Offord Primary School

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. We have worked alongside children, their families and the wider village community to creatively survey local wildlife and think about protected species, particularly bats.  We also continued to explore the local environment in extraordinary and intriguing ways. There have been a series of artist residency days with Deb Wilenski, followed by a Fantastical Bats Community Day - a hands on creative day open to all - in June.  See the diary posts below for more detail. 

Offord Primary School was our second Fantastical Cambridgeshire school partner. Deb Wilenski began working as their artist in residence in September 2016. Through Wild Exchanges we introduced 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.  This extraordinary Fantastical Map of the local area (pictured above) is one legacy of the project. A series of postcards have been produced as an invitation for everyone to keep exploring. 

There's a secret cave under this stone: who else lives in our local environment and how can we find signs of them?

A nest for a fat pigeon: how do animals construct homes and pathways, what might we build for them?

Would you like fire coming out of your ankle? What if people had amazing adaptations like moths, ants and bats?

How do the bats get in and out? Researching local species including the rare whispering Barbastelle Bat

A14 and Cambridge Community Foundation Logos

Fantastical Bats and Habitats


(Helen Stratford and Jo Holland) On two glorious June days, we welcomed 230 participants to Fantastical Bats and Habitats, our 24-hour creative wildlife surveying day for the The Offords community. Here are just a few highlights from the two days:

Our youngest visitor was 6 months old and our oldest over 80! We invited all of our visitors to think fantastically about animal habitats, particularly bats and protected species, through a range of creative and community activities.

We saw a ‘Giant Wild Village’ grow all around Offord school playground and inside the school, ‘Ant Architecture’ stretched throughout the hall.  Trees and play equipment were adapted to accommodate wildlife such as hedgehogs and changed into the shape of pigs, inspired by ‘animal architectures’.  A huge bat appeared next to the orchard and bat facts sprang up around the playground.

People also gathered together and walked to St Peter’s Church, especially opened by Church Warden Liz Howard.  Bat expert Pat Howard (AKA Bat Man) and Gerard Smith, from the A14 team, worked alongside families to discover how to identify bats from their droppings, how bats catch their prey and to further explore the relationship between human and non-human habitats, in this amazing case with both protected species and protected buildings.

Going on the bat walk – we learnt lots of facts from the bat fact manNathaniel (6)

On Saturday these themes continued: exploring overnight motion-capture footage to see who the school shared their orchard with and the discovery of squirrels, hedgehogs, cats and muntjac deer; identifying, analysing and categorising bugs found in the Orchard with Bug enthusiast and local resident Gareth Rondell; listening to and drawing wildlife sounds normally inaudible to humans in the tent of sounds, recorded by bio-acoustic engineer William Seale and including a series of nocturnal bat sounds; the ‘Ant Architecture’ grew fantastically and Big Bug hotels sprang up in the ‘Giant Wild Village’.

An extraordinary 46 people set out on a second wildlife walk, tracking a freshly mown path across Millennium Green to All Saints Church, kindly opened by Reverend Jes Salt and Church Warden John Simpkin. There were more signs of bats in The Offords at the Church and everyone spotted wildlife along the way, shouting out discoveries to share them with the group; blackbird, wood pecker, jackdaw, damsel flies, dragon flies, swifts, meadow brown butterfly and large whites.

Look a cinnabar moth, they like Ragwort. Lolly (5)

The day culminated in the installation of new bat boxes in sites chosen in collaboration with children, teachers and on-site wildlife experts.

Over 24-hours residents and visitors found unfamiliar and exciting new habitats within a village they considered home. They found out through walking, talking, collecting and making fantastically, how the spaces they knew so well were also inhabited by other exciting beings of all species and types.

Please do it again next year. Sarah and Tom

Being bats


A Boy hanging upside down being a bat

Boy haning upside down being a bat

(by Deb Wilenski) When we first went to look for signs of bats in All Saints Church we studied the outside of the building closely; the tower, the windows, the ways in for bats and other creatures.  On our second visit Benjamin’s granddad, John, who helps care for the church, met us at the door so we could come inside.  We walked up the grassy path to organ music playing softly and we remembered the whispering Barbastelle bats, a rare species found locally, who have found a way to lower their echolocation signals to avoid detection by their prey.  So quietly, whispering, we came into this beautiful little church to search for signs of animal occupation.

