Common Ground was founded in 1983 by Sue Clifford, Angela King and Roger Deakin. Based in London’s Covent Garden and later in Shaftesbury, Dorset, their intention was to act as a catalyst for change in people’s attitude to nature and the land. At the time, they were concerned by the way in which conservation was becoming increasingly elitist and abstracted from day to day life. Surely the places on our doorstep, however ordinary, deserved to be protected as well? And what about those aspects of the land and of our culture that suggest an age-old intertwining of human life and the natural world? A drystone wall, a May Day fair, a field name, a holloway, an orchard: such things, they felt, by their very nature, celebrated a history shared between us and the land, one that was vulnerable to the footloose excesses of development.
Poets, painters, sculptors, essayists and composers have always played an important role in shaping the way we feel about the land, so why not reopen this dialogue? Common Ground set out to re-capture the public imagination through the arts, and began to put some of the big questions about our relationship with nature to these contemporary artists in an attempt to ‘learn with them’. Projects like Apple Day, New Milestones and Parish Maps began inspiring hundreds of communities all over the country and unearthed very strong feelings of attachment and belonging, to local history, to language, nature, architecture, folklore, and to the landscape of places.
It is a time of transition and new growth at Common Ground today. Sue Clifford and Angela King stepped down earlier this year, and Common Ground moved to Toller Fratrum, a hamlet in west Dorset. The Common Ground archive, meanwhile, has settled at Exeter University, where it is gently being catalogued.
Listen to a BBC Radio 4 documentary about Common Ground, broadcast in February 2014.