Underpinning life at the Orangery is a belief in making a difference. We see ourselves as part of the Rural Lab, a laboratory for the non-urban that encapsulates not just what we do on the estate, from the plants we grow and the animals we breed, to the sustainable approach we adopt and the creativity we encourage, but also feeding into and encouraging the wider conversations and debate around absolutely critical issues that are fundamental to every rural landscape, community and activity on the planet.
These themes are, we believe, the fundamental pillars of the Rural Lab:
- Environmentalism - and how you make it understandable and relevant to people
- Technology – for the rural parts of our planet
- Nature – how we nurture it, work within it and sustainably realise its value
- Creativity – how you help it flourish in rural settings, from arts and culture to scaleable opportunities, entrepreneurship and business.
Glastonbury Festival is a brilliant example, a festival started by a farmer wondering how to diversify, is today a global brand built on a sustainable, charity-supporting, partnership model of success.
Look at the transformative effects of Eden Project in Cornwall, the artistic brilliance of the Hauser and Wirth Gallery in Somerset, or the groundbreaking educational and research achievements of the AgroForestry Research Trust in Devon.
It is a key question for the Rural Lab. How do you enable rural environments to create scaleable opportunities that go beyond agriculture? People thought Michael Eavis was crazy. People doubted Sir Tim Smit would succeed. But what started with one stage has become an incubator and enabler of creativity, a commercial success in a completely different way to how land has been viewed for centuries. In Cornwall, what started as a vision and a clay pit has become an international tourist attraction, climate change educator and, like Glastonbury Festival, a global brand.
Rural communities are sitting on prized assets, a quality of life, space to be creative, develop and nurture ideas across the full spectrum of human endeavour and activity. We need to consider how rural communities can ‘harvest that’ - productization, commercialisation, branded products, services.
We certainly need to focus on the things we do have, rather than worry about what we don’t. Public transport is an issue, access to cities perhaps. Access to global markets? Today, with technology, you can take any product to any market.
And just because we are in a rural environment, that of course does not mean we cannot be as productive, exciting and dynamic as any other part of the economy. In the South West, from Tim Smit and Michael Eavis, to the Dart brothers and Rick Stein, we know this.
The Rural Lab is not about ditching the past. It’s about now and the future.
Agriculture of course is a crucial element of the Rural Lab. Food production is a global issue and one of the greatest challenges faced by our species. The South West is leading efforts, through science, research, application and commercialisation to overcome what is an incredible set of challenges. The Rural Lab is about exploring these themes, testing and developing methods, scaleable solutions, achieving commercial successes for rural economies, just as our Living Lab on the Orangery is, whilst small-scale, actually doing some of these things, whilst always learning, sharing and progressing.
We want to help educate, explore within the Orangery these four themes of environmentalism, technology, nature and creativity, doing it ourselves as we go on a journey, sometimes developing products, becoming a place that supports the wider community, a creative estate, a venue, a place of learning. The Sheds, restored from the old Victorian buildings behind the main Orangery, is our new - and sizeable - studio with indoor and outdoor space to stimulate creativity, giving business leaders, artists, teams, groups and others an incredible and awe-inspiring space to work.
Across the South West, across the country and across the world, millions of us are part of the Rural Lab. The 21st century will be viewed as a monumental moment in history, a time of change, of flux, a ‘battle’ to build and maintain global alliances and win hearts and minds as we strive to tackle global problems, rising temperatures, the mass movement of people, increasing pressures on food and water, energy supplies and the rapid progression to a digital economy.
We believe all custodians and members of the Rural Lab have a responsibility to get involved. It’s the only way we will develop the solutions.
This shared responsibility makes many of us in the South West, and much of the population across most of the still predominantly rural landscapes of the British Isles ‘members’. But of course, anyone can be a member. It’s what you do to get involved and make things happen that counts.