Notes on the 1st prototyping workshop

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It’s been over a week since the first prototyping workshop at Toynbee Studios on 20th July. I promised to write a blogpost but the session was so rich with ideas and questions, thanks to the expertise and creativity of the participants, I’ve spent the week cogitating (and working on other projects). Here are a few of the cogitations it stirred:

  • What comes first? Forming an organisation with clear objects, policies and sources of support, and a bigger group of people around me, or a working prototype for a mobile museum that tries out methods as a way of building that support and forming those policies?
  • How to ethically develop and sustain an organisation that focuses on climate justice, in a time when it is clear that the climate is breaking down earlier than expected? In some ways, it is the most direct response one could make to this emergency but it also gives pause, in terms of not wanting to exploit anybody’s experience for potential gains that are not evenly distributed.
  • How to involve more people directly affected by climate injustices and historical inequalities in the prototyping process? Or, whether taking the working prototype on the road, if partners and communications are well chosen, would achieve this?

The workshop was in four parts:

  • Getting to know each other, exploring personal and communal interests in the Climate Museum. Presenting the background and brief
  • Exploring and generating questions that might help people engage with climate change, using clay (made from paper) to make an object to help ‘hold the question’
  • Working in groups to make structures or visual ideas for an installation
  • Reviewing and discussing issues and next steps.

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These are the questions that were shared:

  • How do we talk about the future shape of the UK after rising seas
  • Is it inevitable that many species will go extinct, and does it matter? 
  • How could we imagine a future which isn’t stranded by what we want to revive from our past?
  • What does progress look like if you factor in climate change?
  • What is normal?
  • How do we make sure questions and answers aren’t dominated by white privilege?
  • Who is ‘we’?
  • How do we ensure those imagining climate futures intersect with those more directly experiencing climate change in the present?
  • What is the food of the future?
  • What if we see the atmosphere as a peeled off orange skin, partly protecting but partly fractured?
  • How do I know what is the right thing to do? How can I live my best life? 
  • How do you find space in every day life to address climate change?
  • Do we have to go back in time? How do we talk about it without people feeling that things are taken away from them that they enjoy?
  • How do we find the solution inside the problem?
  • How do we measure our footprint fully and easily?
  • How do I live a good life in an ecocidal culture?

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The installation ideas

Group one (prompt – ‘past, present and future’)

  • A structure for allowing visitors to frame and reframe the past, present and future
  • An extendable table to allow more content to be revealed from either the past or the into the future
  • Familiar objects: tables, cushions, knitting 
  • Lucy shared a stimulus object she had made  – a 3D fox in a boat (see below)
  • Hilary shared some old board games
  • Who is left behind if we escape to other planets? (Other species and most people)
  • The future is here just not evenly distributed, both in terms of its horrors and its benefits
  • The future is open
  • Layers and different depths for different people 

Group two (prompt – ‘intersectionality’)

  • Structure that enables conversation between different voices, like a web of strings with tin cans, like ‘tin can telephones’
  • Involve more identities in the prototyping stage
  • Encourage dialogue
  • Leave space for it to evolve
  • Don’t ask questions if you aren’t going to answer. What happens to the responses?
  • Not trying to tell stories but to listen
  • Who is listening? The museum is not a person
  • Is the listener another audience member?
  • Questions could be collected from everywhere, so that visitors start to make a map

Group three (prompt – ‘the Kubler-Ross change curve’)

  • Structure: Make it easy for people to find and enter, and then through the experience to emerge with something (peace, clarity, agency)
  • Invite people inwards
  • A mirror reflecting ‘you’ to make it obvious who it is for
  • Playful e.g. tree climbing, sticks, rhythm
  • Intriguing objects, left behind items, curiosity
  • Tactile and thoughtful
  • Dissolving the normal rules of a museum
  • Include a structure with extending bits e.g. pulling signs out of a stand to learn more
  • Crazy mirrors
  • Natural world element materials like grass under your feet or a natural textured wall, materials gathered from each place e.g. Like the clay or soil 
  • Sounds and music
  • Remove your shoes
  • Give and take away. Can take something with you, exchange ideas, and leave objects
  • Connection to natural world

