Fire Earth Art – a case study for creative evaluation

“intriguing, amazing, fulfilling, exciting, relaxing”

quote from Fire Earth Art participant

Project details:

Fire Earth Art is an environmental arts-based intervention delivered in the Forest of Dean by The Rewild Project director Nichola Goff (Nic), with input from Ruth Sidgwick, arts manager at North Bristol NHS Trust.

The project introduces local people to a variety of creative processes using natural materials and traditional crafts to promote sustainable good mental health and wellbeing for participants.

“a life-affirming day”

Aims & Objectives:

  • Deliver three taster workshops to inform the design of a five-week summer project at the Angus Buchanan Memorial Ground in Coleford, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
  • Recruit local participants with mental ill health, in consultation and/ or partnership with local providers and community-based support organisations
  • Teach skills including charcoal making, drawing, woodblock carving, print making and making paper, paints and dyes from natural pigments sourced locally 
  • Create original artwork, some of which will be exhibited locally in September 2018, giving families, friends and local people access to participants’ work
  • Build links with local projects to provide referral routes for participants as well as signposting for follow-on groups and activities
  • Explore creative evaluation methods and their effectiveness in establishing the impact of interventions on those taking part

Delivery dates:

  • February/March 2018: planning, meeting local providers, marketing, recruitment
  • March/April 2018: one-off, open taster sessions delivered
  • April/May 2018: evaluation of the taster sessions
  • July-August 2018: delivery of closed five-week group 


The health benefits of participatory arts, particularly on a local basis, are increasingly recognised with a growing evidence base that we can all use to make our case stronger Non-clinical community interventions: a systemised review of social-prescribing schemes.  Mental ill health can dramatically reduce our ability to play a meaningful part in the world, undermining confidence and impairing our wellbeing and quality of life.  

In addition, poor mental health can diminish our capacity to form friendships and undertake new activities, closing down our potential to engage fully with our lives and our communities.

Participating in carefully designed group activities can reduce anxiety and depression, increase self-esteem, reduce social isolation and bring a genuine sense of connection, achievement and joy.

Location and Setting:

For this project, Fire Earth Art is based in the Angus Buchanan Memorial Park in Coleford, an easily accessible outdoor space with a pavilion building providing an alternative making space if there’s bad weather, as well as important back-up facilities such as use of a kitchen.

Angus Buchanan is an ideal location for access by local people with several other community groups, such as the Fruitful Futures community orchard project and other Rewild programmes, using the area, as well as lots of walkers and the local bowls club.  The outdoor space is focussed around a fire pit in a clearing in a small beech wood with views out across fields to the edge of Coleford.

The Forest of Dean is common ground owned by the Crown and managed by the Forestry Commission, with no barriers to thousands of acres of land, giving the Foresters a great sense of ownership and identity with their land. 

“made me realise how much the outdoors improve mental health!”

The Creative Approach:

One primary aim of the workshops is to encourage people to get out into their local green spaces and explore what they can find to make art with.  As a Forester, Nic has an extensive knowledge of local resources and wants to increase people’s confidence to use the freely available materials growing and existing around them as well as to enjoy the natural landscape as a way of enhancing their wellbeing.

So the visual art forms offered are playful, easily learned, quickly mastered and therefore simple and fun to recreate at home.  The aim of the project is to ensure that people go away excited and inspired by what they’ve learned and able to carry on outside the session.

“V friendly and welcoming environment – lovely to do creative activities in such a non-pressured way”


making charcoal
tins packed with willow toasting in the fire pit
mixing pigments from Clearwell Caves ochre
drawing with pigments, taking inspiration straight from nature


stripping bark from fresh willow

 “Good fun and totally absorbing.  Thank you both”

Participant Engagement:

People were recruited to the three open-group taster sessions with targeted marketing through local support organisations and community groups, mail shots to individuals working in the Forest and leaflet drops across Coleford and Cinderford.  People signed up in advance so we were able to manage the group numbers (8 per session maximum).  Sessions were open to anyone with an interest in what we were offering – no previous art experience was needed to join in.

The summer 2018 five week project will be a closed group intake with help in recruiting from the  Independence Trust mental health charity  Again, as long as participants have an interest in experimenting with art, they will be welcome to join us.

The people who came to a session came for a good reason:  they are functioning well enough not to access any formal services but each was clear in expressing a need for some time out, for looking after themselves, for taking part in some arts activity to help their wellbeing.

This in turn begs the question of who didn’t attend.  Two people booked but didn’t turn up because they weren’t having a good day and couldn’t get out of the house; in a previous project I’ve organised taxis for people feeling vulnerable who subsequently shared that they wouldn’t have attended if transport hadn’t been organised and waiting for them… transport may need to be considered for members who have been referred to the closed group in the summer.

“I came feeling stressed and exhausted but now feel relaxed and inspired”

Project Management:

Roles between Nic and me fell into place easily: Nic planned and delivered the artistic content and I led on evaluation exercises and the two funding applications.  Both of us gave our time voluntarily as part of our Masters studies in Arts Practice (Arts, Health & Wellbeing) at University of South Wales.

Nic will repeat the programme of activities for the summer project, adding paper making and I will lead on artists’ book making and use of reflective journals.


Taster sessions were free to attend but participants could make a small donation to cover the cost of refreshments.

Ethics and consent:

All participants were asked to complete a project consent form explaining how any data gathered would be used, as well giving them the opportunity to specify how much consent they were prepared to give for use of photographs taken during the workshops.


My mission for this project was to test out a small range of creative evaluation tools to establish their effectiveness in measuring the impact of our work.  Over three taster sessions, 18 people attended and completed feedback forms, mood words, laundry line feedback and a two-month follow up questionnaire.  I wanted to play a little with the methods to make sure the tasks felt appropriate to the informality and friendliness of the sessions.

Fire Earth Art
Are you feeling good?! The ‘after’ photo – and you can eat your words too

Everyone did the before and after mood words exercise, focussing on one word that described their mood before they started the session and as they finished the session:

Laying them out in columns provides a direct route into a bit of amateur thematic analysis and shows a very clear move from one state into another (each participant putting their ‘after’ mood word directly next to their ‘before’ mood word):

My layout of complete list of mood words from each of the three weeks

And we DID use a form… but one designed to be visually appealing and requiring only a very small amount of written work:

Analysing data from these forms proved very easy: 100% of those responding to the form said that they had enjoyed the session – hurrah!  Giving people only a very small space in which to write something also proved undaunting – only one person chose not to add a comment.  Those received really bring warmth and depth to the project, as seen in the quotes sprinkled through this case study:

“So inspiring. I feel completely relaxed, chilled and motivated.  Thank you so much for a wonderful day”


My conclusions are that we delivered everything we set out to deliver: teaching lots of new skills; giving people the excuse to spend time outdoors; leading people in understanding and appreciating the resources the land can give us; teaching techniques so people can make art with those resources way beyond the life of this project.  

I was able to integrate evaluation tools into the taster sessions producing rich enough data to establish the success of the pilot period and giving us space to experiment and time plan for the five-week summer group.

“fun & good to be around a fire in a wood”