Inclusive Landscapes Network

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of History, Classics and Archaeology


We live, breathe and move through landscape, from our neighbourhood parks to the more iconic settings of the coast and countryside. Decisions made about the management of these landscapes are often based on narrow assumptions about how such settings are perceived, experienced and valued. By bringing these assumptions to light, we aim to develop a deeper understanding of why varied landscapes matter and for who.

Landscapes are increasingly managed for biodiversity. Our Inclusive Landscapes Network aims to complement this approach with a focus on human diversity. Through the network, we will foreground the complex ways in which landscapes become meaningful to different people through their senses, personal memories and shared histories.

With a particular focus on management decisions pertaining to health and wellbeing, we adopt a broad interpretation of landscape, recognising that moments of health and wellbeing can unfold through the smallest scales of landscape encounter (for example, within city allotment plots, urban public parks and hospital gardens) to more expansive encounters with country parks, national parks, heritage coastlines and historic estates.

Supported by a series of networking activities over two years, we will demonstrate how arts and humanities research can offer valuable insights into four key questions of particular relevance to landscape policy and practice:

1. How is landscape sensed and made sense of by different individuals and groups?
2. What are the cultural historical underpinnings of landscape experience?
3. What are the tensions between personal and collective landscape meanings?
4. How can we learn from human diversity to facilitate genuine landscape inclusion that moves beyond basic access provision?

The Network will create space for productive and timely arts and humanities-led discussions with policy-makers and practitioners involved in diverse landscape use and management. We will organise four workshops, a 'living' exhibition and participate in a series of public engagement events. Network activities will be shaped by key partners, including Historic England, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, the Sensory Trust, Sense, and Natural Inclusion.

Our findings will be shared across the academic community through co-authored journal articles and collaborative conference sessions, and more broadly through an online network hub, themed policy briefings and the production of an ethnographic film shared as part of the living exhibition.

Though the Inclusive Landscapes Network, we aim to embed inclusion at the heart of UK environmental policy making. Such efforts are particularly timely with vast areas of environmental policy currently being re-framed and re-written as the UK prepares to leave the European Union. In doing so, we will support land use and management decisions that reflect the diverse social and cultural values associated with landscapes, including often unseen, intangible landscape qualities.

Planned Impact

Through our network activities, we will demonstrate how insights from arts and humanities research can be integral to inclusive landscape decision-making by challenging and shifting how different policy-makers and practitioners currently frame and orientate themselves to ideas of landscape access and inclusion. Foregrounding such issues, the activities proposed for the 'Inclusive Landscapes Network' will generate both 'conceptual' impact (e.g. reframing policy debates, social attitudes etc.) and 'instrumental' impact (e.g. altering the development of policy and practice). While the network will include a range of different publics, organisations and groups, we will work most closely with four key stakeholder groups:

1. Local and national policy and service delivery representatives (e.g. Defra, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England, National Parks UK, Environment Agency, Local Authority environment departments): with the UK set to leave the European Union within the next few months, areas of environmental policy are currently being re-framed and re-written. By sharing examples of best practice through our Inclusive Landscapes Network - within Workshops 1-3, two policy briefing papers, a short accessible film and a dedicated Wordpress site, and by participating in additional meetings throughout (e.g. with the National Outdoors for All Working Group) - we will demonstrate opportunities to scale up this positive work, bringing inclusion to the heart of UK environmental policies, such that inclusive landscape decision-making becomes a mainstream, taken-for-granted and unremarkable aspect of policy and practice.

2. Natural and cultural heritage organisations (e.g. National Trust, Historic England, Woodland Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, Wildlife Trusts, National Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty): network workshops and outputs will promote opportunities to access useful and usable arts and humanities research activities to support growing efforts to promote heritage experiences 'for all'. Network members will gain valuable insights into how to embed a genuinely inclusive approach to landscape management and heritage visitor experiences within their organisations, shifting from viewing embodied and cultural diversity as an 'access' need to a source of knowledge, engagement and learning.

3. Landscape architects and planners (e.g. via the Landscape Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Design Council) will be supported to engage with arts and humanities research to better understand and design for embodied and cultural diversity within varied heritage contexts. Opportunities for countering persistent, identity-limiting stereotypes of difference through inclusive design will be explored, building on the work and accessible guidelines already produced between network members (e.g. Bell with Sensory Trust and OPENSpace, White with Sensory Trust).