Group four (prompt – ‘an expanded perspective’)

  • Structure inchoate and webby because climate change is a hyper-object
  • Enabling you to make connections between you and the others
  • A safe space for tackling the messy and complex issue
  • Layers of information around a central object, so that visitors can add to it
  • Climate change as a hyper-object (e.g. like London is a hyper-object. You don’t need to know every road to know London)
  • It can be seen as an interconnected map of everyone who has interacted with it

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Summing up

  • These four ideas could form a possible brief for the first iteration of a working prototype to try out with some groups this Autumn
  • Key principle: Involve and evolve
  • Consider who is listening to the questions? Mainly conversations between participants? Is the museum listening? How are people’s stories honoured and useful?
  • Frame and re-frame: Make clear there is no single truth, no authoritative story of past, present and future
  • Connections: To you, to place and to world
  • The need to give choices to different audiences: Layers, different ways in, depth, tempo

Next steps

  • Clarity on the structures: The business? The physical manifestation? A development plan?
  • Test, research, and ask people how they feel about climate change. Start small and simple e.g. with a chair
  • Climate cafe e.g. look at Death Cafe ask what brings you here, have climate conversations
  • Produce a small thing to start with and maybe add to it 
  • Think about climate as a hyper-object

Thank you very much to Judith Knight and Mark Godber for hosting us at Toynbee Studios. Thank you to everybody who attended and shared ideas, including those that couldn’t make it but who also shared thoughts. If you think anything is missing or inaccurate from this very rough summary, please let me know.

 

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As the world burns you have a choice

“Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.” Carl Sagan

Sagan was alive at a time when clean air and water were more overtly pressing environmental problems than climate change seemed to be. (He died in 1996.) If he was alive today, he might have said “Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if your world is burning”. Hearing the testimony of a Greek father who had grabbed his family to escape the sudden raging wildfire about to consume his house, he had a choice, to stay indoors or run into the sea. He was still alive to tell the tale, so what do you think he did?

Most of us are not directly in the line of a wildfire, perhaps only breathing the smoke spread from massive fires in Siberia, or simply sweltering in the heatwave, but you also have a choice. You can stay as you are in the house, booking your next flight, lining up the next Netflix series, or you can — metaphorically — run to the sea.

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What does that mean? It means ‘planetising’ whatever cause you care about or whatever frame you see the world through. It means being ecocentric, seeing how we ARE nature and intrinsically entwined with other beings. It means being possitopian, neither dystopian nor utopian, but looking at the full range of possible scenarios and solutions in any situation (even as the negative scenarios expand and the positive options contract). It means zooming outyour perspective to see the whole planet and its operating system, the interactions of ice, ocean, atmosphere, biosphere etc, and looking at how this is severely disrupted. It means putting your head under the water and doing a deep dive into current climate science — not the out-of-date and cautious models that the IPCC and Paris agreement are based on.

And then it means, doing something. Whatever your means allow you to do. Many of the things you can do will also increase your means. If you stop flying, you’ll save money. If you waste less food, eat less meat and grow some of your own food, you’ll save money. If you generate your own energy, you’ll save money. But these things are not enough. Don’t just switch your energy supplier but switch your politics, your conversations, your business, your way of planning for the future.

Be anticipatory of many possible situations, and imagine yourself surviving them. If they frighten you, consider what you can do in advance to make the scenarios more survivable, and not just for your own family but for everyone.

This metaphorical choice between home and the sea is not in the same league as the choices you face as an individual consumer — whether to choose line caught fish or not, whether to refuse a straw.

