art with women. Through our creative process we deliver projects that generate strong, unique community legacies. We address the urgent need for women to have access to their own spaces and to own land, property and resources that can be secured in trust for the sole benefit of women's recovery, wellbeing and advancement.

idle women work to women's strengths with ambition, adventure and a bold sense of potential.

idle women's two year touring project, on the water, involved the design and build of a tailormade narrow boat with Humraaz support services in Blackburn. The narrowboat is named in memory of Selina Cooper, an unsung working class heroine of the suffrage movement who lived and worked in Nelson in Lancashire. The floating women's arts centre was visited by over 1500 women and girls between 2016 and 2017, and provided paid opportunities for sixty female artists including well known female artists and other creative practitioners who lived on board the boat temporarily . Touring some of the least served areas of the post-industrial canals in the North of England, on the water provided out of hours activities, creative workshops and critical social time for women and girls.

idle women also help provide access for women who are recovering from male violence, by working with resilience and determination in partnership with essential women's support services as they face the threat of austerity cuts .


With your help, idle women can develop the UK's first physic garden exclusively for women, maintain the narrowboat Selina Cooper as a valued resource for women, and support the need for women to own land!

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idle women's physic garden will support women to nurture a connection to plants whilst  growing a personal understanding of their own health and wellbeing, and enabling a greater sense of confidence, independence and health. The archaic word 'physic' means 'art of healing', a skill more holistic than simply 'medical'. Historically, almost all medicines came from plants, and physicians and apothecaries were familiar with identification, cultivation and harvesting. Becoming skilled as naturalists and gardeners, botany was part of medicine and plants were understood as being beneficial to human health.  

  • This is the first women's physic garden in the UK.
  • The garden is dedicated to medicinal herbs that women have used for centuries, from pregnancy to the menopause.
  • The garden will be designed, planned and developed with and by local women,in collaboration with female experts in herbalism, garden design, women's health and horticulture.
  • Women will learn invaluable practical skills including architectural landscaping, building an outdoor classroom with compost toilet, and planting hedgerows.
  • The garden will be a peaceful place where women can take a break from the daily routine, have a natter (or not), participate in educational workshops, try something new, make friends, and have space for reflection.
  • idle women will run regular seasonal workshops on women's health using herbs for culinary and medicinal purposes.
  • Moored by the garden, the Selina Cooper narrowboat will provide a dry, warm indoor space with room for up to 12 women, with cooking and washing facilities, and a residential space for individuals and women's groups to use.
  • Through community partnerships, the garden will provide specialist, long term work, offering provision for  women in North West England most affected by gender based violence.
  • The physic garden offers visible, paid and celebrated opportunities for women. 
  • idle women constitutionally commit to employing BME women, and consciously work to address the importance of making disabled, working class, older, sexual minority and marginalised women visible.
  • This pioneering new project offers the essential right for women to be able to access nature safely.


Whatever happens to seed affects the web of life.

Vandana Shiva

Why Nelson, Lancashire?

In the centenary year marking women’s suffrage, idle women have been kindly offered this rare opportunity to buy the land by a local woman in Nelson in Lancashire. Remarkably the garden site is only two streets away from where the suffragist Selina Cooper actually lived and worked. 

 idle women toured the Selina Cooper narrowboat along the Leeds to Liverpool canal in Nelson and surrounding Pennine Lancashire, working for two years in partnership with arts commissioner Super Slow Way and the Canal & River Trust. They developed significant community relationships with local women's organisations such as Lancashire Women's Centres and are delighted by the prospect of taking the Selina Cooper back to her namesake's home town to continue forging new relationships in the area.

Nelson is a dense residential area which is represented in the government index of multiple deprivation amongst the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods in the country. idle women understand the complexity of the need in Nelson and are deeply committed to developing the lasting legacy of a physic garden created for and by women and girls.

How will the funds idle women raise through crowdfunding be used?

idle women have agreed to buy the land for total £25,000 and have until April to raise the money to make the purchase. There is little time to fundraise by applying to Trusts and Foundations (generally about 12 months) and because it is very hard to fundraise for capital investment, we are dependent on you to help raise the cash to purchase the land.

idle women are covering the legal and crowdfunding charges and the costs of bringing the Selina Cooper narrowboat to Nelson (around £5,000). They are also busy fundraising to install mains water, an accessible toilet and electricity to the garden, and writing other funding bids for programming workshops and activities, landscaping and plants. and most important of all, developing the infrastructure to make a fully accessible garden .  

This is a very ambitious project and the critical first step is to secure the land. Please help by making a donation and by spreading the word to encourage others to join the campaign.

About your rewards

Many of the incredible artists idle women have collaborated with have generously offered their work as a thank you to investing in this new women's space.  Rachel Anderson and Cis O'Boyle, the co-caretakers of idle women want to say thank you for investing, it means the world.

Here is a small selection of some of the rewards, the others we will leave for your imagination....

Set of 4 herb illustrations by Candice Purwin

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Large print of Elettaria cardamomum by Raksha Patel  


        Lancashire Elegy Tea Towel by Nicky Bashall,                         Two Stroke embroidery drawing by Dina Roncevic             illustrated  by Candice Purwin                                                                                  (original artwork)                          


                 T-shirt and Tote Bag with physic garden design                                Photograph by Dana Popa

                                                                                                                                                                (not actual image)

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                                  Summer stay onboard the narrowboat Selina Cooper at Nelson, Lancashire



About Selina Cooper the Suffragist in Nelson, Lancashire.

Selina Cooper's fascinating tale spans the most crucial half century of the women's movement and tells of her involvement in the social and feminist crusades of the 1890’s to the rise of the Labour party and the Suffrage movement, how she educated herself in the local library and campaigned unceasingly as a suffragist right up to the victory in 1918. She spoke in Parliament and was employed as a suffrage organiser, Selina Cooper was the first woman to represent the Independent Labour Party in 1901 when she was elected as a Poor Law Guardian. Once women won the vote Selina worked for birth control and the rights of married women to work, she developed the first ever Maternity Centre in Nelson Lancashire and campaigned tirelessly against unemployment, fascism and war until her death in 1946.

The name idle women 

in case you were wondering...idle women takes its name from the nickname given to the women who ran the canals during the second world war. Women were given security badges to wear with the letters 'iw' standing for 'Inland Waterways' which soon became 'idle women' far from being idle the women undertook extremely challenging work on the canals which was vital to the war effort. There are times when we regret the name, many people make jokes and derogatory comments... but ultimately we are proud of all the unsung women in our past who worked hard, who paved paths for us and fought against the impossible. We wish to honour them and carry them with us on this journey.


Photograph of the narrowboat Selina Cooper by Wendy Burnett, 2016


idle women is a CIC (not for profit - Community Interest Company) based in Blackburn, Lancashire and managed by two founding Directors - Rachel Anderson and Cis O'Boyle with a board of eight female trustees. 

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