This year, the Back from the Brink travelling exhibition will be travelling across England to a range of different spaces - from the Great North Museum: Hancok in Newcastle, to the Custard Factory in Birmingham.
‘What on earth is the Back from the Brink travelling exhibition’, I hear you cry! It all started two years ago…
My name’s Emma Burt, I’m the Community and Outreach Officer for Back from the Brink (BftB) which essentially means – I deal with the people side of things.
This incredible project, based at numerous locations across England and trying to save rare species on the brink of extinction, clearly has a huge focus on conservation, wildlife and planet. But at BftB we also know that without people – conservation wouldn’t even be possible!
Without you, those changes that we so desperately need – changes in attitude towards the environment, changes to our society, to how we connect to the natural world around us; changes to the way we live so that we have less impact on those species that are so desperately clinging to survival… None of this would be possible without people.
I’ve always believed that people have more power than they know and that we can achieve so much, by working together.
And that’s why I am so passionate about the work that I do for BftB – because this incredibly ambitious project outlined the importance of people from the start. We knew, as a team, that we needed to make individuals and communities as much of a focus to our work as the wildlife we were trying to save and benefit. So, we made it our aim to communicate differently. Our website (naturebftb.co.uk), our social media (@NatureBftB), our communications as a whole – we focused on being different. We wanted to set ourselves aside from traditional conservation and try something new – and it’s been amazing!
Back from the Brink is in a unique position in the fact that we are the first time ever that so many conservation organisations have come together with one focus – saving England’s rare wildlife. We have 8 organisations from Plantlife to Bat Conservation Trust, all working together through 19 different projects. Not only that, but we’re working with loads of other organisations, simply through the work we’re doing, e.g. some of our sites are National Trust properties. So, it’s been the most incredible privilege to explore how working together, as part of a partnership, really can achieve more.
One of the ways in which we’ve explored new ways of working is through our Community Arts project – and that’s where this exhibition all started from. Our wonderful funders, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, knew from previous projects that art has a huge impact on the quality and depth of engagement that projects can have on people. And so, the Community Arts project was born…
I’ve been managing this project now for two years and it’s been the most incredible experience. Its aim is to allow people to Discover, Value and Act for rare wildlife through creative processes. We wanted the work we did through this piece of work to be meaningful and create a legacy; for people to be inspired by local artists and to get involved with their local environments. So, we took on five artists, from all different parts of England and delved into year 1 of the project – the Pilot Year.
The Pilot Year.
Five pilot events took place in that year – from Cornwall to Yorkshire. We had the most beautiful workshops, with sculptures made by school children in Thetford, banners created from natural materials in Worcestershire, poetry and art produced by students of Falmouth University, berries and clay being used as drawing materials in Kent and the power of words being explored in Scarborough – all inspired by the rare wildlife local to those communities.
Each event was unique, each so beautifully aligned to the Back from the Brink ethos, to the land and its wildlife. This first year showed us that there really was something special about this piece of work and that the quality of engagement and the diversity in reach was something that we just had to keep pushing.
Year two is almost at an end, with the finish line the end of March 2020. This second year saw a range of artists, some independents and some part of a collective, working with our projects across England to produce over 20 events! It’s been an incredible year, here are some of the highlights:
Our artists for Cornwall and Devon, Ella and Ben, put on an amazing workshop with the Eden project, exploring the rare wildlife found locally. From the Cornish Path Moss to the Grey Long-eared Bat, people were able to draw from photos of these wonderful species onto a huge canvas on the floor. From children to adults, people were able to get involved and learn about wildlife right on their doorstep.
Up on the Sefton Coast, home to our Gems in the Dunes project, our artists for the north – Sarah Jane Richards and Sian Hughes – held the most beautiful days in the dunes. People were led through this wonderful landscape, home to the Sand Lizard and Natterjack Toad, learning about the rare wildlife found there and were then taken through many different and inspiring creative processes. Cyanotype was one of these processes – collecting grasses and natural materials, you then lay them onto special paper and leave it to expose in the sun, leaving a ‘print’ on the paper. What a unique way to celebrate the landscape that these wonderful species can be found in!
