Last year I was fortunate enough to spend six months living on a sustainable eco-community on the edge of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand called Wilderland.  "Sustainability means doing things in a way that maintains and nurtures that which sustains us" and Wilderland nurtures not just the land but the people too, creating an environment where teaching and learning are interchangeable, skills are shared, people are inspired to be the best versions of themselves and to contribute meaningfully to an amazing project, as well as finding their own path, living fully and delving deeper into themselves.

The experience changed my life, and while I was there I gained valuable knowledge about growing organic food, caring for the land, cooking for heaps of people(!), bee-keeping, herbal remedies and ointments, as well as living with a constantly evolving group of other people and all the challenges  and joys that come from that!

My creativity was flowing and overflowing, and so my main project while I was there was to set up an Art Gallery at the Wilderland shop.  The basic idea was to make a space to sell and promote art and crafts that were being made at Wilderland - partly as a way of creating an additional income for the community, as well as to encourage and inspire people there to be more creative and develop handmade skills. A huge amount of people come through Wilderland every year, and many of them are talented artists and craftspeople, so it just seemed like the perfect way for them to be able to share and use their skills to enrich the community and ultimately the public.

 Alongside this I initiated a workshop program that was designed to work in tandem with the gallery whereby anyone with a craft skill could run a workshop, and then everything made during the workshops would automatically go for sale in the gallery (depending on quality!) and the participants would also gain valuable skills to use later for their own benefit.  For example I ran workshops in book-binding, block printing (making hand-printed cards, wrapping paper, notebook covers etc) as well as co-facilitating leather and feather jewellery workshops.

As luck would have it, shortly after I arrived a guy called Ruben (Lekrmoi) turned up who totally shared my vision, and so we became the unstoppable gallery super-team, bouncing ideas and collaborating creatively in a magical and mysterious way. The first step was to completely strip, re-paint and re-decorate an empty, disused part of the shop. We collaborated on a big mural on the back wall of the gallery (he did text and I did images) which worked beautifully and brightened up the shop,  drawing people's attention to the gallery as soon as they walked in. Once the gallery was almost ready to go we needed artwork to sell(!) so I spent many a long night working away on a series of paintings, as well as hand-painted leather jewellery and other crafts.

I also painted new signs for the rest of the shop, and co-ordinated a big renovation of the outside of the shop so that the whole thing fitted together visually and had a much-needed fresh look!

By the end of the project the shop was completely transformed, and we had a big 'Grand-Opening' celebration and exhibition, and then not long after that it was time for me to leave! It was pretty heart-breaking but it felt like the right time, and I will always be so grateful for the time I spent there, the connections I made and all the lessons I learned along the way. I love you Wilderland! xxx