“Society is not simply an aggregate of millions or billions of individual choices but a complex, recursive dynamic in which choices are made within institutions and ideologies that change over time as these choices feed back into the structures that frame what we consider possible. All the while, those structures are being disrupted and nudged and warped and shaken by countless internal and external drivers, including environmental factors such as global warming, material and social innovation, and the occasional widespread panic. Which is just to say that we are not free to choose how we live any more than we are free to break the laws of physics. We choose from possible options, not ex nihilo.” Roy Scranton, author of ‘We’re doomed, now what? Essays on war and climate change’

It is essential to join forces to make your actions bigger, and then to ask your politicians, your bosses, your media companies, and your local institutions to join forces to make their actions bigger. This means resisting the power of the international alliance pushing for the freedoms of the fossil fuel and ecocidal industries to continue business as usual, who are in charge of negotiations for Brexit, of the Whitehouse, and many more places and aspects of the global order.

Part of this resistance is about exposing wrongs and harms, and calling for justice. Another part is showing alternative ways of living — ways that are more regenerative, that protect and rewild the land and sea, and that are circular ecological by design.

Another part is to care for others— whether they are intimate with us or strangers, whether they are human or other species. We are all in the same boat of this burning world, but some are falling much quicker into the rough seas, losing their homes, being bombed, being forced into constant exile, or are being imprisoned or stigmatised or deported back to unliveable places.

All of these actions feel impossible. Putting your head under the water — your own and your loved ones’ heads — to escape a sweeping fire means putting yourself in a place you can’t breathe. But others came to rescue the people in the sea.

Until there is nobody left to care, and to care for, we have a choice.

Talk about climate: Power of three

The first rule of Climate Museum UK is talk about climate change. You could read this article for some insight into why talking about climate change is so vital. It quotes psychologist Renee Lertzman: “The reason why, I think, we have a pervasive environmental melancholia is directly related to the fact that we’re not really talking about this.” 

On Friday 20th July we will have our first prototyping workshop to develop the narrative and structure of the mobile Climate Museum installation. The installation will be a space designed to enable conversations about climate change (and related threats to our biosphere and society) that are emotionally healthy, intellectually rigorous, inclusive of all participants and enabling of a sense of empowerment.

Below are some of my own thoughts about what might help model good practice in using objects, images and spaces to support these conversations.

Being inclusive

Verbalisation is not easy for everyone – as there may be shyness, language barriers, learning difficulties etc etc. ‘Talking’ about climate change could take the form of writing, drawing, choosing, designing or making an embodied response, as well as verbal conversation. We could expand ‘talking’ to mean ‘multi-modal creative conversations’. To make activities more conversational, visitors could comment on another person’s artwork, or a drawing could be created collaboratively, or somebody might be invited to read a story to another person.

The experience for any participant could have three steps:

  1. Explore, absorb, learn
  2. Make a personal response
  3. Respond to others and/or have a conversation

Being situational

After trial runs, it’s hoped that the installation will work in sympathy with any context it visits, whether that’s a library in a former industrial town, a small museum in a coastal village, the HQ of a big tech firm in London, in a university where scientists are training in public engagement, or in a school where some children have lived outside the UK. It may include space for new elements each time, added through an initial co-design process with staff or representatives of that community before it is open to general or invited visitors. These new elements might include any or all of these:

  • the heritage and/or values of that place or organisation, or perhaps scientific research/knowledge
  • its current concern, question or need in relation to climate change
  • contributions that could be made to a better future (e.g. a plan, an idea, or simply potential for change)

Finding common ground

The hope is that the installation will create accessible common ground for productive and healing conversations. Below is a summary of Katharine Hayhoe’s 3 steps to better climate conversations:

  • It makes sense that you first have to Bond rather than antagonise, so the design of Climate Museum will need to aid social connection.
  • The next step, Connect, could be seen as contextualising, showing a bigger picture and systems – which is something that museums do very well.
  • Inspire is very important, as people need to go away from an experience with a sense of agency. Climate Museum will aim to inspire by drawing out the solutions and ideas for action from the participants themselves, not just simply showing.

