The Student speaks to the founders of ‘Sarah’s Tree’

Two University of Edinburgh students, Imogen Luczyc-Wyhowska and Martha Reilly, have created a memorial and symbol of solidarity in the memory of Sarah Everard in the Meadows.  

On Jawbone Walk, the students established ‘Sarah’s Tree’ to provide Edinburgh residents a public space to collectively grieve for the tragedy of Everard’s disappearance and murder. 

People are encouraged to tie ribbons around the tree’s branches, leave a note or to reflect on the pervasiveness of women-based violence. 

Speaking to The Student, Luczyc-Wyhowska and Reilly spoke about how the inception for the idea came from a trip up Calton Hill, where Luczyc-Wyhowska saw a ribbon tied to a tree. 

By the end of the day, they had set up the tree and publicised it through a Facebook post on Meadows Share. 

“We wanted to do something in a public space that coronavirus restrictions wouldn’t limit anyone being involved with this,” Luczyc-Wyhowska said. 

“What happened to Sarah Everard can shatter communities so we wanted to find a way that we can find space to heal in a way that is truly communal,” Reilly said. 

A tree in the Meadows was chosen due to accessibility and for its centrality for students walking to the George Square campus.

The two students added that the Meadows has long held a reputation for being unsafe at night and that part of the Sarah’s Tree initiative was to reclaim the park as a safe space for all. 

“As a student joining Edinburgh, or any person that has grown up in Edinburgh, you get told very early on, don’t walk through the Meadows at night,” Luczyc-Wyhowska said. 

“This is our community, we come here to study and we have a right to these communal spaces,” Reilly said.

 “This is a reclamation of both the spaces and our own bodies and recognising the fact that you deserve to feel safe in this space.” 

Placing the memorial in the Meadows was also a means to show solidarity with the memorial in Clapham Common, where a growing pile of flowers and notes have been the central point for a public remembrance of Everard. 

“There are so many Clapham Commons and sadly, there are so many Sarah Everards,” Reilly said. 

“It’s really important we don’t just let this become another thing that passes through the media in a couple of weeks, we need to see tangible change.” 

Reilly and Luczyc-Wyhowska viewed the cause of Everard’s case sparking off a national outrage as the culmination of both a reduction of the stigma of activism and an increased confidence felt by many in speaking out about pertinent issues. 

The students expressed frustration about the necessity of a highly publicised murder to spur action and conversation around the topic of gender-based violence. 

“She wasn’t even that late, wasn’t drunk, she was being sensible, it’s all these things that we are told to protect ourselves, she did,” Luczyc-Wyhowska said. 

“Yet, she got kidnapped and murdered.” 

In addition to the establishment of Sarah’s Tree in the Meadows, the students have expanded onto social media platforms. 

They expressed the integral role social media plays in activism, especially with reaching out to those beyond the Edinburgh area. 

They credited the sharing of the initial post on Facebook coinciding with the cancellation of the vigil in Clapham Common as helping the project to grow. 

The students created a JustGiving a fundraiser in connection with the project for Shakti Women’s Aid, an Edinburgh-based organisation that offers support and information to Black and Minority Ethic women and children who have experienced or are experiencing domestic abuse. 

Reilly discussed how the charity was chosen due to the tendency of resources and support services for women of colour to be subjected to funding cuts. 

Luczyc-Wyhowska added that on the Sarah’s Tree Instagram, they have been publicising other women-based charities based in Edinburgh and Scotland. 

Speaking about the growth of the project and the daily witnessing of more ribbons being tied to the tree’s branches, Luczyv-Wyhowska said that it had been a “cathartic, emotional experience.” 

The students spoke about local residents handing out ribbons to those without ribbons to tie and a busker playing by the tree at sunset. 

“We didn’t want to give too many directives, but it was so amazing to see the ways in which people interacted with the space in their own way,” Reilly said. 

“It’s for Sarah but it’s also about showing care to ourselves and each other as well.” 

About Saturday’s clash of police forces and mourners at the Clapham Common bandstand, the students spoke about the disturbing and horrific images that were spread on social media from the event. 

The students emphasised that the objective of the tree is about ending male violence against women. 

While recognising state violence against women, the primary goal is to eliminate gender-based violence and raise awareness about the dangers to women’s everyday safety. 

Moving forward, the students hope to coordinate Sarah’s Trees in other locations. 

They have been contacted by residents in other European cities, such as Manchester and Copenhagen, wishing to set up their own local version. 

“They have been really effected by the gesture and symbol of the tree and they want to recreate that in their urban space,” Luczyc-Wyhowska said.

 “Every urban space has that park or that crossing or that tunnel that has got a reputation for being unsafe for women.” 

The students hope that the Edinburgh location becomes a “touchstone” for the project and other locations will coordinate their own fundraiser for a local charity. 

The students also spoke about plans to work with Edinburgh City Council in establishing CCTV cameras and better street lighting in the Meadows. 

Currently, this work is being centred around a community-based discussion group for the purposes of resource gathering and acquiring testimonies. 

Their plan is to submit a formal plan to the council, which has support from Counsellor Claire Miller of the Green Party. 

For Luczyc-Wyhowska and Reilly, the goal for Sarah’s Tree is to start a conversation around gender-based violence and provoke discussions about what changes are necessary to achieve safety and security for all genders. 

“We need to recognise that what happened to Sarah Everard could have happened to anyone,” Reilly said. 

“We want to eradicate gender-based violence wherever we see it and that is the best way we can do justice to Sarah Everard’s memory.” 

Click here to support Sarah’s Tree’s fundraiser for Shakti Women’s Aid 

Image: Millie Lord