Creative Group Project Description

Becky Watley's sketch book
Text piece printed at Francis Cupiss in Diss

Little Ouse Headwaters Project & Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts Creative Group

May 2012 – October 2013


The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts has been working on a creative project in partnership with the Little Ouse Headwaters Project (LOHP), a charity dedicated to the restoration, conservation and promotion of the wildlife and landscape of the Little Ouse valley, on the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, this 18 month long project aimed to celebrate the heritage values of the Little Ouse area through art, writing and performance, and inspire people to become more involved in its conservation.

Through our experience of working on The Culture of the Countryside, the Education & Research Department at the Sainsbury Centre were invited to coordinate the project and develop a programme of activities that would provide a rich learning experience based on the heritage of the valley.

Working closely with Mike Harding, LOHP trustees and volunteers, we started a ‘Creative Group’, which encouraged residents local to the project area to creatively explore the distinctive features of the Little Ouse valley, focusing on the tiny details that make it a unique place.

From September 2012 to October 2013 we developed a programme of activities that encouraged and supported the Creative Group members to explore a range of subjects and materials in their work. Working together with the group – which included over 30 artists, writers, photographers, musicians and dancers from the local area - we organised an extensive series of practical workshops, local knowledge sessions and bespoke guided walks on the fens to learn more about the unusual landscape and internationally rare species of the valley.

Drawing from the various interests, skills and knowledge of the group, we explored possibilities for using plants to make paper, thread and dyes, went on guided walks which inspired photography and creative writing in response to the landscape, and researched local heritage, industries and folklore through visiting museums and our ‘Local Knowledge’ meetings. Between us all, gradually we shared more and more ideas about how to intensify our scrutiny of the area and make artworks in response to the Little Ouse headwaters.

Over the duration of the project, we tried to set the project in a wider context as a way to understand better what is unique and special about the Little Ouse area. We organised visits to the Sainsbury Centre to look at our collection of world art and other arts and river projects observing how other cultures had celebrated the natural world through creative work and explored different aspects of the LOHP.

We also learnt about the deeper history in the Little Ouse headwaters region, of linen cultivation and weaving, reed and sedge-cutting, and thatching with talks by rural industry workers and craftspeople as well as visiting Norwich Castle Museum Study Centre to see their collection of linen produced in Lopham during the 19th century.

The Creative Group project culminated in a series of public exhibitions in October 2013, presented in three village halls in the project area. The exhibitions included painting, sculpture, textiles, photography, illustration and writing all inspired by the valley, the source of the river and the tiny details that make it a unique place.

Members of the Creative Group developed a range of work, which gave new insights into the beautiful and subtle surroundings, the quiet atmosphere of the fens, the source of the river, its history and folklore, and the plants and raw materials from and about which creative work was made. Held over two weekends, the exhibitions attracted more than 600 visitors, many of whom bought works and left positive feedback. 

‘Its great to see a project being run by enthusiastic, energetic people, which is not just conserving wild places but bringing people and communities together, bringing in artists and looking at the countryside through a whole new set of eyes.’

Phil Rothwell, Heritage Lottery Fund



Creative Group Management Team

Liz Ballard and Veronica Sekules

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, creative project curators

Mike Harding

Little Ouse Headwaters Project, HLF project manager

Jo Anne Pitt and Helen Smith

Little Ouse Headwaters Project, Trustees

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts  


Little Ouse Headwaters Project  

Heritage Lottery Fund




Aristoteles Barcelos Neto for talking to us about the Amazon in Brazil

Liliya Serazetdin​ova from Adapt/InCrops for introducing the group to Biobased Materials  

John and Richard from Francis Cupiss printers in Diss for endless patience and enthusiasm helping us to print texts

Ruth Battersby Tooke and Lisa Little from the Castle Museum for inspiring us with their knowledge for Lopham linens

John Cousins for demonstrating and discussing thatching and bringing his specialist thatching tools

Ian Howard of Woad Inc. for coming to share his knowledge.

Deepthi Radhakrishnan for participating in workshops and meetings and especially for making and editing our documentary films

Gauri Gill for showing us her projects in India mapping community interests and responses to their locality

Charles Bran for his workshop making paper from plants

Richard Denyer for photography tutorials

Jenny Vere for lending the Lopham’s collection of linen and sharing her knowledge

Patricia Mullins for talking about words & images ideas

Pema Clark for initiating ideas for drama workshops.

Diss High school for trying to organise drama activities.

Jack and Charlie Crampton for the mounting and framing of works

David Rees, Paul Kuzemczak , Rob Filby & Tom Salt from the Sainsbury Centre for exhibition transport and installation

Adam Pugh for design and printing of the LOHP Writing Anthology

Antoine Huet, Clare Karslake and Amy Chang, Sainsbury Centre interns for exhibition assistance

Charley Ramm, Sainsbury Centre IT and website support