A place-making project for our county

Fantastical Cambridgeshire Logo a drawing of a fantastical red lizard with spines like creature

I care more about what is around me. (Marleigh)

This gloriously ambitious long-term project about our county is connecting people of all ages, their local area, adventuring and culture. The connection between our work and the well-being of the children involved will be researched as part of the The Eco-Capabilities Project, run by our colleagues at Anglia Ruskin University. Projects this year are planned with Shirley Primary School in North Cambridge and Howard Primary School in Bury St Edmunds. 

I notice every other little detail in life now (Zac)

It’s made me feel more adventurous (Ruby)

I feel different on my inside because of different experiences with nature(Iestyn)

When I am around bugs and plants and living things now, it makes me feel a little more alive (Dalston)

The project began in 2016. Our focus is on a primary school sharing creative adventures with young children and their teachers and community to discover real, local spaces in extraordinary, enchanting and intriguing ways.  We also invite children’s families and the wider community to encounter and add to the children’s discoveries at our community events. Fantastical Maps are created for each community, drawn from the conversations and creative work generated by the adventuring. These invite people of all ages to re-imagine each local space and the possibilities it offers.

To extend connections further we have invited wild exchanges with others outside of each project.  Particular images, words and ideas from the children’s work have been offered to other adults -  artists, architects, engineers, botanists, biologists, experts and enthusiasts of all kinds - as source material for new work and as prompts to remember their own fascinations.  Recent collaborations with writers Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Kay began this process. Through these ‘conversations’ we have seen our fantastical map of the county grow in unexpected ways, as each location becomes connected further and wider in the world.  And we continue to advocate for a fundamental right of children – to be recognised as makers as well as receivers of the creative culture around them.  

The first of our maps was created for Spinney Wild Woods. Below are the three maps created to date from our projects between 2016 - 2018 with three communities in St Neots - Eynesbury Primary School, Offord Primary School and The Round House Primary School. Our first Fantastical Cambridgeshire project was with Spinney Primary School in Cambirdge. We worked with Histon Early Years Centre in 2019,  linked to the villages of Histon and Impington on the edge of north Cambridge. Each project diary explores the intricate links to these maps and gives details of the projects that enabled them.

Fantastical Cambridgeshire Maps

Working in St Neots


Here are some key outcomes from our work with three schools in St Neots from 2016-18.

There were:

  • 9,191 hours of participatory arts activities with 95% of these having taken place in non-arts venues (community centres, schools, woods, playgrounds, orchards, village greens, churches, market squares, Rowing clubs and libraries).
  • 103 creative participatory sessions, delivered through 28 partnerships and in more than 18 places across Cambridgeshire
  • 20 performances or exhibitions, with 921 performance or exhibition days
  • 20 new products and commissions

We connected with:

  • 2,752 participants and co-creators (children, educators, arts, cultural and conservation professionals, local community members and volunteers) with 65% of these from an area with known ‘deprivation hot spots’
  • 22,014 audience members with 90% of these from an area with known ‘deprivation hot spots’
  • 68,000 people online

We thought about how:

  • Placing children at the centre of the work and carefully listening to them gives them a voice and enables them to confidently develop creative skills
  • Working in familiar community settings and in non-arts locations means that more people will actively engage with the work and widens participation
  • Offering high quality, multiple and disciplinary art forms enables a much broader engagement with a range of participants
  • Working collaboratively and valuing input from everyone transforms relationships
  • Being involved in a process in which you can experiment rather than a fixed output is empowering
  • Working alongside communities takes time and a deeper and more sustainable relationship is enabled by longer term programming
  • There is a huge sense of pride in being a part of a collaborative artwork

Fantastical Cambridgeshire is helping us understand better the critical role that locality, art and artists play in developing children’s creativity and cultural entitlement. As a direct result of this project:

  • 83% of adults* interviewed think that children have become more connected with the local landscape / culture / arts
  • 75% of adults* interviewed think that children are connecting more creatively to their local area
  • 71% of adults* interviewed think that children have the confidence to think differently
  • 71% of adults* interviewed think that children are making new and different connections

* Educators, artists, governors, parents, community partners

The children now see themselves and each other differently and have embraced taking the lead and ongoing creative adventures of their own.Here’s how some of those involved described the impact on the children they were working with:

I think the children having the freedom and the chance to explore, to direct their own learning was really refreshing. (Teacher)

The children were allowed to experiment, they had the freedom to use their own ideas (Educator)

The adults involved were also changed by the process:

The work being guided and not prescribed – this was learning for some teachers (Head Teacher)

Miss Abbott became more creative (Child)

Our teachers are more adventurous (Child)

Mr C has made it feel a lot more different – the way he makes us think (Child)

It is nice for children to be able to be creative thinking with no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (Teacher)

Gives children and the wider community a greater sense of the history of the area, better sense of the area belonging to them, greater appreciation of art's role in society (Dad)

I think of community building as a very deliberate process - buildings and community spaces are not going to do it alone. [This project] works with the power of storytelling…not much sense of shared stories in this new community….we need places and opportunities to bump into each other and connect. Fantastical Cambridgeshire was wonderful to have conversations around…communities needing bumping into spaces and the art has done this. We bring our personalities to bare (on our work together) - joy, not solemn, positivity… a shared vision of desire for Love’s Farm House to be a generator of good news stories (Local resident).

