Making Sense of Here, 2020 Update

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Posted on February 21, 2020


here we stand, on the highest hill, taking in the view
the landscape as an open book
a story of the past
that has brought us to here: 
this moment, this place
that we and generations before us have created


Last January we launched Sense of Here and set out on a 12-month series of walks, camps and conversations. We’ve been out in all weathers, under cloudy skies, in warm sunshine, beneath clear and starry skies, and in finger-biting cold, getting a feel for the many different landscapes in the Lake District. And we’ve been meeting people whose life experience and professional training give them special insights into the elements that make up place. If you are curious to know more check out the website and series of blog posts here.


Sense of Here was conceived as a meeting place for feeling and knowing - taking time to pause, to feel the wonder and pleasure that can come from being outside, and listening to different views and opinions about caring for a precious environment so that it supports natural ecosystems and thriving human cultures.

We set out in 2019 with a circular clock-face map to navigate by - the centre of the 'clock' is the Under Helm Sycamore, one of our seven trees from the Long View project. We have walked and slept our way around the Lake District, camping once a month, choosing our sites at 30-degree intervals. Our map also contains twelve issues that have become prompts for consideration of place, and have led us into conversations about these issues in Cumbria, and in the wider national context. We’ve been walking through windswept and exposed peat bogs, thinking about what we’ve learnt from experts and organisations working to restore depleted peatlands; we’ve wandered along rivers after talking to water specialists, ruminating on the challenges of soil erosion, carbon sequestration, tree cover and flooding; we’ve looked down from the high fells on villages, hamlets and towns after conversations about social cohesion, community wellbeing and tourism; we’ve crossed between hefts after speaking with farmers and land managers. We’ve pondered what we’ve been learning with data analysts and systems thinkers (as well as with friends who are curious or patient enough to listen …) and more than 130 people have contributed to our Sense of Here map, adding their thoughts about what really matters, and the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.


Every time we’ve been out we’ve been rejuvenated by the fresh air and the views of the wide landscape and of the smaller elements at our feet. We’ve felt so much better for being outside and taking on the physical challenge of walking. We love getting out and the commitment to a monthly camp has become a gift: each short expedition has been entirely worth it, even though the bags are heavy, and the nights have often been cold. Without this repeated connection with the elements, our view of the place we’re considering would be too heavily weighted in favour of intellect and would lack something essential: the emotional sense of connection and care, and a visceral, bodily knowledge of being part of an interconnected landscape.

Erecting the canvas once each month, each time with a different phrase that makes up a circular poem (any phrase could begin the sequence), has been a central part of our 12-month process. Installing the canvas has inclined us to look very closely at specific locations, and to delve ever deeper into our consideration of what’s around us: all the elements, and how they are connected.


Alongside the pleasure, and the inspiration of being out at dawn and dusk, and under stars, we have, without exception, been preoccupied with concern about the future of this landscape. There are moments of wonder - the light of a coming storm sending ranks of fells into a spectrum of blues, meadows bursting with life, an abundance of heather in August, a rare oil beetle scurrying over stones, moss and lichen thriving among ancient and veteran trees ... And there are moments when a sense of loss or absence brings a cold empty sensation of sorrow - bare land with poor soils and pale grass, the silence of air where once there would have been birdsong, unwooded land where there could be more trees. As with so many places on this planet, the Lake District and Cumbria are experiencing a fall in biodiversity. That’s not to say there aren’t areas that are wonderfully rich in their variety of plants and animals - there are. And there’s also a lot of work being done by individuals, communities and organisations to care for what is there and make changes to improve the situation. But more needs to be done. The area is also feeling the impacts of a changing climate and there is pressure to change the way the land is cared for, managed and supported.


2020 is a year for action and joined up thinking internationally, nationally, and locally. For us, in the context of Sense of Here, it’s about bringing the pieces together, and bringing people together. This summer we’ll be running the second Sense of Here artists residency and we’ll be hosting a Young People’s Summit. And in Autumn we will launch an exhibition and book. To keep an eye on progress, and to add your thoughts and comments, head over to the Sense of Here website.



here we stand, on the highest hill, taking in the view
the landscape as an open book
a story of the past
that has brought us to here:
this moment, this place 
that we and generations before us have created

here we stand, on the highest hill, taking in the view 
the land as a fabric, worn and threadbare
tattered at the edges, rubbed away

the land as a jewelled necklace, robbed of its beads

we see a hanging on of fragments, dry islands
connected by invisible threads, the memories
the hopes of people whose hearts dwell here

what does success look like, from the highest hill
when we look over this place in five years’ time, ten, twenty
when the fragments are linked
when the land is whole again

this future begins with listening
to people to sense to land
to science to animals
to weather to potential
to hope


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