I am not a runner or athlete of any sort and am in awe of those who take part in marathons and treks. My version of this kind of crazy, adrenalin-fuelled activity was to walk the Cotswold Way with my mum. This was over 100 miles of what I would call (at times) challenging terrain, which we completed over 2 years. To clarify, it didn’t actually take 2 years for us to walk this, a tortoise could probably do it in this time, we took our time and completed it in four different stages.
There were minor incidents along the way: I injured my foot whilst refusing to wear proper footwear (in order to get a foot tan) and a number of wild animal situations (cows/dogs) – but it was a truly beautiful and amazing way of experiencing this part of the country. How this relates to the RSA is that I was walking part of the West region that I cover in my role as Regional Programme Manager and it gave me an opportunity to see the breadth and depth of what goes on in the area.
We started the walk the ‘wrong way round’ and began in Bath walking north. Bath is always an incredible setting and has a flourishing RSA Fellows network, who meet quarterly to talk through projects Fellows are involved in - sharing advice and volunteering to work on different projects. A number of Fellows from the network recently led one of the projects in the launch of the RSA’s crowdfunding area on Kickstarter, and were successful in raising £10k to put on a four day festival. The festival, originally known as ArtSpace Bath, has been re-named Forest of the Imagination and will take place 30 May – 2 June 2014. It is easy to see how the city could host such an event to boost the city’s cultural environment; the long term aim is to have a permanent space for contemporary creativity with education at its heart.
The Cotswold Way skirts along the edge of rural Wiltshire, where staff from the RSA’s Action Research Centre are currently working with Wiltshire Council and its partners to create ‘community campuses’ that bring public services and community facilities under one roof. ‘Community Campuses’ are multi-service hubs, designed and led by local communities. They will be home to a wide range of services, including leisure, police, library, GP and voluntary sector services as well as community facilities. The project leaders are keen to connect with local Fellows who may be interested in providing their skills/can offer advice to the community groups involved in the campus programme; if you are interested, please follow this link.
Further on the trail we took some time out to visit a National Trust property, Snowshill Manor, which holds an amazing collection that was owned by its previous owner Charles Paget Wade (1883 – 1956: an enormous and eclectic collection of objects reflecting his interest in craftsmanship. Perhaps he was an early precursor for the maker movement in which the RSA is currently involved (see the recent blog by my colleague Hilary Chittenden) and would I’m sure have been fully involved in activity!
Food was a major element of this expedition. One of the nicest places we found was Star Bistro, a venture enabling young people with disabilities to gain real life work experience in a kitchen. They use local ingredients and aim to develop “a truly local and sustainable supply chain”. It is the kind of project that RSA Catalyst looks to fund.
We skirted along the edge of Cheltenham (ending up with an amazing view of the town and its famous racecourse), where local Fellow Richard Buckley would like to connect other local Fellows in the next few months; if you’re interested please get in touch with him.
We finished the walk in Chipping Camden and felt a very big sense of achievement. Whilst this kind of adventure is not for the faint-hearted, I would recommend it to anyone as a fabulous way of experiencing the countryside. Now we’re planning to walk the Ridgeway which is only 87 miles – easy!
Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter