Re-discover Workshops

A collaboration between Rewilding Sussex and the University of Brighton


As part of the lead up to the 2015 Rediscovering Nature exhibition young conservationists from Rewilding Sussex teamed up with Art, Craft and Design Students from the University of Brighton to hold a series of 3 workshops to discuss the many issues relating to Rewilding the Valley Gardens and Brighton Biosphere.

This post will summarise the events of these workshops which were held to stimulate the development of projects and installations to be held at the exhibition.


Day 1:

Initially focused around a ‘meet and greet’ format to get all participating individuals to familiarise themselves with one another, it was exciting to see how quickly people settled in and started to spin ambitious ideas.

We began with opening talks from Jim Mayor of the Valley Gardens, Rich Howorth of the Brighton Biosphere and Chris Sandom Project Manager and founder of Rewilding Sussex. Their talks were highly inspiring and it was great to learn about the history and future plans for each of these organizations.

We coordinated the lunch break in the most creative manner, one which I would highly recommend in the future. Having been supplied the ‘raw materials’ of loaves of bread, vegetables, humus, cheese and other condiments we organised ourselves into teams which focused on particular elements of the ‘sandwich making’ process. One team formed to create paper cups and plates following the design of Stefano Santilli, another to slice the bread, and another to cut the veg (I use the word cut in the most liberal of manners ;) ).

All in all it made for a messy, hectic, yet invigorating and strangely rewarding experience. I wonder what the effects are of living in the era of fast food and ‘grab and go’ sandwiches. Food preparation and cooking would have once been a highly social event with each member of the ‘social group’ participating in this highly organised ritual. Many people now live so detached from this process I don’t doubt that some children would be surprised to associate a cow to cheese or a chicken to a chicken… maybe.

We finished off the day’s session by forming into small groups to start discussing particular challenges relating to the concept of ‘Rewilding’. For example, how can you justify Rewilding large areas of land which could otherwise be used in agriculture and food production? By cutting down on the amount of food we produce as a nation would we not simply be putting an increased pressure on international produce markets. This may in turn lead to the destruction of pristine ‘wild’ ecosystems such as tropical rainforest which is perhaps counter intuitive to the ethos of Rewilding.

Day 2:

We began Day 2 by picking up where we left off in Day 1. We organised ourselves into small groups set with the task of identifying broad, overarching ‘themes’ for which we could frame ideas for design projects around.

A number of interesting themes came up such as habitat restoration and rural sports or activities. We then each put our name towards the theme which we found the most inspiring. There were some winners and some losers, however by the end of it we had organised ourselves into teams of ‘like minded’ and similarly inspired individuals. We were now tasked with developing feasible project ideas which could be created for the exhibition. After an intense series of discussions we began to realise that some ideas were more feasible than others, unfortunately creating a life size replica of a Straight Tusked Elephant from steel would be unachievable given time constraints…

We finished the day with a walk through the Valley Gardens themselves and a tour of the exhibition space at the ONCA Gallery by Lauren the centre manager for the space. It was surprisingly inspiring to see how each space within the gallery could be utilized and encouraging to see people already getting excited about how to make the most out of each area (Watch out for the dark cave at the back of the gallery, it has a few major thrills being planned for it).

Day 3:

In the final day of workshops we found ourselves starting off with a gaming session playing ‘MineCraft’ courtesy of Joe and Megan from ‘BlockBuilders’. For the purpose of this exhibition Joe and Megan had created the full extent of the Valley Gardens within MineCraft and we were setup with laptops and developing tools to ‘Rewild’ this space. After a few short introductory games to familiarise everybody with the controls we were set loose.

Some of us escaped to distant areas to peacefully sculpt species and dig ponds. Others engaged in the chaos which unfolded in front of Brighton University; Wolves were being spawned in every corner of the gardens as well as Horses, Big Cats and Blue Whales… what?. Soon huge numbers of whales began pouring from the skies as trigger happy 18+ year olds had fun with a game targeted at 8-12 year olds. The server had to soon be reset due to the mass number of animals occupying the space. Luckily the TNT was disabled…

Eventually most of us became relatively productive; Brighton Uni was undergoing a ‘green revolution’ kitted out with green roofs and a number of huge elephant sculptures appeared in the area. I only wish we had more time as it made for an extremely engaging session. Many thanks to BlockBuilders for organising this, and I hope there is some way of displaying these events during the exhibition itself.

After a much needed lunch break we then reorganised ourselves back into the teams of Day 2. Each team continued to flesh out project ideas and focus in on issues we were each particular inspired to address.

One example would be the ‘Eco Structures’ team. The idea here is to create a series of public use structures which were inspired or could illustrate particular themes within Rewilding. One of the central themes around ecosystem Rewilding is the reintroduction of keystone species. This group came up with the idea to create a bench or series of benches inspired by the form of keystone species which could be reintroduced (such as the Beaver) as well as keystone species which have become extinct (such as the Auroch).

Another example is the ‘Wild Games’ team. To address the issue of our ever declining association to nature this group decided to develop a series of ‘games’ which could be played to facilitate particular ecosystem services such as seed dispersal as well as inform people on issues relating to a decline in wild spaces. They were in part inspired by the origins of the Olympic Games which were at origin predominating comprised of proxies to skills involved within battle and hunting such as the javelin and archery.

These workshops were extremely engaging and I hope to participate in similar projects in the future. I can’t wait to get practical and start building the ideas we have been dreaming up and seeing what each team comes up with for the exhibition in a few months time