I grew up in a town called Walsall, in the Black Country of England. An unglamorous place; the 1980’s weren’t kind to it. I used to hang out by the cut (canal) and one day I saw a Kingfisher. It changed my life.
Largely due to the Kingfisher I studied environmental science, but there was always something else at work for me – a desire to create change. The duality between the wild and change has been constant through my life and career.
I grew up playing next to the M6 motorway, so when Richard Branson took over Virgin Trains said he wanted to grass over it, I got on-board. I’d wanted to do that for years.
I ended up sticking around in Virgin for 15 years. It was a good place to deliver change. I worked on purpose-led brand building for the Virgin Group, latterly as Global Head of Brand Strategy. Here I was responsible for launching new Virgin companies around the world, whilst advising and supporting the unique ecosystem of over 100 Virgin brands to better embody the brand values.
I helped the brand navigate the financial crash in 2008-2010 and delivered the first ever major repurposing of the global Virgin brand strategy, designed to better encompass the needs of people and planet. I also had the privilege of advising and supporting the Desmond Tutu Foundation – probably the best client in the world.
… and a long way from that canal bank in Walsall.
After a while, I wanted more out of my life. I wanted to solve new, different problems.
I explored creative collaboration and co-founded the Brighton chapter of Good for Nothing, bringing together creative talent from across the city to rapidly co-create outcomes to cause-led challenges set by social and environmental charities and not-for profits.
It was about this time that I heard the call of the wild. The sound of the Kingfisher.
It was transformational.
I wanted to bring my experience in brand building and creative movements together. The crew at Good For Nothing had just started The Wild Network a collective movement for rewilding childhood. I stepped in to grow it.
The Wild Network is a collective movement to rewild childhood; a collaboration of many of the UK’s biggest conservation and children’s charities. Together we made a feature length film Project Wild Thing, which has been seen by 1.5 million people worldwide, and changed the way that people and organisations think about the importance of time outdoors and the barriers to it experienced by many.
Real change happens on the margins. The cutting edge of ‘rewilding’ is not in pristine environments, but on the edgelands and canal banks of places like Birmingham.
I am an associate of The Active Wellbeing Society supporting their system-change journey, from local government to innovative community-benefit organisation. Through the programme Reclaiming the Wild Commons we are exploring the principles and practices of wildness as a tool to support placemaking, urban design and human connection, in communities where inequalities are at their highest.