A Sense of Place: regeneration

03.09.07 - 07.09.07

Sense of Place: regeneration was a five-day mix of talks and activities designed for anyone interested in critical questions about community regeneration. Through the arts and the environment, speakers, workshops, exhibitions, tours and other activities examined ways in which we can help communities to rediscover their stories and use them as a solid foundation for sustainable, place-based renewal.

Successful regeneration does not just come from restoring buildings and greening derelict land.

Living communities are defined by more than geography. In the 21st Century most of our needs are met by people we will never meet, and produced in landscapes we will never see. Simple clear evidence that we need each other, and that we need the land around us, starts to disappear. So do reasons, and places, to connect with our neighbours. Our local roots are still important to us but without active dependence on the land and on each other how do we make these connections purposeful? What do these changes mean for local identity and strength of culture?

Monday and Tuesday

The week began with site visits and workshops run by the Post-Mining Alliance and Connecting Communities, and a fundraising workshop run by Tom Hills.

The C2 site visit at the Helping Hands community association in Cambourne, Cornwall

The Post-Mining Alliance offered the chance to explore two major themes: culture-led regeneration and reconnecting communities and environment. Site visits looked at post-mining challenges in Cornwall and examples of culture-led regeneration and a workshop on Tuesday saw practitioners and experts from the UK and USA present a range of creative approaches to post-mining regeneration demonstrated by sites at different stages of development.

The Connecting Communities (C2) workshops and site visits were led by Hazel Stuteley O.B.E., R.G.N. A total of 38 delegates drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds attended these workshops with the common aim of improving skills in community engagement. C2 was designed by a frontline Community Nurse with over 30 years experience of working within disadvantaged communities, it uses the powerful medium of stories to embed learning. C2 however is not just about stories; it is an evidence-based programme developed by the Health Complexity Group at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Exeter. Based on in-depth case studies of transformational change, C2 uses complexity science as the framework to understand enablers and barriers to change and improvement. Feedback suggests that participants in the two days have benefited in a number of ways, developing new partnerships and relationships; gaining a greater understanding the "bigger picture" and of their role within it; sharing examples of good practice to share locally; and recognising the need to let leaders emerge from within the community.

The four-module fundraising course, designed by Linnacombe Trusts Network and run by Tom Hills gave an overview of four vital processes in successful fundraising: project and budget design; researching funding sources; fundraising techniques; and donor management.

Wednesday

After some free time at Eden the conference decamped to Carnglaze caverns for two sessions of talks. Why a cave? Well, a considerable part of A Sense of Place is about questioning and challenging conventional thinking and ways of doing things. Holding the first part of a conference in a cave challenges perceptions, takes us out of our comfort zones and makes us slightly more open to different ways of thinking.

Dr. Tony Kendle gives his keynote talk at the carnglaze Caverns during A Sense of Place 2007

After Jane Stoneham kicked off proceedings Dr Tony Kendle, Foundation Director at the Eden Project delivered his keynote talk. How do we find ways of connecting our communities when we no longer rely on our local community to feed, clothe and care for us? What new ways are there to forge bonds between neighbours? He talked of the shift in focus of environmental regeneration, of ways of involving people, stories, history and the land itself in regenerating communities. We can put back the trees, the grass and the flowers. How, he asked, can we put back the ghosts?

John Zeisel talked next about the power of places to contain meaning for people. Particularly involved with people who have Alzheimers, John talked about how modifications to people's environment have to improvements in their quality of life and a reduction in negative behaviour often accepted as "normal" in Alzheimers sufferers.

After the break, writer and environmentalist Ken Worpole talked about the community identity contained in our greenspaces: public spaces like parks and gardens where communities come together. His talk focused on his local park in Hackney where events were held in order to reclaim the park emotionally after a particularly brutal attack had occurred there. Now, once a year, the whole community turns out to camp there overnight.

Cornish musician and education consultant Will Coleman talked finally about place-based education and about how the National Curriculum fails to address regional cultural differences. He considered the emphasis on learning about the Great Fire of London for example over learning about local historic events, and the emphasis on individual attainment over cooperative working. What is education for, he asked. He proposed that, in the future we will have challenges including an increasingly volatile climate, mass migration and a struggling environment. To understand your community and where you belong may be one of the most important skills we can teach.

conference delegates at the Core

Thursday

Dr Kate Braithwaite MBE, Director of the Carnegie Rural Community Development Programme, opened the day with a short introduction to Carnegie’s aims  She explained that Carnegie UK are taking a different approach to funding, bringing different people together to create a new agenda that challenges the failings of the current regeneration programme in the UK. She highlighted the recent Carnegie Commission Report, a vision based on the results of talking to tens of thousands of rural communities across the UK and Ireland. Carnegie is supporting an asset-based approach that respects how people would like to see their communities in the future.

