Offord Primary School

Offord Primary School is our second Fantastical Cambridgeshire school partner. Deb Wilenski began working as their artist in residence in September 2016. The whole school have been creatively adventuring alongside her over the last 8 months, culminating in their Fantastical Community 24 hour event on March 24/25th 2017. Before the residency started CCI had a chance to get to know all the teachers at Offord School – you can read more about their adventures in the schools orchard (pictured here) below.

Through Wild Exchanges we have also been introducing some of the children’s ideas and discoveries into the working worlds of adult professionals in many walks of life - as inspiration for new work and prompts to remember where their own fascinations began.  

Illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville has worked with all the strands of discovery and creative expression from the residency and community day to develop this extraordinary Fantastical Map of the local area –as a legacy of the project and an invitation for everyone to keep exploring. 

Old Mags and the stolen baby is the animation created collaboratively by the Hawks class (aged 7 - 9) towards the end of the residency. It has been shared as a provocation for new stories and ideas with all the other children in the school and the wider community.

We are delighted to be working with Offord Primary School and their communities again in 2018, thanks to a grant from Cambridge Community Foundation’s A14 Community fund. This grant enables us to work alongside children, their families and the wider village community to creatively survey local wildlife and to think about protected species, particularly bats.  We’ll also be continuing to explore the local environment in extraordinary and intriguing ways. There will be a series of artist residency days, followed by a Fantastical Bats Community Day, a hands on creative day open to all in June.  We hope you can join us. Watch this space for more information. 

A14 and Cambridge Community Foundation Logos

A many layered map


This fantastical map was made collaboratively and contains over 100 layers of drawings and words and ideas, incorporating the work of children and adults alike – all carefully connected by illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville.

Offords High Street through the centre acts here as a symbolic divider between the school grounds (day time) and Millennium green (night time) whilst the railway track on the right shows the edge of Millennium Green.

We explored many ways of adventuring in these spaces together as individual school classes and during our 24 hour Fantastical Offords Day. The key below indicates how some of the elements on this map were created:

Yellow Dot Discoveries and creations in the school Orchard – including the Hugging Tree and many dens.

Red Dot Explorations of real and fantastical plants – including the carnivorous night-time plant and Island Seaweed

Purple Dot Explorations of real and fantastical bugs – including clay bugs and the huge lesser stag beetle collage

Blue Dot Explorations as other people and animals which created new stories and characters – including the fox, baby and Old Mags, caveman archer quote, and Haunting Trees.

Pink Dot Night-time sounds and nocturnal creatures, real and imagined – including the Sonic Bat and the Teddy Bear Bat.

Day-time sounds and sights - including the weasel and swishing reeds at the Millennium Green.

Real landmarks including the church, the High Street, and the train line

Fantastical Offords Community Day


On two of the most stunningly bright spring days, over 220 people joined us for 24-hours of creative adventuring in the village of Offord D'Arcy, Cambridgeshire.

With Offord Primary School as basecamp, collectively we explored local spaces in extraordinary, enchanting and intriguing ways – finding the unusual in the everyday. From 2pm on the 24 March we hosted a heap of activates, the full programme can be found here. An afternoon exploring with props boxes (our emergency curiosity kits) and creating fantastical dens and signs was followed by an evening of laying traps, collecting, detecting and gazing.  A camp fire was lit, the secret Orchard was opened to all and 50 people embarked on a dusk walk to Millennium Green. Together we found lesser stag beetles and moths, heard bats and discovered why stars twinkle.

Saturday began with wondrous wildlife sounds, bacon butties and discovering the animal trails that appeared overnight. St Neots museum set off on an extraordinary walk around the village and other adventures unearthed amazing finds such as Spluggy, the Caddisfly larva and bunnyland (an extraordinary complex warren) on millennium green. Back at basecamp, exploring continued with fantastical periscopes and new creations from tiny spaces of wonder to exquisite fantastical bugs. A Dusk to Dawn Sound Space was also created in a classroom.

Together with the children’s discoveries made during the artist residency at the school, these amazing ideas are all being fed into the creation of the Fantastical Map of the Offords. Below are some comments about the day and a few images to give a taste of the fantastical adventures we had together. A film and more detailed slide show follows soon.

Our ears and eyes were opened by the tent of sounds….it makes you think how amazing life is and how much you miss. Lesley (school neighbour/community)

Letting the kids go, run and not be scared to touch a tree (in a safe but free environment) (Clare, parent)

It’s been brilliant, in terms of friendliness, interactions and atmosphere (parents)

I liked everything – periscopes, bugs, sounds (Ella, 10)

I liked drawing in the dark and being with the woodlouse and finding my centipede (child)

The day was made possible by the brilliant energy of the children and families and local residents who joined in but also by the support to run the activities and the day from: all the staff and Governors at Offord Primary School, OPTA, artist Colette Kinley, naturalist and Governor Gareth Rondell, Free Cakes for Kids, St Neots Museum, Cambridge Conservation Initiative, Richard Rice, DS Smith Packaging and Dufaylite (St Neots).