Image of the ceiling of the church - looking for signs of bats in All Saints Church

Searching for signs of bats in the Church ceiling

John showed us bat droppings, collecting on ledges and steps, and told us that the bats move around the church week by week, leaving these signs in different places.  The church had been recently cleaned but the children were still expert at spotting where the bats had been.  Jeremy asked how the bats could get in and John described how they squeeze through even the smallest gaps between rafters and tiles on the roof.

Looking up and around there were other wings in the church, flying company for bats.  Quiet carved forms no wider than the roof beams, the wings of WW2 pilots in insignia and aeroplanes, angels of course, and birds too.  So many corners to explore and significant objects to examine.   This was only the second time the class had been inside the church and so we invited them to look freely, see what they were drawn to and to record in observational sketches the details they liked most.  It was a peaceful and beautifully focused time of noticing, and recording.

Detail in the Church ceiling

Photo of the stained glass windows

Clipboard with a pencil drawing of a bat

Child drawing in the church

Observational sketch

Child laying is the church aisle drawing

In the afternoon we continued our bat research in different ways.  Some children drew bats using online searches for clear images as their inspiration.  A group of four children went to interview children and adults in other classes.  One group of boys show me how they could hang like bats and demonstrated physically how to be bats in the playground.  And a fourth surveyed the school grounds and orchard to photograph likely places for bat boxes.  They will take their suggestions to bat specialist Pat Howard who will be at the 24h Fantastical Bats event.

Drawing on a old photo of the church - drew bats using online searches for clear images as their inspiration

Bats draw on an image of the ceiling

We have begun to combine our findings as collaborative researchers and artists. And will also continue to work in this way on our last whole day together, with children across the school taking part too. Here are some of the things the children found out from their school friends and teachers about bats:

They stay together and live in woods.
They are nocturnal so only come out at night.
Bats are the only flying mammal.
They can hear from a distance.
They are blind, noises bounce off them.
Baby bats are called pups.
Bats use echolocation to fly around so they don’t bump into things.
Bats are really popular.
Bats use their fur to make sounds.
Mrs Amner has a family of bats at her house.
They are not in the attic because it’s a new house and the eaves are sealed off.
She sees them most evenings around 9:20pm in the garden.
Bats need to be near water where they can catch mosquitos and moths
The water source could be a river or stream or pond, but also a water butt.
Bats poo lots (evidence in the church!).
They hang down from trees.
When they wake up they flap their wings to get the blood moving.
Their wings are like cloth.
They have pointy ‘elf’ ears.
They have strong backs.

Close up of a pencil drawing of a bat

How do the bats get in and out?


Barbastelle bat

Barbastelle bat, a rare species found locally

(by Deb Wilenski) Who we are, where we live, who we live next to are all questions raised by the expansion of the A14.  In this ongoing and extensive work the builders are human and the impact on wildlife, on other species of animals, has to be considered by humans too.  I have shared with the children some images of the relocation of voles and of conservation plans for other protected species.  Some interesting conversations about human and animal co-existence have begun.

I decided for our third week to reverse the focus and explore the worlds of animal architects and animals who share our own built environments.  Much of human construction and engineering is inspired by the building skills of other animals.  I was specifically prompted by driving on a man-made road, behind a man-made lorry, carrying the logo of a giant ant – master builder and transporter of the insect world.

Lorry carrying the logo of a giant ant

Chris PackhamAn underground ant city

So we explored three questions: who already shares our constructed environments with us?  How do animals build?  How could we build for animals?  We took our researches into the school grounds and orchard, to the Millennium Green and following a grassy path, to All Saints Church which has Long-Eared and Pipistrelle bats roosting in its structures.

The sharp- eyed surveyors in Wrens class found abundant evidence of animal occupation and building and began to ask questions: how do the bats get in and out of the church?  What would make a good bat tower?  We found a busy community of ants in the orchard who disappeared down their tunnels when a log was upturned. 