Professor Nabeel Hamdi at Sense of Place: regeneration

The talks began with T. Allan Comp's inspirational account of his work in the former coal mining communities of Appalachia in the United States. Using art interventions and community engagement to improve the environment and provide facilities for communities that had experienced dramatic changes through the closure of the coal mines. Local people had lost pride and sense of history, and damage to their environment. Remediation came from developing a creative approach to acid mine drainage, finding cultural and not just scientific solutions. Professor Nabeel Hamdi, architect, followed with a talk about place-making and sustainable livelihoods. His talk focused on work in Sri Lanka where, by changing a bus route and adding a bus stop a focal point was provided that increased trading and created new livelihoods for many people in the community. Working with people to develop an understanding of how their community works can be much more valuable than any multi-million pound regeneration package.

After the break Susan Humphries talked about Coombes School and their methods of providing learning through direct experience. Many classes are conducted outside with emphasis on contact with the elements. A memorable image was of cardboard model buildings built by the children set alight in a lesson about the Great Fire of London.

Hazel Stuteley OBE talked next about regeneration projects in Cornwall. Her inspirational talk covered projects in the Beacon Estate in Falmouth and the in Camborne and Redruth areas.

Sally Hancox talked about GenToo Sunderland's combination of housing provision, construction and social investment.

Eric Maddern demonstrated the value of story telling as a way of people making emotional and spiritual connections with their environment. He showed how storytelling can provide an effective platform for talking about big issues of our times, like climate change and reducing resources. Lars Stenberg talked about Sensory Trust's methods to engage the whole of a community in meaningful dialogue. He outlined both the fun aspects of making the engagement process accessible and comfortable, as well as the serious underpinnings of this work: to deny people the chance to voice opinions, or to use public space is to deny people the right to take part in society. For the consultation process to be equal some groups need more support than others.

Sue Hill and Bill Mitchell of WildWorks theatre company talked about their spectacular large-scale performances that are set in landscape and involve communities in place such as Cyprus, Malta, Cornwall and France. WildWorks often engage local people that have not been involved in theatre before and bring stories to life from the place and the local people.

The day wound up with a dinner and performance by actor and comedian Ken Campbell who pondered on, among other things, the meaning of life. His exploration of different ways of looking at life was the perfect ending to two days of alternative perspectives on the theme of community regeneration.

Friday

The focus for the day was connecting young people and place

Andrew Ormerod conducts one of the Friday tours of EdenJane Stoneham set the scene, explaining the day was about the benefits children gain from spending time outside, interacting with their environment, learning from nature and developing through play. But the sad reality is that children's environments have changed dramatically; there are fewer accessible natural places and increasingly parents discourage outdoor play. 

Dr Jo Elworthy, Eden Project,  talked about Eden's commitment to creating a place where children feel inspired to learn about the world around them and where the edges blur between learning, playing, doing, exploring and having fun. Wendy Titman, Education Consultant, outlined some of the changes that have taken place in education over the last thirty years and reminded us of the seriousness of the situation. Children's health is suffering because they don't have access to real outdoor experiences. She made the point that we have the skills we need, all the evidence from research we could want and we can't wait for all the funding and systems to fall into place. The time for action is now.

Susan Humphries from Coombes School described some of the approaches and activities that make Coombes School. so highly regarded for its rich learning environment. Over the last 30 years Susan has worked with staff, children and parents to create a wonderful place where children are encouraged to question, explore and learn through real hands-on experience. She emphasised the importance of giving authentic experiences and described a whole series of creative outdoor experiences and activities that help children learn about all aspects of their lives.

Lynsey Robinson from the Sensory Trust talked about one of the Trust's projects run jointly in the UK and Japan. The Ask project involves able and disabled children in these two countries and asks them what they want from, and what they think of, their open spaces.

Dave Aynsley from Devon and Cornwall Constabulary then talked about the TR14ers community dance group, a very successful project in Camborne. He told of the group's successes in engaging young people in activities that promote a healthy lifestyle, reduce crime and improve conditions throughout the community.

The day finished with a selection of workshops. Will Coleman ran a workshop on place-based learning; Malcolm Green and Paula Turner ran one on story telling and its use in connecting children to where they live: The River Tyne: a river of stories; and Sensory Trust and Eden Project ran a den building session, a way of rediscovering our inner child and re-experiencing some of the joys of creating our own places.

Meanwhile, at the Ideas Marketplace

From Tuesday to Friday, the Ideas Marketplace in the very centre of the Eden Project, was the venue for a lively range of events, exhibitions and activities. Landlife hosted the Conservation Bazaar, where people and organisations committed to the idea of creative conservation came together to share ideas. Artist Simon Manfield exhibited drawings from his work with the Asociación para la recuperación de la memoria histórica, exhuming mass graves from the Spanish Civil War. Architect Lisa Pasquale created two experimental haptic environments: two shipping containers, pitch dark, in which she created a combination of haptic experiences using temperature, sound and texture.