'Shared Space' The Sixth Andrew Raven Trust Annual Weekend


Ardtornish House, Morvern

Full report

Weekend introduction by Angus Hardie

Andrew Raven Trust weekends are intended to stimulate thought, provoke debate and offer new insights and perspectives on some of the big issues facing rural Scotland. We deliberately pick broad themes for each weekend to give us maximum flexibility when designing the programme and in the range of contributors that we can invite.  We are however, ever mindful that the theme and the content of the programme must always reflect the core mission of ART with its focus on sustainable rural development and in particular the health and vibrancy of rural communities.

The theme chosen for 2012 was Shared Space. Over the course of the weekend we explored many perspectives and interpretations of ‘shared space’ both directly in the context of a rural community and as an abstraction and a way of thinking about our lives more generally. At times we considered the theme at its most literal – as a series of relationships, both between people living and working in a community and some of the more complex and mediated relationships between local wildlife (usually the deer population) and people.  At other times, shared space was examined through the lens of the creative and cultural influences of multi-media, art and theatre. And at all times throughout the weekend, the thoughts and reactions of everyone flowed freely during the walks and talks, dinners, drinks, music and conversation long into the night.

The inputs on Friday evening were all very much grounded in the practical realities of shared space. Angus Robertson, Ardtornish Estate manager, shared some thoughts on how the tensions generated by the many different pressures on land and land use over the years were in constant flux and how they can impact on the complex management decisions for an estate like Ardtornish. In particular, he talked about the project which has the potential to have greatest impact on the financial sustainability of the estate - the hydro scheme.  Angus explained the delicate balancing of the environmental impact of the construction work against all the hoped for benefits.  This is shared space at the sharp end of trying to reconcile what at times appear to be very opposing interests and priorities.

The conflicts that can arise in land use and between the interests of different land users were a recurring sub theme of the weekend. Katrina Brown from James Hutton Institute outlined her work in relation to the Outdoor Access Code particularly with reference to mountain bikers and dog walkers. Katrina has used webcams attached to dogs and bikes to bring a very unusual and different perspective to the debate. Dog walking in the country seems to invoke very different reactions from different standpoints – farmers, RSPB, walkers and so on.

Saturday’s contributors took our chosen theme into very different arenas – theatrical interpretations and how creative shared space can be invented;  a project that fused the traditional boundaries of the scientist and artist and an examination of the benefits that can accrue from that shared experience; and a scientist (and no mean artist himself) who brought scientific rigour to an analysis of our appreciation of landscape art using his own paintings by way of illustration, making links to the crisis in world food production and the significance of protecting and preserving the shared space that is so critical to our survival as a species.

The discussion that flowed from these three inputs was predictably free-ranging and almost impossible to record. Some overarching conclusions were that shared space is not necessarily a naturally occurring state, it requires constant attention and a conscious effort to be open to the possibilities and potential benefits that can flow from it.

Saturday afternoon included walks, talks and visits to different sites around the community giving practical illustrations of shared space. The new community allotments have been developed on land that no one seemed to claim ownership of. An interesting slant on shared space – ownership of space seems less important than the use to which it is put. A huge amount of physical effort has been applied to create this new shared space – that shared endeavour seems to have added real value to the project, while still allowing individual perspectives to shine through in the design of each allotment. Similarly, the new enterprise of the local community trust – a pontoon/marina – has been a long time coming and is a shared (community owned) aspiration that will generate not only an income for the community but, as with the allotments,  result in increased levels of community self-esteem and confidence. On the walk back to Ardtornish House, we hear about plans to manage the ancient woodland in a manner more akin to Victorian days -  small scale, continuous, for local trade and in a way that acknowledges it is also a space that is shared by many deer (so different from modern forestry practice).

Saturday evening was given over to Ruth Little of Cape Farewell and artist Deirdre Nelson who described their respective works as ways of exploring the common territory of climate change and its impact on our world. With a reference to earlier presentations on the connections between art and science, Cape Farewell throws together artists, musicians and scientists and sets them off on sailing expeditions.  The chemistry generated by sharing space at such close quarters has produced fascinating outcomes and changes in the outlooks of many of these intrepid adventurers. Deirdre introduced us to a flock of woolly terns that she and a group of knitters from Mull and from some other far flung places have produced. The value of this collective effort in terms of the pleasure it gave to all those who had contributed, provided another insight into the intrinsic value of sharing the artistic space.

A very fine dinner, drinks and a bit of ceilidh saw Saturday to a gentle close – so much to reflect upon.

The largest shared space of our time must be the internet.  It also seems to be a general truism that the younger one is, the more comfortable one is to sit within this new space and in particular to engage with the emerging range of social media. That may explain some of the reluctance of more than a few attendees to embrace some of the ideas being expounded in the last presentation of the weekend.  It is clear that we are at the dawn of an era which is going to bring an ever increasing acceleration of technological advance and that the challenge for us all has to be to find a means of harnessing its potential to meet the challenge of helping to build more sustainable rural communities.

Before everyone departed for ferries and home, there was a chance to reflect on the weekend and share any thoughts and ideas that have surfaced during its course. There were many of these but with no particular conclusions drawn – and that is not the point.  The real point of this weekend is that when we all go home to our different spaces that we share with families, friends and work colleagues, that whatever it is we take away with us will, in some small way, help us to achieve our shared ambition for a better and more sustainable rural Scotland.

To read the full weekend report by Ruth Anderson, please click here.