4. Health and wellbeing practitioners (e.g. nature-based social prescription activity commissioners and providers, health focused third sector organisations) will forge partnerships with the natural and cultural heritage sector, while also gaining the opportunity to situate their efforts in its historical context (e.g. asylum gardening, horticultural therapy, forest bathing). Doing so will offer valuable opportunities to learn how contemporary practices are rooted in history, while drawing on more current research to tailor activities and programmes appropriately to the diverse landscape needs, values and priorities of their patients and activity participants.

The specific activities that will be organised to maximise opportunities for these impacts are described in the 'Pathways to Impact' and 'Case for Support'.


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Title What does landscape mean to you? 
Description We invited people, via twitter and our network, to contribute written or other creative pieces on the theme of what landscapes means to them. We received 6 responses and published them on the Sensing Nature website. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact The blog page hosting the 'what do landscapes mean to you' creative responses has had 503 hits since we created it, and the 'What is landscapes to you' news piece has had 367 hits. 
Description The work of the Unlocking Landscapes network was showcased in an evidence briefing by Natural England, 'Included outside: Engaging people living with disabilities in nature' published 22 September 2022 (Natural England Technical Information Note TIN182)
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description All Our Footsteps: Tracking, Mapping and Experiencing Rights of Way in Post-War Britain
Amount £1,004,640 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/V00509X/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2021 
End 03/2024
Description Re-Storying Landscape for Social Inclusion
Amount £74,536 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2020 
End 03/2022
Description Collaborating with the Changing Landscapes, Changing Lives Network 
Organisation University of Reading
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution In December 2020, Clare Hickman and Sarah Bell presented on the theme of 'Rethinking inclusive landscapes: History, culture and sensory diversity in landscape use and decision making' at a symposia on 'Lifecourse, Narrative and Landscape' organised by the AHRC funded 'Changing Landscapes, Changing Lives: How can Narrative and Biographical Perspectives Improve Landscape Decision Making?' Network.
Collaborator Contribution We shared the early work of our network and discussed where there were cross-overs of interest with participants in the Changing Landscapes network.
Impact N/A
Start Year 2020
Description Marginal/marginalized? Rethinking marginality and landscape workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Our second online workshop took place with a group of 15 participants in September 2021, with the aim of rethinking marginality in relation to landscape, human and more than human interactions.

Organised in conjunction with network member, Professor Karen Jones and her Wellcome Trust funded project - 'The Lungs of the City', the event sought to share knowledge and experience in relation to people and landscape beyond the well-known urban park and garden, exploring questions including:

• Is the use of the term marginal or marginalised a useful term? Who defines who falls into these groups - in terms of people, places and other non-human animals?
• How can we better contextualise conflicts and contested use and experiences of such spaces?
• What issues accompany changes in the character of previously marginal spaces, for example as part of gentrification or rewilding? Who becomes (re)marginalised in the process?
• How can we think more about people being 'out of place in place' and the subtlety of segregation in British landscapes?
• How can questions of space and contest learn from/integrate with approaches in intersectionality or decolonising the narrative?
• What are the tensions between ideals of beauty and the reality of use and experience? Both in the past in terms of political judgements about 'beauty' and current use of social media such as Instagram?

A padlet was used to capture small group discussion, and brief summary is available on the project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Re-Storying Landscapes for Social Inclusion Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Inspired by early Unlocking Landscapes network discussions the 'Re-Storying Landscapes for Social Inclusion' conference was two-days of discussion held at Westonbirt National Arboretum and including sessions from academics and practitioners. The overall aim of this conference was to demonstrate the value of moving away from framing disability as an 'access need', recognising it instead as a rich opportunity for creativity and shared learning. We also showcased key learnings from across the network as well as the associated ESRC IAA Re-Storying Landscapes for Social Inclusion project, and explored opportunities to inspire and enable similar initiatives elsewhere, both within and beyond the sites that are managed by Forestry England.