Particular thanks to photographer and film-maker Maciek Platek for his filming and the many beautiful images included here, to bio-acoustic engineer William Seale for sharing his extraordinary recordings in our tent of sounds and to illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville for her fantastical mapping and signage on the day. And of course to CCI artists Helen Stratford and Deb Wilenski, all our wonderful volunteers and CCI staff and Board of Trustees.

Our next Fantastical Community Day will be with Round House Primary School and Love’s Farm community on 30 June and 1 July. Save the date! 

Images by CCI and Maciek Platek

Borrowed stories and underground eggs


(by Deb Wilenski) When Hawks class decided on the narrative for their animation (see Old Mags and the Stolen Baby) they had other story ideas that were too good to leave behind.  I offered one of these to Wrens, the youngest children in the school, in the form of a puppet story to begin our fantastical morning together.

An Image from the puppet story Old Mags still trips up over the fox in the forest

In the puppet story Old Mags still trips up over the fox in the forest, but this time as she lies on the ground she discovers that it is actually a very interesting place to be.  She can see and hear things she never noticed before; slugs, ants running, beetles, a talking mole.  She decides to stay there for a long time to explore…

It was a very wet morning but when I asked if the children would like to go and investigate their own ground in the orchard, they were wonderfully enthusiastic.  Within seconds we had found tiny creatures, mysterious holes and underground eggs.

A mysterious hole with underground eggs

Childs hand holding a yellow and brown snail

Children go and investigate their own ground in the orchard

Back in the classroom the children looked at images of fantastical bugs made by artists.  I showed them intricate glass sculptures by Emanuel Toffolo, creatures made from recycled metal by Dimitar Valchev and one of the oldest illustrations of woodlice in the world.

White dotted beetle by Emanuel ToffoloWhite dotted beetle by Emanuel Toffolo

Dimitar Valchevs metallic insect sculpturesMechanical insect sculpture by Dimitar Valchev

Woodlice from “The Book of Wonders of the Age” – 17th or 18th century manuscript

Woodlice from “The Book of Wonders of the Age” – 17th or 18th century manuscript

And then using clay or drawing the children invented fantastical bugs of their own, inspired by first-hand discoveries in the orchard, other artists’ work and each other’s imaginations. 

Clay model of a fantastical creature

Finger drawing of a fantastical creature

A drawing of fantastical creatures

A drawing of fantastical creatures

Making a clay model

Drawing of fantastical creatures

With these new creatures the tale of Old Mags continued before and after lunch; the torrential rain caused a flood in the bugs’ world and an exodus to a new land, crowds of bugs travelled together and when they finally arrived set up a new home, Old Mags joined them and drank her cup of tea!  The story was acted out through movement and developed though collaborative drawing and conversation.

Children acting out being crawling bugs escaping from the floodCrawling bugs escaping from the flood

A boy being a Sleeping woodliceSleeping woodlice

Lines on paper showing part of the bugs’ journey

Part of the bugs’ journey

At the end of the afternoon the children discovered how many legs they had between them and a fantastical 28-legged creature walked with great coordination back to its classroom.

Children discovered how many legs they had between them and a fantastical 28-legged creature

Line drawing of a house

Old Mags and the Stolen Baby


(by Deb Wilenski) I began work with Hawks class (the seven, eight and nine year old children) way back in September.  After a long break we met recently for a whole day together.  We spent time remembering our adventures so far: how we had explored the school orchard, made ink there from walnuts and fire, experimented with calligraphy, discovered the orchard fox, become map-makers in many languages and visited the Millenium Green as other animals and people. 

I also shared with the children my wild exchange conversation with Planet Earth II producer Fredi Devas.  He had responded to Martha’s ‘A walk on the wild side’ map with amazing stories about people, places and animals.  There were strong connections between his ways of working and the skills the children develop as they make connections between landscape, wildlife, themselves and a sense of place.

