I’m currently based in our studio in a small village just outside Brecon. An increasing amount of our work is in Wales, and this makes for a good central base. Right now I’m very preoccupied by all things rural; I grew up in a remote village in the west country, so it’s deeply rooted. My recent work with VeloCity is focused on issues of isolation and disconnect in the countryside and we have a strategy that we think can help reinvigorate villages and bring back the pubs, schools and shops that they have lost. It calls to mind the film Sleep Furiously, a poetic slow-moving portrait of a rural Welsh community undergoing irrevocable change set to music by the brilliant Aphex Twin. The film follows the mobile library the only remaining lifeline for the village as the school faces closure.
The hilly countryside, peaks and valleys around us makes it difficult not to jump in a car, but I am determined to cycle to as many of our projects as possible and it’s encouraging to hear from our local bike shopkeeper that electric bikes are now his biggest seller. Cycling and walking will be the predominant way for people travelling to one of the most exciting projects Featherstone Young are working on at the moment – Black Mountains College (BMC), which is founded in direct response to the ecological and climate crisis, and is pioneering a new education model where students learn directly from nature combining agro-ecology with the arts and neuroscience. It is not far from us, and it repurposes a farmstead and agricultural sheds, employing a sustainable use of land, buildings and local skills.
We haven’t seen things change enough over the last ten years. The river we are on is still polluted with farm effluent and trees and hedges are still being ripped out thanks to grants aimed at improving economic productivity rather than the environment. It seems that grants to diversify and support wildlife can’t compete with grants for farmers to be ever more productive – change is a slow grind but my hope is that projects like BMC will make a difference.
As a closing remark, I notice that Tim’s photo has caught my foot tapping – he tells me it is a sign of pent up frustration, I disagree I think it’s me tapping along to Aphex Twin’s rural electronica playing in my head!