Many thanks to all our wonderful partners:

Schools: Eynesbury Church of England School; Offord Primary School; Round House Primary School; Milton Road Primary School. Community Groups and organisations: Free cakes for kids; St Mary the Virgin, the Parish Church of Eynesbury; Offord parish Council; All Saints Church, Offord; Love’s Farm Junior Youth Club; Love’s Farm Community Association; Love’s Farm house Community CentreLove’s Farm Community Church. Cultural: The Neotists artist collective; Vir2oso creative youth club; St Neots Museum; St Neots Library; Cambridge University Botanic Garden; Festival of Ideas, University of Cambridge Public Engagement; Emmanuel College, Cambridge; Bath Festival (International Festival of Childhood and Forest of Imagination); University of Cambridge’s Museum of Zoology; Cambridge Conservation Initiative. Commercial: St Neots Tesco Community Team. Strategic: Locality Teams, Cambridgeshire County Council; Cambridgeshire Culture Fund; Cambridgeshire County Council; Arts Council, England; Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education; Anglia Ruskin University; Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge.

And to all the artists working on the projects: Elena Arevalo Melville, Hilary Cox Condron, Helen Stratford, Filipa Pereira-Stubbs, Sally Todd, and Deb Wilenski.

The work was supported by Arts Council England and our partners and advisors include Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridgeshire Culture, the Ernest Cook Trust, University of Cambridge and Cambridge Conservation Initiative.

Producing the first Fantastical Days


Colourful to-do list(by Helen Stratford, CCI artist) It has been an amazing experience producing the first Fantastical Day. I have been meeting and talking to numerous interested experts and specialists in and around Eynesbury and St Neots since May. These conversations have actively shaped the exciting activities that will take place in and around Eynesbury School; all centring around the creation of a new fantastical map over 24 hours.

The day takes as it’s starting point child-led activities including the active making, writing and walking that CCI artists Filipa Pereira Stubbs and Sally Todd have been exploring with the school. Drop in map stations including One-minute maps, Reference, Collage, Colour, Words as Materials and Building with Maps, will take work already completed by the children as inspiration for the wider community to help create the giant map itself that will evolve in the school playground.

I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and get familiar with the excellent work of St Neots Artists – Neotists – Melina Lafirenze, Claire & Richard Slade and Tracy Mowat who will lead activities including Phantastic Philosophical Doodling: an enquiry into identity and belonging with chalks, Found Mapping and make your own Fantastical Exploration Kit, extending the mapping area from the school grounds to the Market square.

Spending time in St Neots Museum offered a tantalising glimpse of the intriguing history the town has to tell. The Museum will set up home for the day in the school hall (otherwise known as basecamp) using it as a base from which to lead Extraordinary Stories Walks and offer a Mystery Object Table where Curator Liz Davies and Learning Officer, Lesley Sainsbury, will be joined by local museum volunteers to identify Found Photographs/ objects. The Extraordinary Stories Walks will include excursions into St Mary’s Church where Reverend Debbie Noonan will be on hand to answer questions and where an exhibition of children’s work produced over the residency will be on display.

This incredible range of activities will be supported by CCI artists including Deb Wilenski who will run Wild Exchanges from Collecting Cabinets and illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville who will be gathering stories, memories and images from the day that will feed into the final Fantastical Map of Eynesbury.

Our links with Cambridge Conservation Initiative also introduced us to the extraordinary work of bio-accoustic specialist William Seale who is helping us create a soundscape of the sounds you don’t notice around you everyday –  such as in a stream, under the water of a river, or bats flying at night.

AND the list of activities, supporters and contributors continues to grow! For an up to date programme and times for bookable events please click here.

It promises to be a fantastically inspiring day!

Created by Lucas


White line drawing of Lucas' fantastic creature

Lucas (6) drew the fantastical creature that clutches hold of our logo for Fantastical Cambrigeshire. He is in year 1 at Eynesbury Primary School and on his first day with artists Filipa and Sally was invited to think where an adventure might happen. He went straight out onto the playground and began to draw. We love how this creature has come from his imagination in response to seeing his everyday space in a new way.

Illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville created the logo for the project by looking through all the extraordinary documentation our work with Eynesbury has already collected. For her this one ‘just stood out’, although she was amazed at the many strong images she found there, many of which we hope will find their way onto the Fantastical Map she will be creating for Eynesbury School.