Elsewhere, musical instruments were being made, inspired by the incredibly rare Shrill Carder Bee!
Down in Kent, our wonderful artist collective, Outdoor Studios, were inspiring communities close to the site of this rare bumblebee, through sound…
We had a day making Shrill Carder Bee nests, kazoos (a small and easy-to-make musical instrument, see how to make it here) and a bee zine (pronounced zeeeen). It was a wonderful day. If you make any of the above yourself, let us know by tagging us in a photo on social media - @NatureBftB.
Over the last few months our poet, Linden McMahon, has been collating written works created by the public and inspired by two of our projects – the Willow Tit and our Ancients of the Future project. This beautiful collection has been collated into an anthology of works that is now available, for free, for everyone to enjoy, here.
Written by the people, for the people. There’s something magical in that.
Finally, our artist for the south-east, Joanna Callaghan, has been working with local communities to showcase the incredible and rare wildlife found in the local areas. One event that stood out for me was the wonderful wassail that she did for the Barberry Carpet Moth.
Wondering what a wassail is? Don’t worry – so did I!
To ‘wassail’ refers to the ancient custom of visiting spaces, reciting incantations and singing to promote good health for the coming year. And so, this is what we did. Jo ran lantern-making workshops, prior to our wassail evening, with local schools. These were made with sticks, paper and natural materials; Jo has a real focus on the use of natural materials – allowing people to make that tactile connection with the natural world.
On the evening of the wassail, people gathered and then paraded their wonderful lanterns through the town and down to the local river. Once there, we sang to the Barberry Carpet Moth – wishing it good health and long life! Once we had sung our hearts out, we had to make a lot of noise – shouting and clapping and stomping our feet to make sure the moth heard us!
The children loved it, being able to express themselves and use all their bodies to communicate with this tiny moth. It was a short but beautiful evening and people were able to take away with them seeds of the Barberry plant, or even a small plant if they so wished! Our fab Barberry Carpet Moth Project Officer, Fiona, was on hand to ensure people knew how and where to plant it, as well as answering the many questions!
So, a real range of events have happened over the last year, using so many different means of connection to the natural world – from dancing and singing to sound and touch. It’s been wonderful to see people create their own relationship with the BftB wildlife and landscapes and we’ve had the most beautiful feedback from our events as well as people then being inspired to come along to our volunteer parties and habitat days – helping and acting for the species they learnt about through creative processes. For us, this is the real success. Allowing people to discover the rare wildlife around them, to value it through connection and then to act on that relationship by actively helping our projects. That was our aim with this piece of work and that is why it has been so important to us.
So that leads us on to the travelling exhibition. Over the last two years, we have been collating artworks from these wonderful events, creating a collection of the weird and wonderful – all celebrating our rare wildlife.
The next stage is the curation of an arts exhibition that will be held in numerous spaces across England. And that is where we are folks, right at the start of it all – how exciting!
The travelling exhibition will start OmVed Gardens in London and then be held at 7 other destinations before finishing at the Maidstone Museum in November. Below are the dates and destinations. Click on the date/destination you're interested in to find out more!
5th – 12th August: The Custard Factory, Birmingham.
14th – 28th August: The Eco-Hub, Dorset.
28th of Sept - 4th Oct: OmVed Gardens, London.
5th October – 1st November: Maidstone Museum, Kent.
Come and celebrate the work that communities across England have produced, in aid of rare wildlife.
We’d love to see you there!
For now - that's it from the crafty side of the brink 🙂 I hope you've been inspired by our events, if you've managed to get along. I hope our wonderful travelling exhibition brings you out into nature... Let's show the love!
Till next time folks,
Community and Outreach Officer for Back from the Brink.
Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:
- Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
- Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
- Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.