What We Do

Common Ground is an arts and environmental charity based in Dorset. For the last thirty years we have worked both locally and nationally to create practical and philosophical ways of helping people build new relationships between culture and nature, collaborating widely across the arts and with academics, teachers, architects, gardeners, farmers, poets, botanists, film-makers, foresters and storytellers, all of whom help us seek new, imaginative ways to engage people with their local environment and celebrate the intimate connections communities have with the landscape that surrounds them.

Common Ground was founded in 1983 by Sue Clifford, Angela King and the writer Roger Deakin, with the idea of Local Distinctiveness at its heart. Projects like Apple DayNew MilestonesParish Maps, Tree Dressing and Community Woodlands have captured the imagination of hundreds of communities all over the country and continue to unearth very strong feelings of attachment and belonging, to local history, to language, nature, architecture, folklore, and to the landscape of places.

Conservation and climate change can feel distanced from our day-to-day lives, problems that need solving elsewhere. But if we look closely at the landscapes nearby or observe the wildlife on our doorstep, however ordinary, we start to realise just how much of this life and history deserves our attention. These everyday animals, commonplace plants and familiar landscapes are so easily overlooked but are often the things that mean the most, imbued as they are with personal affection and meaning, expressing that age-old intertwining of human life and the natural world. Drystone walls, hedges and field names. A nearby holloway, an orchard or neglected woodland. The colour of a local stone in the high street, the journey of a river through both rural and urban places, wildlife ponds and green spaces, garden birds, suburban kestrels and wildflowers growing on railway embankments: we should celebrate this wildlife and these landscapes in our back gardens and on our doorsteps, and keep them part of our daily lives to ensure they do not become vulnerable to climate change and the footloose excesses of development.

People can make a positive difference to their own localities. Our intention today, as it was thirty years ago, is to connect people with their local environment through music, art exhibitions, film-making, publishing, community gatherings and education, creating the inspiration and some of the tools that can help communities make meaningful, long-lasting connections with their home ground. We believe that caring for our everyday surroundings, our animal neighbours, and attaching ourselves to place in this way is essential to our identity and can empower communities to express themselves and take action in resourceful, imaginative and inclusive ways.

Listen to a BBC Radio 4 documentary about Common Ground’s Dorset laboratory, broadcast in February 2014.

Read a short history of Common Ground written by Jos Smith, a post-doctoral research fellow exploring the history of Common Ground at Exeter University.