Case Study:
Positive Imaginings from Rowanbank

Positive Imaginings from Rowanbank Environmental Arts & Education is a project which is artistically presenting children’s imaginings of a positive future in the face of climate change.

Emma-Jane Dennis, Communications Coordinator at Rowanbank, tells us more about how the Positive Imaginings project is coming to life.

“…you must close your eyes and imagine a new tree. The biggest most beautiful tree, with rich green leaves, with a trunk so thick. And not just one tree. A forest of trees. Roads full of trees instead of cars. Every open space, every field, a new woodland. Hear the bird song. Hear the wind rustling through the leaves. Oh! Keep going, it’s working! It’s working!…Keep dreaming. Please! Dream of a city full of trees, and plants and flowers, each roof a roof of leaves, breathe in all that clean air…Keep dreaming, your dreams are coming through, you are making trees here, the forest returns, the birds are returning. Oh, my, the magic you have dreamt for us, the magic you made.”

Through a series of five stories, children have been helping our mystical storyteller, Nani Woods, to save her planet, “Planet B”, through learning the magical wonders of nature, problem-solving, sharing, renewable energy sources, and powerful dreaming. This has been part of our Positive Imaginings fireside storytelling & woodland learning workshops, where Rowanbank Environmental Arts & Education worked with children in Craigmillar primary schools to address our climate emergency in an informative, meaningful and imaginative way.

An adult is telling children stories by the campire in the woods.

The fireside stories were written by award-winning poet and playwright, Hannah Lavery, and creatively addressed ‘scary’ topics such as deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and global warming in ways that are effective and relatable for children, providing them with tools to imagine ways that they can help and take action to save our planet’s future.

Positive Imaginings is using circus and theatre to connect children with the natural world; to spark joy, a sense of magic and wonder; to empower and give voice to children from areas of multiple deprivation in Scotland, who have limited access to greenspaces. Rowanbank combines in-depth scientific knowledge with high quality performing arts to bring people together to experience, enjoy and learn about their natural environment. We engage with children in an imaginative and inclusive way, building a community of creative environmentalists and young leaders determined to tackle the climate crisis.

Initially a creative partnership between Lucy Power and Arran Sheppard, Rowanbank Environmental Arts & Education was founded in 2006 to actively engage people in important environmental issues such as climate change and loss of biodiversity. Combining their passion for performing with their academic backgrounds in environmental science and engineering, Lucy and Arran created Rowanbank, based in Edinburgh and working throughout Scotland and beyond.

A Positive Imaginings workshop. Performers on stilts walk through the countryside together with children wearing white hardhats.
A person abseiling from a tree. Under the tree, there is an audience of mostly children. Performers on stilts stand on the side.

At the core of Rowanbank’s Positive Imaginings project is a drive for climate justice and accessibility to climate education. This year the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is being held in Glasgow, and Lucy and Arran were eager to design a project that would reach children from diverse backgrounds who are often most affected by climate change and/or encounter barriers to participating in tackling climate change.

We believe that climate action must be intersectional and inclusive, uplifting the voices who are most marginalised and putting them at the centre of our collective futures!

The project is inspired by core ideas taken from climate psychology and about how we can most effectively act on environmental issues and help address young people’s climate anxiety. Helping children understand climate change in ways that are relevant for them is key to fostering empowerment and the feeling of wanting to learn more. In turn, listening to children and learning from their experiences can help us all to turn feelings of powerlessness into positive action for a better future.

Two performers. The one on the left is wearing a rust-coloured dress and a leaf-crown. The one on the right is wearing a black top hat and playing the violin. In the background: a wind power station.

The woodland workshops were a fantastic opportunity for the children to access local greenspaces and learn outdoors, with play-based activities that allowed them to express their thoughts and feelings about nature and climate change. Drawing climate-positive dreamworlds, rewilding with clay flower-bombs, crafting willow dream catchers, and learning about forest plants and bugs were some of the activities that the children took part in during these workshops. Big smiles, endless questions about nature and climate solutions, and positive future imaginings spoke for the success of this part of the project!

We are now working on the final Positive Imaginings Climate Circus show. We are drawing inspiration from the children’s visions of what a positive future would look like for them in the face of climate change, listening to their stories and worries about our planet, and investigating how this can contribute to helping adults rethink their perceptions of what our collective future could look like. The show will be a combination of circus, theatre, music and climate science, and will aim to inspire confidence to tackle the anxiety and insecurities that many of us hold about our future and turn them into optimistic, solution-based actions.

The final show will be performed in primary school playgrounds and local greenspaces around central Scotland in the autumn of this year, as Glasgow hosts COP26, and we can’t wait to share it with you.

In order to share Positive Imaginings far and wide, we have three creative continuations ahead of us. A wonderful film will be made of the show and the project’s community engagement process; the unique methodology and script is being written up and shared with other creatives to use as a tool to give a voice to children; and the collection of fireside stories will be turned into an illustrated book – so families can read about Nani Woods and be inspired towards more positive imaginings!

17 August 2021

Two performers. The one on the left is wearing a rust-coloured dress and a leaf-crown. The one on the right is wearing a black top hat and playing the violin. In the background: a wind power station.

Rowanbank Environmental Arts & Education was created by Lucy Power and Arran Sheppard, combining their passion for performing with their academic backgrounds in environmental science and engineering.They now have a core team of extremely talented performers, artists and workshop facilitators that work with them on a regular basis. They are based in Edinburgh and work throughout Scotland and beyond.

Other resources that might interest you

17 August 2021