Sense of Place conference 2006

Two days of conversation, ideas and actions.

Jane Stoneham and Peter White at the Sense of Place conference 2006Putting people with different ideas, disciplines and passions together for meaningful conversation is one of the most important things the Sensory Trust does. Unlike many conferences, where the same old faces meet at the same old venues and agree that the same old issues are insurmountable, Sense of Place takes you out of your box and puts you gently down in a convivial and stimulating environment that makes new connections and offers up new perspectives.

Planners, business consultants, artists, psychologists, educationalists, architects, engineers, designers, horticulturists, musicians, journalists and landscape professionals from the UK, Europe and the US all met in a cave in Cornwall for two days of presentations and conversation grouped around the belief that public green space is important and its value is frequently underestimated.

Jane Stoneham opened the Sense of Place 2006 conference in Carnglaze Caverns and chaired the session, setting the scene for the two days and encouraging people to talk to others during the two days. "At this conference the odds are very high that you will meet people you didn't realise you needed to meet".

Broadcaster Peter White gave a fascinating talk about beauty. Why should blind people be expected to accept a traditional sighted concept of beauty? Peter gave memorable and practical insights into the qualities that blind people value in public space.

Lars Stenberg carried on the theme of beauty in his talk about public art and public space. How does public art help create a successful public space? Beauty, context (a sense of place), involvement and function were all explored as part of the mix.

David Kamp gave a presentation of his work in the Elizabeth and Nona Evans Restorative Garden in the Cleveland Botanical Gardens which received a 2006 ASLA General Design Award of Honor. Now a few years on from completion, he was able to look objectively at the successes of some of his landscape design elements.

To finish the afternoon session, singer and musician Rollin Rachele gave a performance of tonal singing and talked about how sound can create a sense of space and of place and how space can affect sound.

Peter Thoday talking in the Warm Temperate Biome

The evening address by Peter Thoday in the Warm Temperate Biome of the Eden Project talked about patterns of land use over the centuries and the changing connections with people and land. And this set the scene for lively conversations over dinner in Eden’s gallery restaurant.

The following morning saw delegates gather at the new Core education building in the Eden Project for a day full of inspirational, humorous and sometimes worrying talks. Dr Tony Kendle, Director of the Eden Foundation, opened the day speaking about the way Eden and Sensory Trust engage people in conversation about difficult topics. Successful engagement comes for getting people enthusiastic about the subject. Without this, there can be no real dialogue.

Jan Habet from Plant Publicity Holland gave a presentation on their successful work in greening areas of cities. He presented concrete proof that green spaces reduce crime and improve neighbourhoods more cost-effectively than any other intervention.

Tim Smit followed this with an entertaining off-the-cuff description of the qualities he believes are necessary to effect change successfully, chief amongst them being the idea that positive change can only emerge from chaos, and bringing together people who wouldn’t usually spend time with each other. The Sense of Place conference philosophy in a nutshell.

Michael Rubin, an architect from New York City, gave a presentation of his design philosophy and showed examples of buildings in Germany and the USA. He went on to describe some of the thinking behind plans for a new building for the Sensory Trust, including his philosophy of green architecture and of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Jude Smith-Rachele followed this presentation looking at ways to change organisational attitudes and to increase diversity within organisations. Like a diverse environment, a business with a diverse range of people is more robust, more adaptable and more prone to success.

Caron Thompson finished off the morning sessions with a recount of the thinking behind the Core building. She talked again about triple-bottom-line sustainability, about the certified single source copper roof – the first of its kind, and about issues such as acoustics that the team worked so hard to get right. While Eden provided the inspiration, Caron, the architects at Grimshaws and the team at McAlpines Joint Venture provided the perspiration that made it happen.

The afternoon kicked off with a rousing indictment of the current state of outdoor education in the UK. It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry as Wendy Titman described a school scrimping and saving to turn a piece of grassland containing trees and shrubs (the remnants of the old school’s garden) into a sterile rubber-floored play area containing a giant yellow plastic worm. Set against the current pharmaceutic-sponspored climate of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, childhood obesity and depression, it almost beggared belief that the well-documented benefits of simply playing in the park could be so overlooked.

One of the 'favourite things' sent to us. The orange paper sign in the garden reads: In April and May the smell of the Gorse flower. Coconut and vanilla and the promise of summer to come.This was followed by Rachel Hine’s hard evidence from her research on the benefits of contact with nature and ‘green exercise’ such as improved self-esteem and better cardiovascular function which poignantly underscored Wendy’s lament for the current misdirected outdoor education system.

The afternoon rounded off with two site managers, Dave Morton and Dave Thompson from the National Trust in Northern Ireland, talking about the different problems and successes they have had in very different locations: one on the fringes of the most deprived areas of Belfast, the other in the rural area of Murlough.

The conference rounded off with drinks and conversation on the terrace overlooking Eden. In a shocking turn of events – shocking for previous conference attendees anyway – the sun shone on us for the entire two days. No storms, no blizzards, no emergency road closures. Fantastic.

A big thankyou to all who attended and made it such a buzzing and memorable two days. Thanks also to everyone who took the time to answer our questions about your favourite place, smell, touch and so on. Your answers proved to be catalysts for conversation throughout the conference and the triggers for new relationships and ideas.