Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘The Campaign for Local Distinctiveness’ and ‘Gardening, Landscape Design and Local Distinctiveness’

Between 1982 and 2013, the arts and environmental charity Common Ground pioneered many innovative projects that combined environmental issues with cultural activities to inspire people to become more engaged in looking after their local environment. A common thread running throughout all of these projects was the concept of ‘Local Distinctiveness’, a term coined and developed by Common Ground from as early as 1985. The term was used by Common Ground ‘to explore the relationship between people and everyday places, and the bonds between nature, identity and place’ (Local Distinctiveness: Place, Particularity and Identity (1993), p. 7).

EUL MS 416/PRO/9/2 – Printed material produced by Common Ground for the ‘Campaign for Local Distinctiveness’ project

The Campaign for Local Distinctiveness was officially launched by Common Ground in 1990. In the course of the project, Common Ground researched and collected material relating to different aspects and examples of Local Distinctiveness around the UK. In addition, Common Ground collaborated with local authorities and organisations to promote Local Distinctiveness as a basis for new local initiatives, policies and strategies. Common Ground also produced popular posters advocating for Local Distinctiveness, which first appeared as full-page adverts in ‘The Independent’ newspaper. A conference on Local Distinctiveness held by Common Ground on 28 September 1993 resulted in the publication of a collection of essays in a volume entitled Local Distinctiveness: Place, Particularity and Identity (Common Ground, 1993).

The Campaign for Local Distinctiveness also spawned several sub-projects such as the Geology and Local Distinctiveness project, the ABC: Learning to Read Your Locality project, the Gardening, Landscape Design and Local Distinctiveness project, and the England in Particular project. Material relating to the Geology and the ABC project can be found within the Campaign for Local Distinctiveness section of the archive, whilst the Gardening and England in Particular projects each have their own sections. Common Ground kept these files separate from the Campaign for Local Distinctiveness files, and the arrangement of the archive reflects this.

Files in the ‘Campaign for Local Distinctiveness’ section of the Common Ground archive

Material in the Campaign for Local Distinctiveness section of the archive includes:

  • correspondence and project planning papers;
  • printed material, including pamphlets, leaflets and posters;
  • material relating to the ABC: Learning to Read Your Locality project;
  • papers relating to conferences;
  • papers relating to local authorities and Local Distinctiveness;
  • material relating to geology and sculptures based on Local Distinctiveness;
  • press clippings and publicity material;
  • research material;
  • and photographic material.

The Common Ground archive contains a large collection of photographic material, which mostly consists of 35mm mounted colour slide transparencies in slide storage sheets. This collection includes slides capturing images of examples of Local Distinctiveness around the UK, which Common Ground mainly organised alphabetically by county. Two student volunteers, Cecily and Rebecca, are currently cataloguing the slides relating to Local Distinctiveness to make these images more searchable and accessible. We are very grateful for their hard work and want to say a big thank you to them both!

The highlights of this section for me were the colourful posters produced by Common Ground, which provide really helpful advice on how we can help look after our local environment, as well as the material relating to the ABC: Learning to Read Your Locality project. The aim of the ABC project was to encourage people to engage more with their local area by creating an alphabet of Local Distinctiveness specific to their place. These alphabets could, for example, be used to promote or celebrate place, as a campaigning tool, or as a way to raise funds for the local area. The archive includes several alphabets that were sent to Common Ground, which include some really charming examples created by children!

EUL MS 416/PRO/9/2/2 – Two copies of Common Ground’s ‘Mayday! Mayday! Nature’s Call for Help’ poster, which was first produced as a full-page advertisement in the ‘Independent’ newspaper (02 May 1988) and then sold by Common Ground in colour

You can find the full catalogue description of The Campaign for Local Distinctiveness section here or by clicking the image below.

The Gardening, Landscape Design and Local Distinctiveness project grew out of Common Ground’s Campaign for Local Distinctiveness, and ran for approximately five years between 1992 and 1997. The aim was to promote a style of gardening that was sensitive to the distinctive qualities of the given place, for example its soil type, native species, local architecture, and history. In 1995, Common Ground published a pamphlet entitled ‘The Art of Gentle Gardening: Thoughts on Linking Plants, People and Places’. This is the smallest section of the archive, comprising only nine files.

The pamphlet ‘The Art of Gentle Gardening’ and files in the ‘Gardening, Landscape Design and Local Distinctiveness’ section of the Common Ground archive

Material in the Gardening, Landscape Design and Local Distinctiveness section of the archive includes:

  • correspondence;
  • reports;
  • papers relating to the publication of ‘The Art of Gentle Gardening: Thoughts on Linking Plants, People and Places’ pamphlet;
  • papers relating to talks and conferences;
  • press releases, press clippings and papers relating to publicity;
  • and research material and notes.

My personal highlight in this section is the original artwork by Stephen Turner for ‘The Art of Gentle Gardening’, which includes some lovely chalk and charcoal drawings in pastel colours.

You can find the full catalogue description of the Gardening, Landscape Design and Local Distinctiveness section here or by clicking the image below.

The cataloguing of these sections of the archive were completed in September, and descriptions of all the files are now available on our online catalogue – do go and have a look! The next section of the archive on my list to catalogue is material relating to the New Milestones project. Pop by again soon for the next update on the cataloguing project!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

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