We don’t usually publish a review of the year but 2020 was somewhat exceptional for everybody including the Museum of Walking.
We began the year with great hopes and a desire to broaden our offer over each season. We are not usually out and about in the winter months because the weather is inclement and often not appealing to many people to join a led walk, let alone a walkshop in which we are inviting people to photograph, sketch or write.
Seasonal Slow Marathons
However in January 2020, we piloted a Seasonal Slow Marathon around the borough of Greenwich with the intention of offering led walks at a slower pace each season. 35 people joined us In January, walking a marathon length route over a weekend. There was as much enthusiasm for completing a marathon distance on foot as there was for observing the surroundings more closely for seasonal changes. Despite the pandemic and various lockdown restrictions on gatherings and movement, we did manage, with the help of Cheltenham resident David Hearle to devise a Cheltenham & Cotswold Seasonal Slow Marathon route. This was to be featured by Country Walking Magazine in July, but alas the pandemic swept that aside.
Our annual pursuit of street tree cherry blossom, fell victim to the pandemic too, and we had to cancel a street tree walk led by Paul Wood in Herne Hill in March. But with Paul’s encouragement we ran our first live on-line version on Zoom with a small group of loyal followers giving us valuable feedback on their experience.
What to do with the Urban Tree Festival
We also had to consider what we could do with the Urban Tree Festival. For 2020, it had been extended to 9 days in May so it could embrace the Among Trees exhibition at the Hayward Gallery as well as a finale day at Bell house in Dulwich. As we had already run Zoom online tours, we at least had some confidence that the Urban Tree Festival could switch from an -on-the-ground event to a virtual on-line event. With the Hayward and other supporting institutions closing their doors, we chose to run it all on-line. The mood at the time was we should try to offer as much of the Festival free and seek donations from the festival goers.
Despite our key Festival funder having to withdraw their funding and support as so many of their staff were furloughed, we battled on with the Festival, finally offering more than 50 live Zoom events (all recorded on our Youtube channel) and 50 online activities. And we published Canopy an anthology of prose and poetry. This was an extraordinary achievement and we are incredibly grateful to the large number of people who gave up many hours to help us manage and promote the Festival as well as to those who contributed events and activities.
What was clear was that we had hit a ‘sweet spot’ . The pandemic lockdown restrictions had meant that people were limited in their choice of entertainment, plus they were being encouraged to take daily exercise on foot. With trees coming into leaf and people now out and about noticing the nature around them, we had considerably more people becoming aware of the Urban Tree Festival. Being online means that you don’t have to be in London to enjoy the Urban Tree Festival and we had many people from around the country and abroad joining the live events.
Unfortunately the old adage still persists that, if people don’t pay for something they don’t really value it. Although we made it clear that over 120 people were contributing their time for free to make the Festival a success, this was not reflected in the level of donations received. We attracted just over 1600 people to the live events but of those fewer than 300 of them made a donation. And of those 300, the top 40 of them donated more than 60% of the donations we received. Although the Urban Tree Festival was a success, growing in numbers, picking up a special ‘Trees and Woodlands Lockdown Award‘, it was far from financially sustainable.
A Museum of Virtual Walking
We continued offering online tours during the summer although lockdown restrictions were lifted, we were still unable to get outdoors in groups on foot. Even now, although so many people are offering Zoom events and tours, we still have good numbers of people coming on our virtual walks. This is thanks to the hard work, thorough research and passion that Paul Wood, Gail Astbury and Peter Fiennes, our co-creators have invested in our events.
Walk Listen Create evolves as the platform for Sound Walk September
Working with colleagues Babak Fakhamzadeh and Geert Vermeire we launched Walk Listen Create in the early part 2020, and in light of lockdown, we started running fortnightly café events online using an alternate to Zoom. This proved popular as peer-to-peer support amongst the walking, sound walking and walking art fields, and we have continued to offer these, now making them a regular feature on the Walk Listen Create website.
With the encouragement of Stella Wisdom at the British Library we recruited an advisory board for Sound Walk September. Unlike previous years, there were considerably fewer submissions of walking pieces and inevitably only a handful of live events taking place during Sound Walk September. So we took the decision that we would run a dozen online events ourselves, as well as create a couple of interactive participatory tools that anyone could join in: Shorelines in which you can submit prose or poetry and invite friends to read it aloud, and 30 Days of Walking in which people could post field recordings of their walks. Sound Walk September proved to be a huge success offering events online in four continents and having participants from around the world explore and discuss sound walks, and attracting publicity in the Guardian newspaper.
With a new design to the Walk Listen Create website we are looking to launch a crowdfunding campaign through offering Supporter Memberships which we plan to launch in February 2021.
Autumn / Winter virtual offerings…
We launched an Autumn season of online walks and talks through the now Museum of Virtual Walking, this time not relying on donations but offering a range of fixed price tickets, as well as offering a free ticket to anyone who worked in the NHS or as a key worker. By Winter we had hoped to see the back of the pandemic, and be able to make plans for getting back out and about on foot, but alas that is even more unlikely to happen now. We are planning however, to run a WhatsApp self-guided Seasonal Slow Marathon at the end of January.
Your 20×20 Vision for walking in 2040
Talking Walking, our sister site has also taken a bit of a battering from the pandemic, as we have not been able to get out to interview people on foot, but have managed to catch up on a backlog of recordings made before the pandemic. We also began a Twitter promotion encouraging people to #walkwithme in #lockdown, by drawing attention to our 100+ archived podcasts. We also invited interviewees (and anyone else) to record their 20×20 Vision for walking in 2040, and have had a really fabulous response, including a feature in Country Walking Magazine. If you haven’t yet done so, please visit the site and submit your own 20×20 Vision.
2020 hasn’t all been doom and gloom
2020 hasn’t all been doom and gloom, although we lost 6 client commissioners whose employers were unable to support, let alone encourage on-the-ground activity, we have managed to recover some income through offering virtual walking tours in the winter months when income is usually sparse.
Thank you for continuing to support our endeavours to get more people out and about on foot, discovering their neighbourhoods, making new friends, and being creative.
So here are some numbers to round up:
- 26 walks / walkshops
- 15 Urban Tree Festival events
- 2 Sound Walk September events
- 11 commissions
- 2 walks / walkshops
- 27 on-line virtual walking tours
- 50 Urban Tree Festival events
- 12 Sound Walk September events
- 13 Walk Listen Cafes
- 6 commissions