Over the last few months I have been working with an outstanding team on Crafty Explorers, an innovative project to improve the health of children aged 5 and below. A response to the Knee High Project design challenge that is run by the Design Council and funded by Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity, Crafty Explorers is a friendly and affordable place for families to make clay creatures.
Other than boogly googly eyes all of the materials we use are natural and could be found for free with a bit of foraging. Acorn tops and pebbles make great eyes too though, so some are 100% natural. After making their crafty creatures we challenge children to complete missions with them in local parks. Challenges include going outside into green spaces to fly, climb, make a nest, find a worm, hide from pigeons and many more.
The pop-up shop that we opened to trial our ideas in Nunhead (Southwark, south London) was a massive success. Parents reported that we were having a positive influence on the physical and mental health of their children, as well as helping them to connect with nature and learn new skills. Many families came back several times over the six weeks that we were open and a few visited us daily for periods. This is high street, popular and engaging “learning outside the classroom” and “fieldwork” that we have linked to local schools, but is independent of them.
The building was provided by Southwark Council who are doing some great work to lift Nunhead’s village high street. With many central shopping areas in the middle of identity crises, we can see a role for Crafty Explorers not just in helping to improve the health of children, but in being an alternative centre for communities.
Helen, Carolina, Lesley, Tom, Alan, Pete and Mark are just a few of the excellent people from Explorer HQ, The Geography Collective and City Farmers who have come together to work on Crafty Explorers. A blend of great design, simple ideas, deep thinking and positive energy made the shop the success that it was.
The pilot shop is now closed, but the project lives on. This week we present our research, ideas and plans to the Knee High Project panels. With a blend of skill, hard work and luck we may just get through to the next stage of the design challenge. This will give us some added support to help bring Crafty Explorers to the next level.
I’m looking forward to speaking at a National Geographic event at the Wellcome Collection tonight ahead of the 125th anniversary of the organisation. The evening for commercial supporters of National Geographic in the UK is called the “New Age of Exploration”. In my short presentation I plan to (re)frame what ‘geography’ is (much like in this recent interview with Geographical Magazine) and then touch on an ‘exploration revolution’ that is taking place. Technology is not only changing how we conceive, plan, organise, conduct, share and review our explorations, but the number of people who can engage in them.
I love this short video by ito! showing four years of edits on Open Street Map. It’s an awesome example of collaborative and open exploration that involved over 750,000 registered users and shows collaboration at its best. For me, some of the most exciting cartographic ‘events’ in this video are where sparks of activity appear in countries, regions and neighbourhoods that were otherwise left uncharted or unpublished by governments and other organisations. It all demonstrates that places are not just discovered once, they can be discovered and rediscovered millions of times as they change and new people and other animals visit them. It’s a video that shows an Exploration Revolution that you are unavoidably part of…
…when your exploring on a skateboard.
I’m very excited.
For a while now I’ve really wanted there to be a playful way for local children to engage with a particular historical geography of our local park. It’s called Blondin after the famous tightrope walker who crossed Niagra Falls on a 1,100 foot rope with a man on his back. The rope itself was just 7.5cm wide. This amazing effort happened back in 1859 and has recently been brought up again after Nik Wallenda made a similar crossing on a wire. Blondin lived by the park and as well as the park taking his name, two local streets are called Blondin and Niagra.
Last night I attended the Northfields ward forum in west London where I live. I had contacted my local councillor with with an idea last week and he had suggested that I brought it along to the meeting. I proposed to the crowd that we should have a line drawn 1,100 feet through the park on the path so that people can attempt to replicate his success. A sign would also be needed to explain the line, it’s heritage and to suggest some challenges to complete on it. To my amazement the idea went down very well, a vote took place and now we’re looking at designing the line into the park.
I’m excited to see how this line will act as a path for psychogeographical journeys as adventurers fear falling off the line and are drawn into other times and places. Children, families and other explorers will imagine and experience a blend of the river, waterfall, distance, sound, balance, drop, context, history, fear, playfulness, courage, geographies and pasts as they venture down the line and feel fragments of this inspirational story.
I can’t wait to try and walk the line myself.
I spent last weekend in Dublin. My cousin is getting married in a couple of weeks and so a pile of us spent the weekend drifting around the city engaged in (un)important and (un)traditional cultural activities. In addition to poisoning our bodies and dancing to R&B in the passive aggressive Sin bar, we had a great time trying to find Ireland’s biggest indoor Go Karting arena in a challenged industrial estate and visiting the Dogs with the stag dressed as Lady Luck.
Over the weekend I learnt many things. One of which is that Danbo isn’t just a Danish furniture store or a semi-soft cow’s cheese from the same country… I’m not sure if the furniture is made of the cheese. Danbo is also “possibly the cutest little guy you will ever see in the world…” and a cardboard box toy robot that was being carried around by another member of our party. A semi-professional photographer, he was taking pictures of his Danbo in much the same way as Slinkachu’s Little People Project (which I take inspiration from in my work with kids) and these beautiful bug memorials by the Carmichael Collective, placing him the robot in clever situations.
This picture is a picture I took on my phone of a picture that he had on his phone of a picture on Flickr.
Since my first encounter with Danbo in Dublin I’ve been enjoying amusing and intelligent pictures of him all around the world. Check out these on Flickr, the Facebook group and if you’ve got £30 to spare you can join the party and buy one on eBay.
Danbo walks an interesting line between guerrilla street art and consumerist consumption. The Danbo project reminds me of the inspired Yellow Arrow project in the sense that it nurtures alternative thinking, supports new creative practices, builds social networks and encourages people to explore. They’re also both global art projects that disrupt guerrilla practices with competitive commercial strategies and prices that have significant financial barriers to participation. This is perhaps part of the appeal for some of those who join in. I did buy Yellow Arrow stickers but I think think I’ll wait for a Danbo to cost 90% less and get another Lego person for my son instead (have you seen The Brick Testament!?).
URBAN EARTH is a project that I started back in 2008. The project involves walking across urban areas like this short video explains. It was shot by SUSO* in 2008 shortly after I arrived by from walking across Mexico City, Mumbai and London along with a number of cool people who joined me. I’ve just got permission from SUSO* to put it up. I hope you find it interesting.
I’ve not been blogging as much as I would like to, either here or on The Geography Collective’s blog. We are currently in the final stages of developing Discover Explore, a project for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad that is part of a strand called Discovering Places. The purpose of the project is to help young people and families discover, explore and learn from new places in new ways.
The Discover Explore pilot focusses along the Great Glen in Scotland. The Glen stretches down a geological fault between Fort William and Inverness. It is here where you will find Britain’s oldest rocks and what is left of a mountain range that used to be as high as the Himalayas. Discover Explore covers and bridges some of the inseparable natural and human heritage of the area including pre-historic hunters, Picts, Clans, Jacobites, myths and legends including a number of different Loch Ness Monsters.
Parts of Discover Explore are about exploring to discover specific places.. find which street a photograph was taken on and you can win points. Others are far more subjective challenges that only the explorer will know how well their mission has been done. They can still win honesty points though.
Some of the missions are text based, others include pictures and some include listening to sounds. You can listen to two different interviews that are used in Discover Explore here. One is of a full time and professional Loch Ness Monster hunter.
Discover Explore is young and will grow over coming weeks and months. May you be a family visiting the Great Glen or a teacher anywhere in the world looking for some activity ideas, I hope you enjoy it when it goes live.
To be one of the first to learn when it goes live visit the holding page here.