Sharp-eyed surveyors in Wrens class finding abundant evidence of animal occupation

Sharp-eyed surveyors in Wrens class finding abundant evidence of animal occupation

Offord Church

Some children built like ants in the afternoon – transporting pieces of white paper to form tunnels and cells, linking individual locations together to form communities.   Others built environments for bats with towers and bridges, tunnels to fly through and many ways in and out.

environments for bats with towers and bridges, tunnels to fly through and many ways in and out

environments for bats with towers and bridges, tunnels to fly through and many ways in and out

environments for bats with towers and bridges, tunnels to fly through and many ways in and out

environments for bats with towers and bridges, tunnels to fly through and many ways in and out

Drawing of environments for bats

environments for bats with towers and bridges, tunnels to fly through and many ways in and out

A nest for a fat pigeon


Harry's map

Millennium Green

(by Deb Wilenski) Leading on from our first week’s exploration of legs and adaptations, we began to think about where legs go and how.  I shared some images from our previous Offord school project in which children had made different kinds of maps; a mouse map of the school orchard, an aerial view for a bird.  And when we arrived in the Millennium Green we split into small groups again to look for and record the different pathways, human and animal, which were visible or could be imagined.

From journeys we turned to settling.  Where could animals make their homes?  Were any already obvious?  What materials were available for construction?  Lolly spotted a mouse tunnel through nettles and told me it goes in through here and then round in a big circle and this is where it comes out.  Right inside is where they have their beds.

Millennium Green

A mouse tunnel through nettles

The green had been recently mown and heaps of cut grasses made brilliant nesting material.  A nest for a fat pigeon grew with each new handful of grass, was decorated and fresh green grass placed in its centre.  It occupied half the bench in the end, a new shared place of rest for pigeons and people together.

Heaps of cut grasses made brilliant nesting material

A heap of cut grass

In the afternoon we introduced clay alongside the materials used in the morning and the children created intricate homes for animals.  A long roll of paper was used to represent a large road, coming right alongside the animal homes as the A14 does.  And each group found ways to cross or move home, by bridge, tower or pathway.

Intricate homes for animals made of clay

Intricate homes for animals

A long roll of paper was used to represent a large road

A long roll of paper was used to represent a large road

Children created intricate homes for animals

Intricate homes for animals

Would you like fire coming out of your ankle?


Drawing legs

(by Deb Wilenski) In our second project with Offord Primary School we are exploring the relationships between human and animal ecology – shared habitats, new transport developments, protected species and the many ways in which our sense of who we are is tied up with where we live and who else lives there with us.

In this wonderfully small school, with a total of 100 pupils, many children know each other and we began by thinking of ourselves as fellow scientists and artists, part of a community which includes the children who explored with us last time, the adult professionals with whom we made wild exchanges, the wildlife specialists who are part of the A14 development teams, and the village community who know their local spaces well.

It was in this spirit that Wrens class, 16 skilled and enthusiastic wildlife surveyors, set off with their teachers and parent volunteers to explore the animal and plant ecology of the Millennium Green.  They recorded findings in a series of small observational drawings, some named, others recorded by physical form only.

Finding a stone




Moss in the palm of a hand

Tree canopy

We continued this process of looking and recording in the afternoon focussing on ourselves as a species that has evolved to walk on two legs.  We compared human and animal legs of many kinds and tested our own legs to see what they could do.  And on a perfect sunny day with bare feet in the grass, the children worked in pairs, one acting as the ‘leg’ model, one as the ‘drawer’, to make observational drawings.

Drawing legs

They finished the session by adding fantastical adaptations to their classmates’ legs on a tracing paper layer, interviewing their partner and drawing the powers and features they wanted to be given.

Thomas' leg by Isla

Thomas’ leg by Isla: fire, bullet gun, butterfly and magnetic force

Isla's leg by Thomas

Isla’s leg by Thomas: mazes inside, spikes, a candle – the red lines are full of trap doors


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