 

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What’s to come

Yesterday I was at NESTA’s Future Fest, the theme of which was ‘Occupy the Future’. I was happy that the programme included a bit of heritage occupying the future, and to hear Caitlin deSilvey speak. This was in a session called Curated Decay, led by the AHRC Heritage Futures programme. Caitlin is someone I’ve been much inspired by through her writing on ‘anticipatory history’ – taking a nuanced and ecological approach to conservation and curation of heritage. Her work (and that of her colleagues) suggests that although we are well supplied with scientific information about environmental change, we often do not have the cultural resources to respond thoughtfully and to imagine our own futures in a tangibly altered world.

This work resonates with me because I think we fret too much about small losses when nature takes its course while ignoring massive losses due to the actions of accumulators of wealth, developers and grabbers of land, and delayers of climate action. You can see here slides from my talk on why we need to do much more anticipatory work, and resources to imagine possible futures for cultural organisations.

Caitlin talked about a Cornish tin mine that had been beautifully clothed in ivy but then stripped in its ‘restoration’, and about the ‘creative wake’ held by the community for Orfordness Lighthouse which is on the brink of falling into the sea from coastal erosion (made more rapid by climate change). I had been in touch with Caitlin when I developed a project called Lighthouse Songs, part of this creative wake. Yesterday, she talked about the media overreaction to the idea of ‘managed retreat’, interpreted by reporters as abandonment. Rather than abandonment, she proposes ‘palliative curation’, which is caring for something as you let it transform through loss, while capturing what matters so that others can be safe, or learn or benefit in the future.

In Lighthouse Songs, I chose to work with children from Orford Primary School as carriers of what matters into the future. Together with former lighthouse workers and museum staff, building on my own family history and some archive material, we cared for those stories and translated them into a song cycle performed at a concert in Orford church.

During this project, I reflected a great deal on time, and how these children born in 2008 would fare as climate change hits home in the coming decades. Or perhaps only years, not decades. When I was staying in Orford, I heard that my grandma Nancy was lying ill in hospital in Canada, but fully believed that she was back as a little girl in Orford. (My great grandfather was a coastguard on the ness, and she used to stay the night sometimes in his lookout, next to the lighthouse.) She had projected her self back into a time when she was happy, rather than into a possible future. Part of the ‘managed retreat’ process for the lighthouse has been to remove its light. Perhaps when you are dying, or when something precious has to be let go, you go inwards to the light, to keep it warming and guiding you for as long as possible.

But before that there is a phase of resistance, of ‘raging against the dying of the light’. In terms of the whole biosphere and its threats from climate change and other breached planetary boundaries, I’m still raging.

On my walk back from Tobacco Dock, which is incidentally a heritage warehouse building restored into an events venue, I came across a wonderful ruin which has a possible future.

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This little building, with no roof and trees growing out of its brickwork, still bears the sign of the Nature Study Museum.

Here’s what an interpretation panel tells us, splashed with bird poo…

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This felt poignant. In 1903 or thereabouts, museum staff envisaged a possible future for children in London’s East End, and believed in the value of learning about nature. And teachers and parents must have valued it too as 1000 a day would visit. Just a few metres away from this little (tiny) museum was the tobacco warehouse, full of imported nature: tobacco, spices, wool and animal skins. And also nearby was Charles Jamrach’s Exotic Animal Emporium. This little place offered an opportunity to get close and to understand, rather than to be entertained by or to profit from consuming nature. As Caitlin deSilvey suggested in her talk: In order to care for heritage as subject to natural processes of decay and change, we have to get up very close and to really understand it.

I wonder where plans are to restore this, and whether it will have functions of educating children about nature when and if they do. I wonder whether nature inside is more informative than nature explored outside. In the Future Fest, a garden had been constructed in a dark basement room, with weedy plants transplanted to seem to be growing in the gloom. It felt uncanny. Indeed, natural history museums feel uncanny too, and although they do valuable work of collecting and educating about biodiversity, they are not immune from ethical questions, or above their own histories linked to colonialism.

