Dr Penny Hay talks about the free creative learning programme being delivered in Bath that supports a reimagining of an urban future deeply connected to nature.

Forest of Imagination is an annual participatory contemporary arts and architecture event that’s free and open to all, with a creative learning programme delivered by a collaborative team of local organisations in Bath. Forest of Imagination reimagines familiar spaces, inspiring creativity and heightening awareness of nature in an urban context, highlighting the importance of embedding green skills for a sustainable future.

Co-founded by Andrew Grant, Grant Associates (famous for designing the SuperTrees in Singapore) and Dr Penny Hay, (House of Imagination and Bath Spa University), Forest of Imagination is a unique collaboration between the creative and cultural industries and the community of Bath.  It creates an arena which invites everyone to have a conversation about the importance of these themes in a playful immersive environment for all ages. The project also shines a light on the importance of global forests, the capacity of Bath as a creative ecosystem, the natural wonder of the city and above all the capacity of Forests to inspire creativity in everyone.

Forest of Imagination is an example of civic engagement and innovation extending the universitys’ civic role through creative, participatory public engagement, creative, cultural partnerships and widening participation projects with schools and colleges, generating new ideas and approaches with the cultural sector, and widening participation through working with local schools. The work exemplifies an approach to cultural change, creative pedagogy and promotes co-creation and collaboration with a range of diverse partners.

Key themes include creative and inclusive placemaking, everyday creativity, connection to nature, active citizenship, civic innovation and transformation. The Living Tree installation is co-designed with artist and film-maker Andrew Amondson and architect Sasha Mballa- Ekobena, both from Berlin. Andrew and Sasha work closely with the design students at Bath Spa University and the Forest of Imagination team to bring a forest to the egg theatre. We invite family and community engagement with partner schools and settings through practice based arts and creative education activities.

Learning in, about, for, with and through nature involves observing, noticing, feeling, choosing and acting in social connection, so inviting children to be stewards of the environment. A focus on imagination, creativity, wellbeing and shared compassionate values invite hopeful action, envisioning change and achieving transformation. Social and environmental justice, the enhancement of sustainable thinking and action and ‘skills for green transformation’ are at the heart of the project. We hope to engage everyone in seeking imaginative solutions for the future planet.

Forest of Imagination brings a message of hope for children, for their rights and their future. Young people as a collective are a powerful movement for hopeful futures. These future generations will show the importance of compassion and radical imagination for a different kind of future. 

Let’s set our imagination free in the wilderness, let the imagination be wild, full of joy and love. We are the system, we are all earthlings, we are the forest.

Dr Penny Hay (National Teaching Fellow, FRSA, FHEA, FCCT) is an artist, researcher and educator. Penny is a Reader in Creative Teaching and Learning and Senior Lecturer in Arts Education, School of Education and also Research Fellow, Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries.