Inspire, Move and Illuminate

What makes a place special and unique? What causes people to fall in love with an environment? These questions sat at the heart of this Brigstow Institute-supported project. Working together, researchers at the University of Bristol and key regional partners from the National Trust investigated ‘spirit of place’ at the Holnicote Estate in west Somerset.

Who are the team and what do they bring?


‘Spirit of place’ refers to the distinctive value of a particular place and our emotional connections to it. It differs from a ‘Statement of significance,’ which is more related to factual, less changeable reasons why a space is worth protecting or developing. Spirit of place incorporates the intrinsic emotional factors that cause us to fall in love with part of the natural environment. They may evolve with time, and so it is a process of engagement that requires monitoring and updating.   

Holnicote is a slightly unusual site for the National Trust, in that it is a fully working estate. In many ways, it can be seen as a microcosm of Exmoor (with the added element of a sea border). A versatile rural landscape, it ranges from moorland to woodland to coastal environment. It plays host to a range of vibrant human and non-human communities.  

What did the project involve? 

The researchers wanted to find out how such diversity contributed heavily to Holnicote’s spirit, as well as learn more about the appreciation of community, ‘unspoilt’ nature, a solid sense of history, and the panoramic views across the estate.  

Ben Eagle, one of the key researchers on the project, realised that a typical consultation would not necessarily get the answers they needed. Instead, they ran a pub quiz-style questionnaire, gathering crucial knowledge on what made Holnicote special to visitors.  

The team also used archival research; interviews with the National Trust staff, volunteers, and visitors; field walks; and surveys to establish the spirit of place at the Holnicote Estate. In doing this, they were able to query the pressures placed upon the estate, allowing them to consider how the people who live and work there manage to live well with uncertainty. 

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Peter Coates (Historical Studies, University of Bristol), has extensive experience in the design, facilitation and delivery of public-facing arts and humanities projects. He involved external partnerships, provided support and advice through regular meetings with the National Trust. He also planned the interviews, serving as the final report’s chief editor.
  • Paul Hawkins (National Trust) has expertise in the visitor experience, working as a consultant for outdoors visitation across the south west.
  • Ben Eagle (Royal Agricultural University) worked on the project for three days a week. He attended volunteering events with estate rangers, met and engaged with volunteers, and built relationships with the Holnicote community.  

What were the results?

Researcher Ben Eagle wrote a blog on what the project entailed and its significance entitled ‘Hello Brigstow

A true understanding of what a space means to its inhabitants and visitors is key for organisations like the National Trust to continue to protect and preserve them well into the future. Bringing a team of academic practitioners in has helped the National Trust to inform its agenda for the Holnicote Estate. 

If you’d like to see how it all went, have a look at the Inspire, Move and Illuminate Project Report