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Creating place-based activities – ‘Cornish Sensory Renewal’

By Dr Ruth Heholt, Associate Professor of Dark Economies and Gothic Literature at Falmouth University 

Discover how Ruth brought people together to connect over their local area of Cornwall and read her advice on working with partners to engage local communities.

Can you tell us a little bit about your Being Human activity ‘Cornish Sensory Renewal’? 

The day of workshops was focussed around a renewed sense of community and well-being. We hoped to offer some respite after a long, hard year and we wanted participants to come away with lightened hearts and an enhanced feeling of inner peace. Using beautiful Cornwall and focussing on the senses was intended to be both enlivening and grounding. Our staff were all creative practitioners who wanted to share and enhance their practice. Coming together to create after a year of distance was restorative. We were aiming for fun, a sense of creativity, and togetherness. 

Who did you hope to attract to your activity? Did you work with any partners to help engage your intended audience? 

We wanted an audience that would not usually be able to, or perhaps even consider, visiting Kestle Barton which is a beautiful, rural art gallery. The art gallery has free admission and aims to cater to a wide community audience, so we brought a new audience to the lovely space. Our partner, Cornwall Neighbourhoods for Change has the aim of ‘bringing communities together to do the things that matter most, providing people with opportunities to live their best life’. We felt that bringing these partners together alongside Falmouth University’s creative writing practitioners and academics would produce a creative, fruitful, and sustainable connection.

Doors to Kestle Barton gallery in Helston, Cornwall
Kestle Barton gallery in Helston, Cornwall

Why was it important for your activity to have a place-based focus on Cornwall and how did this shape your programming? 

The beautiful rural setting was key in looking for a venue. The idea of Cornish sensory renewal rested on creativity, and the peace of a rural backdrop. All the activities offered were worked around this setting and the needs of our community partner. The workshops were intended to be invigorating and grounding. By focussing on the senses we wanted to encourage personal well-being but also to enhance a sense of connection with all of humanity. We wanted our audience to be able to access and ‘use’ Cornwall’s beauty in a way that might not usually be possible for them. 

What steps did you take to ensure the activity was accessible and inclusive? 

Our partner, Kestle Barton, is not always accessed by Cornwall’s most underserved populations. Behind the beauty and tourist hotspots lies one of the most economically disadvantaged regions in Europe. There are Cornish children who have never seen the sea. We wanted to bring people to one of the lovely places in Cornwall and to introduce people to the art gallery as a free, community-engaged space. The aim was to enable people to learn new skills and reinvigorate lost interests. We wanted to enhance a sense of connection with the self and lovely Cornwall.  

To make sure everyone who wanted to participate could, we offered free transport to and from Kestle Barton as it is difficult to access without a car. We made sure the spaces were accessible to our audience and that Cornwall Neighbourhoods for Change were able to tell their clients that this would be an easy, fun, creative, and interesting free day out.

Two men sit cross legged on the floor using felt tips to draw on pebbles
'Cornish Sensory Renewal' at Kestle Barton

Did you face any challenges in organising your activity? What were the successes? 

We did not manage to attract as large an audience as we might have liked, largely due to the fact that it was during COVID-19 and it was face-to-face. However, in the end it was really friendly in a way that was not anticipated, and we were able to give people more time and attention than if there were larger numbers in attendance.

The event was marvellous and everyone had a wonderful time. We will certainly look to put on similar events in the future and we are looking at more co-created research-led activities too. 

Taking part in the Being Human festival gave us a platform which provided structure and stature to our event and this was invaluable.  

Do you have any top tips or lessons learned for future event organisers? 

  • When conceiving your activity, plan to make it as fun, interesting and accessible as you can imagine.
  • Find partners as early as possible and liaise with them about what you should offer your intended audience.
  • Be prepared to be flexible and to shift and change arrangements/details as necessary. 

Photos copyright of David Devanny, Jennifer Young, Sherezade Garcia Rangel.

Try it yourself

This project was part of Being Human’s 2021 Small Award pathway. To be part of the festival please visit our ‘Get involved’ page. 

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