Offord Primary School

We are delighted to be working with Offord Primary School and their communities again in 2018, thanks to a grant from Cambridge Community Foundation’s A14 Community fund. We will work alongside children, their families and the wider village community to creatively survey local wildlife and think about protected species, particularly bats.  We’ll also be continuing to explore the local environment in extraordinary and intriguing ways. There will be a series of artist residency days with Deb Wilenski, followed by a Fantastical Bats Community Day - a hands on creative day open to all - in June.  We hope you can join us. 

Offord Primary School was our second Fantastical Cambridgeshire school partner. Deb Wilenski began working as their artist in residence in September 2016. The whole school creatively adventuring alongside her over 8 months, culminating in their Fantastical Community 24 hour event on March 24/25th 2017. Before the residency started CCI had a chance to get to know all the teachers at Offord School – you can read more about their adventures in the schools orchard (pictured here) below.

Through Wild Exchanges we also introduced some of the children’s ideas and discoveries into the working worlds of adult professionals in many walks of life - as inspiration for new work and prompts to remember where their own fascinations began.  

Illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville worked with all the strands of discovery and creative expression from the residency and community day to develop this extraordinary Fantastical Map of the local area –as a legacy of the project and an invitation for everyone to keep exploring. 

Old Mags and the stolen baby is the animation created collaboratively by the Hawks class (aged 7 - 9) towards the end of the first residency. It has been shared as a provocation for new stories and ideas with all the other children in the school and the wider community.

A14 and Cambridge Community Foundation Logos

A nest for a fat pigeon


Harry's map

Millennium Green

(by Deb Wilenski) Leading on from our first week’s exploration of legs and adaptations, we began to think about where legs go and how.  I shared some images from our previous Offord school project in which children had made different kinds of maps; a mouse map of the school orchard, an aerial view for a bird.  And when we arrived in the Millennium Green we split into small groups again to look for and record the different pathways, human and animal, which were visible or could be imagined.

From journeys we turned to settling.  Where could animals make their homes?  Were any already obvious?  What materials were available for construction?  Lolly spotted a mouse tunnel through nettles and told me it goes in through here and then round in a big circle and this is where it comes out.  Right inside is where they have their beds.

Millennium Green

A mouse tunnel through nettles

The green had been recently mown and heaps of cut grasses made brilliant nesting material.  A nest for a fat pigeon grew with each new handful of grass, was decorated and fresh green grass placed in its centre.  It occupied half the bench in the end, a new shared place of rest for pigeons and people together.

Heaps of cut grasses made brilliant nesting material

A heap of cut grass

In the afternoon we introduced clay alongside the materials used in the morning and the children created intricate homes for animals.  A long roll of paper was used to represent a large road, coming right alongside the animal homes as the A14 does.  And each group found ways to cross or move home, by bridge, tower or pathway.

Intricate homes for animals made of clay

Intricate homes for animals

A long roll of paper was used to represent a large road

A long roll of paper was used to represent a large road

Children created intricate homes for animals

Intricate homes for animals

Would you like fire coming out of your ankle?


Drawing legs

(by Deb Wilenski) In our second project with Offord Primary School we are exploring the relationships between human and animal ecology – shared habitats, new transport developments, protected species and the many ways in which our sense of who we are is tied up with where we live and who else lives there with us.

In this wonderfully small school, with a total of 100 pupils, many children know each other and we began by thinking of ourselves as fellow scientists and artists, part of a community which includes the children who explored with us last time, the adult professionals with whom we made wild exchanges, the wildlife specialists who are part of the A14 development teams, and the village community who know their local spaces well.

It was in this spirit that Wrens class, 16 skilled and enthusiastic wildlife surveyors, set off with their teachers and parent volunteers to explore the animal and plant ecology of the Millennium Green.  They recorded findings in a series of small observational drawings, some named, others recorded by physical form only.

Finding a stone




Moss in the palm of a hand

Tree canopy

We continued this process of looking and recording in the afternoon focussing on ourselves as a species that has evolved to walk on two legs.  We compared human and animal legs of many kinds and tested our own legs to see what they could do.  And on a perfect sunny day with bare feet in the grass, the children worked in pairs, one acting as the ‘leg’ model, one as the ‘drawer’, to make observational drawings.

Drawing legs

They finished the session by adding fantastical adaptations to their classmates’ legs on a tracing paper layer, interviewing their partner and drawing the powers and features they wanted to be given.

Thomas' leg by Isla

Thomas’ leg by Isla: fire, bullet gun, butterfly and magnetic force

Isla's leg by Thomas

Isla’s leg by Thomas: mazes inside, spikes, a candle – the red lines are full of trap doors

A many layered map


This fantastical map was made collaboratively and contains over 100 layers of drawings and words and ideas, incorporating the work of children and adults alike – all carefully connected by illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville.

Offords High Street through the centre acts here as a symbolic divider between the school grounds (day time) and Millennium green (night time) whilst the railway track on the right shows the edge of Millennium Green.

We explored many ways of adventuring in these spaces together as individual school classes and during our 24 hour Fantastical Offords Day. The key below indicates how some of the elements on this map were created:

Yellow Dot Discoveries and creations in the school Orchard – including the Hugging Tree and many dens.

Red Dot Explorations of real and fantastical plants – including the carnivorous night-time plant and Island Seaweed

Purple Dot Explorations of real and fantastical bugs – including clay bugs and the huge lesser stag beetle collage

Blue Dot Explorations as other people and animals which created new stories and characters – including the fox, baby and Old Mags, caveman archer quote, and Haunting Trees.

Pink Dot Night-time sounds and nocturnal creatures, real and imagined – including the Sonic Bat and the Teddy Bear Bat.