Our aims were:
• To reflect on what genuine inclusivity means in the context of landscape access/use
• To celebrate and raise awareness of Westonbirt Arboretum's work around social inclusion
• To share and explore opportunities for understanding diverse landscape sensibilities and stories

A key discussion point through the conference was the value in shifting understanding of disability; moving away from homogenising tendencies that view disability solely as a form of vulnerability or an access need, towards recognising differentiated experiences of disability and understanding disability as a source of creative expertise, experience and strength. This shift was apparent in feedback received from conference participants e.g. when asked about take-home messages from the conference (which was rated as 'Very Good' or 'Excellent' in all feedback forms), responses included:

"We need to be open to giving power to those with the insight to lead. I would not have enjoyed or appreciated the Sensing Nature walk if they had been run by sighted individuals. Found this experience particularly powerful" (National Trust rep)

"The use of the arts (in the broadest sense) offer a potential way not only to engage with a range of people in nature (how I think art tends to be currently largely used in the conservation sector), but as way of understanding how different people are making sense of the world, and therefore as another valid and valuable form of 'evidence' for organisations (like mine) that are attempting to become evidence-led" (Natural England rep)

"The importance of providing a diverse offer which celebrates diverse ways of sensing and connecting. The importance of listening, really listening, not just with our sense of hearing, but with all our senses, to each other and collaborating to be playful, innovative and break the rules! Learning from others' stories. Being open to the unknown and how our senses, nature and history can help us explore the unknown and learn about ourselves, others and nature" (Forestry England rep)

"Need to take risks to be inclusive - 'if you open the doors they don't necessarily come'" (Natural England rep)

"We need to move away from the idea that our visual sense is the most important. Everyone benefits from experiences which engage all our senses - not just those who may have a sensory impairment. I now have a peer network" (Kew Gardens rep)

"The teamwork and focus needed to forge accessibility programmes. Planning and designing accessibility improvements that pick up the special historic/cultural qualities of sites. How to sustain/mainstream accessibility initiatives" (Historic England rep)

"(1) Disabilities are many and varied. (2) Those with disability have unique perspectives which when shared with others can deliver new/different experiences. (3) Those with disability can be very capable of delivering services to the public. The thing that resonated with me on these points was that those with disability should not just be cast in the role of service users requiring adjustments, but can help shape and deliver services and meaningful and creative ways" (Forestry England rep)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Steering Group meeting on site at Croome Court 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Members of the Steering Committee for the project, including colleagues from the National Trust, Historic England and Natural Inclusion met at Croome Court in Worcestershire to consider the work of the network in situ. We shared our work and learned from best practice at the site, particularly from the Garden and Outdoors Manager for South Worcestershire National Trust properties.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description What is landscape to you call for contributions 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact When lockdown began in March 2020 and we came to realise the full implications of the pandemic's progression for the original plan of network activities, we started to think about how we could take the core aims of the network forward. As Zoom and Teams quickly became new daily landscapes for many of us, often in a somewhat relentless way, we were keen to use the Network to encourage people to step out and reflect on the landscapes in the immediate vicinity of home where possible.

On that basis we released a call for contributions online for people to reflect on 'what does landscape mean to you?' We invited this in formats of people's choosing, be it short stories, poems, sketches, photos, videos or soundscapes, or other creative approaches, and circulated the call through the network Steering Group, partners, collaborators and social media etc.

We suggested a series of questions to help elicit responses relevant to the network aims:
• What is landscape to you?
• How do landscapes hold you? How do they speak to you
• What stories do your landscapes tell?
• What are your hopes for future landscapes? What do these futures mean for human and biodiversity?

We received seven contributions including written and recorded responses which can all be accessed via our both Sarah Bell's Sensing Nature website and our new project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Whose landscape? Human diversity and historic landscape decision-making online discussion event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact In April 2021, we hosted our first online event, 'Whose landscape? Human diversity and historic landscape decision-making'. In total, 34 participants joined the event, including academics from across the arts, humanities and social sciences and representatives from Natural England, Historic England, Forestry England, Natural Resources Wales, National Trust, English Heritage, Sensory Trust, Willowherb Review, HEAL Rewilding, Sense, and disability arts.

Designed to promote interactive discussion and reflection (guided by a series of brief provocations written by workshop participants and supported by an online padlet), the workshop provided a valuable opportunity to share priorities, challenges and/or opportunities for embedding sensory, social and cultural inclusion into historic landscape decision-making.

In a brief summary piece about the event (available on our Unlocking Landscapes website), we identified five broad discussion themes around: landscape use and tensions, language and meaning, role of culture and cultural histories, working collaboratively and challenging power structures, and re-evaluating success. We also discussed a range of practical 'good practice' examples that we will share and build on through the development of a dedicated network website and future workshops.

This has led to a further workshop and the establishment of a mailing list so that we can further develop the network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021