Once upon a time, when we couldn’t climb the hill together.

Once Upon a Hill: An action research inquiry into community engagements with Robinswood Hill Country Park

Photo of a group of people at the top of a blustry hill in front of a tall beacon

Image credit: Scott Farlow

Early in 2020, on a wet February morning, our research team got together to flesh out the plan for our project. In keeping with the place-based, experiential and co-produced focus of our research, the meeting took the shape of a walk to the summit of Robinswood Hill. We were led by Nicola from the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, and joined by Dawn and Caroline from The Venture, a local organisation that provides community-based play opportunities for children and families. Both organisations are community partners of the Trust and play a central role in sustaining connection and wellbeing in the neighbourhoods in which the Trust works.

As we made our way up the muddy hill, Nicola told us about the history of the orchards, wells and quarries that form part of Robinswood Hill Country Park. Dawn and Caroline reflected on the significance of the hill in their lives and community work, from the walks and picnics they organised with local families, to the legends they learnt as children about the ghosts that roam the park at night. At the top we were treated with spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, with the Severn Bridge to the South, Malvern Hills to the North, Black Mountains to the West, and Cotswold AONB to the East. We experienced the Hill as a meeting point between urban and rural landscapes, observing how the neighbourhoods on the fringes of the City of Gloucester (Matson, White City, Podsmead and Tuffley) nestle round its base.

As we slowly made our way back down, the design of our research activities got underway. We planned to bring together local school children to take part in a series of storytelling walks on the hill, followed by a workshop facilitated by artist and team member, Scott Farlow, in which the children could explore their experiences of the hill. However, in the weeks that followed, with the pandemic unfolding around us, our research plans were put firmly on hold. We have since discussed redesigning the research to deliver something remotely, such as packages for parents and local schools that would include a map of the hill, arts materials and activities, and culminate in a virtual exhibition of their artwork.

The problem was that we are faced with a series of challenges, most significantly, was it possible to explore felt and embodied experiences of place and space from afar? For the time being we have decided to put things on pause until Spring next year, in the hope that we might get a window of opportunity (pandemic permitting) to run the workshops face-to-face. Regardless of the format, our central lines of inquiry – to explore the significance of the park and its role in contributing to community wellbeing – feel ever more pertinent given the impacts of the pandemic on our daily lives and relationships to place and space.

There are many things that we can do virtually, including running research institutes and universities, but some forms of research rely on the proximity of bodies and things. In our case, we need the space and light of the hill, the crunch of earth beneath your feet, because these are the experiences we want to understand and document. So, we will have to wait, until we can be together, in time, on a hill.

Find out more about Brigstow funded  project Once Upon a Hill: An action research inquiry into community engagements with Robinswood Hill Country Park in their project profile.