Day-time sounds and sights - including the weasel and swishing reeds at the Millennium Green.

Real landmarks including the church, the High Street, and the train line

Fantastical Offords Community Day


On two of the most stunningly bright spring days, over 220 people joined us for 24-hours of creative adventuring in the village of Offord D'Arcy, Cambridgeshire.

With Offord Primary School as basecamp, collectively we explored local spaces in extraordinary, enchanting and intriguing ways – finding the unusual in the everyday. From 2pm on the 24 March we hosted a heap of activates, the full programme can be found here. An afternoon exploring with props boxes (our emergency curiosity kits) and creating fantastical dens and signs was followed by an evening of laying traps, collecting, detecting and gazing.  A camp fire was lit, the secret Orchard was opened to all and 50 people embarked on a dusk walk to Millennium Green. Together we found lesser stag beetles and moths, heard bats and discovered why stars twinkle.

Saturday began with wondrous wildlife sounds, bacon butties and discovering the animal trails that appeared overnight. St Neots museum set off on an extraordinary walk around the village and other adventures unearthed amazing finds such as Spluggy, the Caddisfly larva and bunnyland (an extraordinary complex warren) on millennium green. Back at basecamp, exploring continued with fantastical periscopes and new creations from tiny spaces of wonder to exquisite fantastical bugs. A Dusk to Dawn Sound Space was also created in a classroom.

Together with the children’s discoveries made during the artist residency at the school, these amazing ideas are all being fed into the creation of the Fantastical Map of the Offords. Below are some comments about the day and a few images to give a taste of the fantastical adventures we had together. A film and more detailed slide show follows soon.

Our ears and eyes were opened by the tent of sounds….it makes you think how amazing life is and how much you miss. Lesley (school neighbour/community)

Letting the kids go, run and not be scared to touch a tree (in a safe but free environment) (Clare, parent)

It’s been brilliant, in terms of friendliness, interactions and atmosphere (parents)

I liked everything – periscopes, bugs, sounds (Ella, 10)

I liked drawing in the dark and being with the woodlouse and finding my centipede (child)

The day was made possible by the brilliant energy of the children and families and local residents who joined in but also by the support to run the activities and the day from: all the staff and Governors at Offord Primary School, OPTA, artist Colette Kinley, naturalist and Governor Gareth Rondell, Free Cakes for Kids, St Neots Museum, Cambridge Conservation Initiative, Richard Rice, DS Smith Packaging and Dufaylite (St Neots).

Particular thanks to photographer and film-maker Maciek Platek for his filming and the many beautiful images included here, to bio-acoustic engineer William Seale for sharing his extraordinary recordings in our tent of sounds and to illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville for her fantastical mapping and signage on the day. And of course to CCI artists Helen Stratford and Deb Wilenski, all our wonderful volunteers and CCI staff and Board of Trustees.

Our next Fantastical Community Day will be with Round House Primary School and Love’s Farm community on 30 June and 1 July. Save the date! 

Images by CCI and Maciek Platek

Borrowed stories and underground eggs


(by Deb Wilenski) When Hawks class decided on the narrative for their animation (see Old Mags and the Stolen Baby) they had other story ideas that were too good to leave behind.  I offered one of these to Wrens, the youngest children in the school, in the form of a puppet story to begin our fantastical morning together.

An Image from the puppet story Old Mags still trips up over the fox in the forest

In the puppet story Old Mags still trips up over the fox in the forest, but this time as she lies on the ground she discovers that it is actually a very interesting place to be.  She can see and hear things she never noticed before; slugs, ants running, beetles, a talking mole.  She decides to stay there for a long time to explore…

It was a very wet morning but when I asked if the children would like to go and investigate their own ground in the orchard, they were wonderfully enthusiastic.  Within seconds we had found tiny creatures, mysterious holes and underground eggs.

A mysterious hole with underground eggs

Childs hand holding a yellow and brown snail

Children go and investigate their own ground in the orchard

Back in the classroom the children looked at images of fantastical bugs made by artists.  I showed them intricate glass sculptures by Emanuel Toffolo, creatures made from recycled metal by Dimitar Valchev and one of the oldest illustrations of woodlice in the world.

White dotted beetle by Emanuel ToffoloWhite dotted beetle by Emanuel Toffolo

Dimitar Valchevs metallic insect sculpturesMechanical insect sculpture by Dimitar Valchev

Woodlice from “The Book of Wonders of the Age” – 17th or 18th century manuscript

Woodlice from “The Book of Wonders of the Age” – 17th or 18th century manuscript

And then using clay or drawing the children invented fantastical bugs of their own, inspired by first-hand discoveries in the orchard, other artists’ work and each other’s imaginations. 

Clay model of a fantastical creature

Finger drawing of a fantastical creature

A drawing of fantastical creatures

A drawing of fantastical creatures

Making a clay model

Drawing of fantastical creatures

With these new creatures the tale of Old Mags continued before and after lunch; the torrential rain caused a flood in the bugs’ world and an exodus to a new land, crowds of bugs travelled together and when they finally arrived set up a new home, Old Mags joined them and drank her cup of tea!  The story was acted out through movement and developed though collaborative drawing and conversation.

Children acting out being crawling bugs escaping from the floodCrawling bugs escaping from the flood

A boy being a Sleeping woodliceSleeping woodlice

Lines on paper showing part of the bugs’ journey

Part of the bugs’ journey

At the end of the afternoon the children discovered how many legs they had between them and a fantastical 28-legged creature walked with great coordination back to its classroom.

Children discovered how many legs they had between them and a fantastical 28-legged creature

Line drawing of a house


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