These are all thoughts that will inform what’s to come with Climate Museum UK. This will, I hope, help people come up close to nature while also taking an expanded perspective on the possibilities of the future.

 

Prep for prototyping

There are now 22 people booked to contribute to the workshop to prototype the mobile version of Climate Museum. This workshop is on 20th July, at Toynbee Studios, part of the Season for Change. There are still places and it’s free. Here I’m sharing the slides of my intro in advance, so that those coming can prepare, and those interested can see the process.

Those coming, some things you might want to do:

  • Think about what you’d want a Climate Museum to be for you, and for ‘us’.
  • Note down a question that really got you thinking or talking about Climate Change.
  • Consider sharing an item that could be inspiring to others (e.g. poster, book, object or fact)
  • The workshop will include making a structure so it would be really helpful if you can bring one or two items of found materials that you think would be appropriate (e.g. a cardboard box, a piece of cloth, roll of wallpaper…)

THE BIG QUESTION…

The really central question for the workshop is: How can we all explore and talk together about Climate Change in ways that are emotionally healthy, intellectually rigorous, inclusive of all participants, and enabling a sense of agency? And how can a small mobile museum be a space that opens up this potential?

I look forward to meeting you and working with you!

Climate Museum UK prototyping

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Inspirations

Since announcing the Climate Museum UK plan, I’ve been out and about quite a bit seeking inspiration and connecting with like minds. There has been an unbelievable amount of interest in the idea of Climate Museum in all these places.

Here’s a photo-essay, to give a snapshot of some of these experiences.

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A creative session with my daughter – who is just 18 and just out of a Visual Art & Design course at the BRIT School. Inspired by the graph of rising temperatures, she came up with this concept for a logo. She has some ideas for visual merchandise. More to come on that, and hopefully a design workshop with some other young people.

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To the launch of Invisible Dust’s Under Her Eye, a conference and arts programme about women and climate change. The night included a dance performance of Human Sensor, making visible the pollution in the air.

Then I went to a Guardian Live talk by Christiana Figueres, reflecting on how she insisted on collaboration and mutuality to bring everyone together to sign the Paris Agreement. She also talked about her initiative, Mission 2020, a global campaign to push for urgent action by 2020.

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The next day was the Under Her Eye summit of women and climate change, opened by Christiana and closed by Margaret Atwood, with a great wealth of female artists, campaigners, scientists and politicians in between. There were also art workshops, performances and films, and a sensory banquet the next evening.

IMG-3658To pull out one example of many speakers that I could, there was Laura Faye Tenenbaum. She was a NASA climate communicator but was censored under the Trumpian regime, so she resigned. (Laura on the right). The day was full of conversations about the issues the conference was raising, and incredibly stimulating.

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I bought this book, The New Sylva, a giant tome full of amazing drawings of trees by Sarah Simblet, and detailed accounts by Gabriel Hemery. I bought the book from Rye Books in East Dulwich, who, on hearing about Climate Museum offered to host an event. I’m hoping there will be a discussion this summer about books and resources that might be part of a Climate Museum, and how we can learn about climate without freaking out.

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Then, I discovered on Twitter that Gabriel Hemery was coming to give a talk as part of Deptford Folk‘s programme, near me, at a new cafe in Folkestone Gardens called Festa sul Prato. Deptford Folk are all about getting people into local parks, and celebrating the heritage which lies locally with John Evelyn, the author of the original Sylva. This book was the first to advocate planting trees, and the idea of sustainability. Given that the Earth’s system relies on a critical mass of trees acting as a CO2 sink, mitigating climate change, and yet that they are dying from bigger fires and diseases due to climate change, as well as massive deforestation, trees are a major interest for Climate Museum UK.

