The Wild Network Field Trip #1
Field Notes from Brighton
As The Wild Network has grown we have come across hundreds of amazing and diverse organisations and people working in their communities to pioneer a rewilded future. We’re embarking on a tour around the UK to spend time with these communities so we can find out more about what their barriers to Wild Time and the solutions popping up to solve them.
We want to uncover inspirational stories of wildness and understand how these communities could be supported to grow more Wild Time. This, our first Field Trip to Brighton on the 23rd and 24th October 2017, was a prototype, we hope to return with the resources to capture and share more stories, but for now this is a summary of what we found.
Campfire Gathering. Moulescoomb Forest Garden.
Hosts: Warren and Pat
At the heart of our Field Trip was a campfire gathering based on the simple truth that the best conversations never happen in a meeting room and don’t involve a flip chart and fancy pens.
When we were searching for a place to hold it we asked the network for recommendations - somewhere inspirational work was taking place in an unexpected location. One place kept coming up - Moulescoomb Forest Garden. So a short hop on the 29 bus took us to the edgelands of Brighton where the city meets the South Downs. This is a Brighton far removed from the playground of the pier and eclectic shops of the North Laine. Mouslescoomb is amongst the 5% most deprived areas in the country and, like other estates in East Brighton, built neatly into the folds of the Downs.
Moulescoomb Forest Garden started as a single allotment on a steep slope above the busy Lewes Road and railway line and has become a wonderful example of how a growing space can become a place of deep nature connection, education and community. A truly inspiring place and you can read more about it here.
It was a drizzly day, that fine sort of rain that gets you wet, but 26 people gathered in the gloom. It was a diverse crew including the local Wildlife Trust, Forest School practitioners, innovators, coaches, creatives, technology writers, parents and students.
What we learned
Access to public space for Forest School practitioners and others is an issue in Brighton. Pressure on the city’s finances mean council charges and high public liability insurance are required to use public woods like Hollingdean, making it prohibitive for small organisations to use the space. It appears to be a fundamental constraint on the provision of Wild Time in the city and a problem that has been growing over the last three years. What can we do to change practices at the council? What other land can be made available instead?
The following day we had the chance to raise this with Branwen Lorigan. Branwen is working on a new cultural framework for the city council and is interested in understanding how Brighton can make the most of its unique position between the sea and a National Park and how open spaces can become a core USP for Brighton. On the 28th November there is a chance to influence this strategy and all are invited to attend the Cultural Framework Summit to share their thoughts. Details here.
The barriers to Wild Time aren't always the same
We discussed at length the barriers to Wild Time and how too often we apply them in a uniform way. It was fascinating to have a discussion about how they differed in areas like Moulescoomb to other more affluent parts of town. On an absolutely basic level in Moulescoomb, many families are not grappling with too much tech or availability of space for free play (the downland edges are a perfect playground). However when someone’s basic needs (eg food and accommodation) are not being met or when young people are having to take responsibility for caring, the whole issue of finding available time for free play and adventure needs to be seen in a different light.
In contrast the barriers in more affluent parts of town are often focused more on issues of risk, time available (often because of extra-curricular activities and tech). Of course the reality is highly complex and nuanced but it is a useful reminder that addressing the barriers to Wild Time cannot be achieved with a single solution. The only way to do it is by solving for it locally and then scaling from there.
Where barriers are most profound school plays a really important role
Warren gave us a tour of Moulescoomb Primary School grounds, with secret woods, lots of fruit and veg growing feeding into harvest festival celebrations and food sharing, structures built for the kids to play in depicting homes through the ages and lots of hidden spaces to explore - it’s an inspiration.
In Moulescoomb school is a key place for children to connect with nature and the outside. Generally the uptake to attend organised public events in the community is low, but if it can be brought into school more children will get the experience. There is lots more that can be done to connect the wider community into the school. At Moulsecoomb Primary school they have created an inspirational space for outdoor learning and play that includes things like growing spaces. Increasingly it is becoming hard for teachers to find time to care for those places, even though the will is there. But how might the wider community play a role? For example, local horticultural groups working in partnership with schools to create and maintain truly magical learning environments.
The importance of gateway activities
We were joined by Joel and Sam from The Outdoors Project who were overcoming the access to green space issue by getting kids active outdoors in car parks and other grey space. We discussed how this sort of work, the work of Sustran's Bike-it Ben in the city and street play are so fundamentally important as gateways to a deeper connection.
No discussion about Wild Time would be complete without talking about the role of tech and we were lucky to have Paul Levy author of book Digital Inferno join us and discuss how we can take control of our tech use - digital mastery as he would describe it. The conversation leapt from a terrifying vision of a digital future to a discussion of how young adults who have been brought up digital natives have developed better inherent internal control mechanisms, so perhaps there is hope. What was clear is that there is a deep-seated need for more real conversation about this issue (preferably around a camp fire) as well as real innovation, not just usage guidelines.
The voice of young people
It was great to have some younger voices in the mix around the fire including some students from Sussex University. These were the voices of the people who have been adapting their lives in the digital age and juggling increasing time pressures. It was a useful reminder I think to us all that rewilding childhood needs young voices, kids and young adults, not just concerned parents and policy makers.
Some other things we learned
The power of diversity
Forums don’t really exist for these diverse conversations, bringing together a range of people coming at the the rewilding issue from different angles is powerful. The people who gathered round the fire in Brighton were keen to meet again, we hope that our Field Trips and campfire gatherings can kickstart these connections.
The impact of meeting in a community held space around a fire
Most people who joined us at Moulescoomb Forest Garden had never been there, giving them an insight into a local community they had not connected with before. Being around the fire in a well loved community space added a sense of openness and sharing to the discussions.
How to build a Council Fire
Pat taught us how to build a ‘Council Fire’ a traditional native American intentional fire, perfect for creating a space for purposeful conversations.
We would like to arrange some future gatherings earlier in the day and at weekends so we can get more voices of children and young people in the mix.
Believe it or not, we bought too many biscuits!
Thanks to everyone who came and contributed so much
Curtis James who is working on an Arts Council funded project on the Bristol Estate where he grew up - more here.
Ben Szobody, Projects Development Manager for an array of inspiring projects under the umbrella of One Church, including running a farmers market where you can buy quality local produce, supporting a farm project growing food alongside people that need to get out of the city and who need help, managing a building in central Brighton with lots on offer for vulnerable people. He also runs a barista training project offering unemployed young people top shelf barista training and publishes Longberry magazine about the world of coffee more here.
Nigel Berman - School of The Wild
Natasha Lythgoe - The Art of Rewilding
Max St John - Being Wild Things
Joel and Sam - The Outdoors Project
Emily Macaulay - This Way
Libby Davy - Human Bells
We hope to share more detailed stories of the inspiring people we met in Brighton and their projects - watch this space.
We’ll be sharing our next Field Trip destination for January in the next few weeks, see you around the camp fire.