Wild Exchange

CCI’s projects value and facilitate exchanges of many kinds.  In our Footprints work we find ways for children to hear and work with each other’s ideas and discoveries, and we deliberately build connections between experiences in the wild outdoors and creative experiments and explorations in the classroom.

In recent projects we have extended the idea of exchange and invited adult professionals in the field of landscape and the imagination to respond to the children’s work.  Writer Robert Macfarlane wrote a an intriguing Foreword to our Fantastical Guide to Hinchingbrooke Country Park, and the poet Jackie Kay worked alongside Year 1 and Year 3 in the Spinney Wild Woods to make new work of her own as well as collaborative work with the children.

The many worlds in the woods is currently finding a new visual expression in our most recent Wild Exchange with illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville.  She has built a Fantastical Map of Spinney Wild Woods from the children’s poems, stories and images along with elements of Jackie Kay’s poems and material from time spent exploring and sketching the woods herself.  It is a captivating piece of work, built with more than fifty visual ‘layers’ and catching the shifting character of a wild space beautifully. Details of a launch will follow soon.

Now we are beginning a new kind of Wild Exchange.  We want to extend the invitation to respond to children’s discoveries to a wider range of professionals - writers and illustrators of course, but also tree surgeons, architects, archaeologists, mathematicians, engineers, botanists, film-makers…

And we have decided to offer tantalising but minimalist moments from the children’s explorations.  A single image.  A striking phrase.  A provocative question.

As a first experiment with this minimalist form, we asked an architect/artist and a tree specialist to respond to Fareedá’s (age 5) statement from Hinchingbrooke woods: I am going to find the big city.  You can read more about the context of this in our Fantastical GuideBelow are responses from Richard Rice and Helen Stratford and we look forward to sharing more as the project builds.  

Fareedá: I am going to find the big city


For me a warm, yet not to hot, summer’s day spent high in the upper crown of a mature broad leaved native tree is just so amazing.  It is like watching the sunlight being drawn in by the cathedral of bright green chlorophyll leaves in & being surrounded by an insurmountable wall of positive living & life giving energy in the form of photosynthesis.

Four year old Fareeda’s statement has got me to thinking that perhaps a mature tree is like a big city, home to on average of roughly 300 -350 bugs, insects & animals. How intuitive & remarkably honest & yet simple - for me, the natural conclusion I have come to is that may be Fareeda and her friends were all in the big city already. Perhaps a wood is a big city?

I mean when you stop to think about it what could make more sense? By comparison there are lots of different cultures with species living side by side in a wood. Like any city there is always some sort of change going on, whether it is the noises of animals as they go about their daily business, or the changes of the seasons.

When you first go to a city you have to get to know your way around. I guess it is no different than a wood - the more times you visit the more you see & the more you learn, the more you get to know your way around.

Yes the  more I think about it the more I think a wood is just like a big city.

Richard Rice works for Cambridgeshire County Council and looks after the trees that grow on school grounds across the county. He has been climbing trees all his life.

I immediately thought of this image when I read Fareeda’s idea.

It is called The Intelligent Market and it is by two of my favourite artists Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin. It shows a space that is so full of building it looks like a forest. So the complete opposite of what Fareeda is saying but sort of the same …

There’s a story in the drawing about how people come to leave things they think are true only to find a thousand other stories that other people leave with different thoughts. It reminds me of how CCI uncover different realities with children.

Fareeda’s idea also reminded me of a project I did called ‘Little Seeds’ with a primary school in Leicester with artist Sally Brown. With year 2 pupils and their teacher, we explored a garden which sat in the centre of the school but which had been hidden from view by blacked out windows. The children were so excited to uncover what one called a ‘Jungle Room,’ and another a ‘Flower Baby.’ We could see that the garden space fuelled their imagination and we went on to rediscover the wider grounds of the school together, building shelters between the trees with different types of materials that allowed you to see through them from inside to outside and back again.

At the end of our explorations we asked the children how did that feel?

To which the response came:

We had an adventure … in the forest.

Helen Stratford is an artist and describes her practice as located somewhere between performance art, architecture and writing. Image taken from Brodsky and Utkin: The Complete Works, by Lois Nesbitt (2003)