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To the Environment Matters event at the London Transport Museum, a kind of evening festival with stall holders, talks and debates. This included an opening speech by Shirley Rodrigues, deputy mayor for Energy and Environment, sharing London’s goal to be zero carbon and to be 50% green by 2050. Being more green means being a ‘national park city’, with more nature corridors, street trees, parks, green roofs, gardens etc. It was good to see ways a museum could host an event such as this.

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An Action Learning Set with associates about how we might develop our work, including Climate Museum UK and similar projects.

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Then I went to Museum Next, which was back in London in its 10th year. I spoke about Climate Museum UK and the idea of Possible Culture. This picture is Lucimara Letelier speaking, who was the only other speaker that day to talk about ecology and sustainability. She has set up an organisation, Museo Vivo, to support museums to be alive, to act as ecosystems within ecosystems. I met her for lunch later in the week.

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The Museum Next this year was at the Royal Geographical Society which was hosting an exhibition from three creative research projects under the umbrella of Culture and Climate Change. This project – a collaboration between the Open University and the University of Sheffield, asks: What kinds of stories, artworks and other interventions are being created in response to ‘the greatest challenge facing humanity’ — a challenge that is also apparently forgettable?

It didn’t escape my attention that climate change was ‘apparently forgettable’ as this exhibition wasn’t mentioned at all throughout the conference and I didn’t see anyone else going in there.

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An outcome of attending Museum Next was to be invited to a meeting at the Reboot the Future Foundation about how arts and culture could contribute to a shift in consciousness, to enable delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Then there’s the irrepressibly imaginative House of Fairy Tales. I went to the private view of their print portfolio, with artworks by some well-known artists, all inspired by tulips. Selling the portfolios is one way they can raise funds. This is an organisation that works with and for children, through the arts and imagination. Developing capacities for children in the context of Climate Change is a key issue for its founder, Deborah Curtis. The mission says: “It is more urgent than ever that we give a voice to the youngest generation to remind and demand parents, teachers, politicians and corporate leaders to embrace the transition to a safer, cleaner, more equal and stable world.”

Last weekend I failed to make it to the Private View of the Blockadia exhibition at the Guardian, curated by Andrew Price. (I failed to make it as I’d been on the march for a People’s Vote on the final deal for Brexit). Blockadia Britain is an exploration of creative protest relating specifically to climate justice between 2007 and 2017 throughout the UK. The exhibition looks at a number of intersecting practices across the arts, education, and activism that evolved out of a much greater awareness of the impact of the fossil fuel industry and its effects on social and environmental wellbeing. I took part in a workshop to contribute ideas for this exhibition so I have some insight but would like to see it installed. It closes on 19th July.

 

 

 

 

Prototyping event

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Thanks to the support of Arts Admin in providing a space at Toynbee Studios, there will be a prototyping workshop on 20th July (2-6 plus drinks until 8). This event will be a part of the Season for Change which is an exciting collaboration between Arts Admin and Julie’s Bicycle sparking cultural responses to the climate emergency.

So, come along to a free workshop to dream up and prototype a mobile Climate Museum UK.

This session will involve working in teams to hack up ideas for a mobile museum using all kinds of stuff like cardboard boxes, coloured paper and pens, old magazines, some key facts and stories, and most importantly drawing on your own ideas and skills.

These prototypes may then be documented and shared online to get public feedback, and subsequently to help fundraise to create the museum.

Places are limited, but participation is not selective. Those most warmly encouraged to book are people who:

  • Would be keen to continue being involved in supporting Climate Museum UK beyond this workshop (e.g. helping to fundraise or promote it, or being part of an editorial advisory group)
  • Have experience in design, science communication, creative activism, museum interpretation, storytelling, advocacy in climate justice etc.
  • Can definitely commit to the date and stay with it for the afternoon (we’ve all done it, booked to a free thing and then not turned up BUT this project is too important for that!)
  • Are over 16 (or if under 16 accompanied by an actively participating parent or carer)

To book your free place, go to this Eventbrite link.

Creatively stirring response to the climate emergency