Picking up the children’s previous interest in film-making we began our ambitious project for the day; to make an animated fantastical film, drawing on our ways of exploring so far.  We drew our main characters from those the children had played at the Millenium Green (see Maps from other minds) and we had our brainstorming session for a narrative out in the orchard.  The children were full of ideas:

Drawing our main characters from those the children had played at the Millenium Green

Children were full of ideas

Old Mags was going for a walk one day when her stick broke, then the fox tripped her over and she fell onto the ground.  She could hear the ants running.  (Maggie, who had explored Millenium Green as her nan)

Old Granny Mags is going to her house and she finds a baby on her doorstep.  A mouse comes in and frightens both of them.  Mags goes back into the woods but she forgets the baby by accident…the mouse runs off with the baby.  (Chelsea)

There’s an evil slug and snail.  (Harry)

A mutant slug. (Tom)

There are lots of thorns and they get stuck in the fox.  (Lucy)

There’s an evil tree, its roots come out and pull people underground.  (Lucas)

There’s this tree that looks evil but really it just wants to make friends.  (Joshua)

We managed to settle on a single narrative for the animation, with lots of side characters, and the children each took on a task; producing fantastical lettering for the title sequences, drawing Old Mags and the baby, making backdrops from materials gathered in the orchard, creating Old Mags’ house and the evil trees. 

Fantastical lettering for the title sequences

Drawing of an evil tree

Making backdrop from materials gathered in the orchard

And miraculously by the end of the day we had a first version of the film: Old Mags and the stolen baby.  As we quickly checked it before watching as a whole class, the children noticed places where the animated movement was too fast or words appeared too slowly, and the idea of editing and adding sound was suggested as a focus for the whole school Fantastical Friday to come in two weeks’ time.


24 hours of wild adventuring



24 hours of wild adventuring

(by Helen Stratford) I am the creative producer for this community day based at the school on 24th / 25th March (timetable here) and have been working closely with the staff at the school and the CCI team to shape these 24 hours of wild adventuring for all the community.

The day will focus on re-discovering and mapping the school grounds and neighbouring Millennium Green. We have dreaming up all sorts of playful invitations that can invite everyone to spend time in these spaces and see them differently. The day builds on the residency with artist Deb Wilenski, supported by the Fantastical Cambridgeshire Illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville. This has been exploring the school orchard and Millenium Green through the children’s interests in sound, animals, plants and what happens on their school’s grounds at night.

On Friday afternoon and evening local moth expert and school governor Gareth Rondel will be helping set moth, bat and small mammal traps alongside offering the chance to see animal star constellations in the sky (weather depending). Also on Friday there will be den making in the school orchard and over-night sand experiments in the playground to track footprints of night time activity.

On Saturday there will be maps and messages from the school children inviting new visitors to explore the orchard and Millenium Green in surprising ways. You can visit the outside Tent of Sounds and the inside Dusk to Dark Sound Space to hear and draw day and night time recorded sounds by the children and acoustic engineer William Searle or make a periscope to see the spaces of the school in an entirely new light.

Alongside these drop in events, local artist Colette Kinley will be drawing and detecting from traps and tracks in the sand and running miniature nature garden making. We are also delighted that colleagues from St Neots Museum will be leading Extraordinary Stories & Objects walks and running  a Mystery Object Table – so please bring along any artefacts to be identified.

The day will be documented through a series of short films and interviews with the children and community.

In between all these amazing activities there will be free tea, cake - by the wonderful charity Free Cakes For Kids, and breakfast butties from 10am to 12 noon by OPTA (Offord Parent Teacher Association) to fuel the adventuring!

Free. All welcome. No skills necessary. Please note all children must be accompanied. No booking required. All activities are based in the School or start from the School grounds. 

Detailed timings are:

Friday 24th March (2pm – 7.30pm)

Signs of night-time life - discover which animals visit the school orchards and grounds: 

Join in anytime between 2pm and 7.30pm. We will be working with all the children in the school from 2pm – 3.15pm to begin making dens and laying pitfall traps in the school orchard & grounds. Stay on as a family and add your own experiments whilst enjoying free refreshments. Then from 6:15pm - 7:30pm, join us to help local moth expert and school governor Gareth Rondel collects moths, lay small animal traps and see if we can detect any bats both in the school grounds and over at Millenium Green.

Saturday 25th March (10am - 2pm)

Check out our timed activities:

10am – 12pm             Detecting and drawing – join us to look at the pitfall/small mammal traps set the night before, detect bugs and draw your discoveries.

12 noon -  2pm           Tiny spaces of wonder – create your own miniature nature gardens using found objects

11am & 1pm               Extraordinary story walks with St Neots Museum –  based in the local area & approximately 30mins long

Or drop throughout the day to visit: Tent of sounds from wild Cambridgeshire.....Dusk to dawn sound space.....Table of making...Messages and maps for the Millenium Green....Mystery object table with St Neots Museum

In between all these amazing activities there will be free tea, cake - by the wonderful charity Free Cakes For Kids, and breakfast butties from 10am to 12 noon by OPTA (Offord Parent Teacher Association) to fuel the adventuring!

For map links click here.


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