Case Study

Surrey Unearthed


Surrey Hills Arts developed and delivered this innovative programme with artists who have a strong connection and curiosity for the Surrey Hills AONB landscape. The ten projects explored the natural materials of the landscape, their history and uses over time. The installations, art walks and community celebrations connected people with their local landscapes. The artists engaged others in their exploration of chalk, sand, clay, grass and wood unearthing hidden insights into a particular material, its uses over time and relevance today.

This ambitious project has far exceeded the reach and impact we had hoped for and will culminate in a symposium in October, ‘Unearthing Landscapes’ bringing together artists, landscape conservation organisations and volunteers.

What was done

The programme was launched in January 2018 at the Surrey History Centre to initiate the artists’ research and their integration as a group.

Following this, they embedded themselves in key locations across the Surrey Hills. Ackroyd & Harvey explored the geological and social layers at Leith Hill, from tree canopy down to below ground, acknowledging the strong feelings of the local community to threats on this land. Their interactive, evolving exhibition The Lark Descending in Dorking town centre throughout May included their incredible photographic photosynthesis artworks alongside trees grown from Beuy’s oaks and a programme of interactive talks and workshops.

Jonathan Parsons explored the geology along the chalk ridge creating a monumental installation, Fossil Ocean Floor, in farmland adjacent to the main rail line. Working with the farmer he created large dot matrix text pieces that align with the movement of the viewer to read ‘Lamina’ and ‘Animal’. This was the first of a series of landsape interventions developed for the project. Jane Ponsford has travelled across the AONB focusing on four locations – Witley, Box Hill, Newlands Corner and Reigate Hill collecting and creating artworks with found pigments as part of her project, Terrain. Walter Bailey has researched the historical process of forest glass in developing designs for a structure at a viewpoint on Farnham Heath. Amanda Loomes has revealed the extraction processes in sand quarries in East Surrey with two insightful art documentaries – Whole and Persistent Place which have been shown in Tandridge, Waverley, London, Portsmouth and the Netherlands. Mary Branson explored the rituals and celebration of farmland with a light installation called Harvest – 64 outlines of hay bales across a 200 metre field commenting on climate change and its effect on farming.

The project culminated in a community celebration at Box Hill that brought together Alison Carlier’s ‘The Calling’ 130 people calling across the landsape, choral pieces arranged and led by Anna Tabbush and poetry by the Mole Valley Poets.

What an awesome evening. Great combination of traditions, light installation, and landscape beauty. Thank you!

Audience member

These established artists guided emerging artists who brought a fresh perspective from widely varied backgrounds. Alison Carlier focused on the sound element of her research into chalk creating a pod cast Sounds from a Shallow Sea incorporating field recordings, interviews, spoken word. Bryn Hallett pushed the boundaries of building with earth in his Liminal Lease Structure and Steven Edwards explored deterioration, fragments & how the material of clay records a narrative of the changing landscape and its history in his From Humble Beginnings installation. Amie Rai took her pop-up Travelling Reading Room across the AONB to engage others in texts about landscape and materials. The engagement programme aimed to connect people to the landscape by working with and learning from the artists. Six schools from urban, more disadvantaged areas in Surrey were identified and the pupils guided through Arts Award qualifications. The artists also worked with adults and young people with mental health issues or emotional distress, and adults with learning disabilities as well as engaging people at public events such as the Watts Gallery Make Festival and The Big Draw.

(c) John Miller and Mary Branson Surrey Unearthed - Harvest (c) John Miller and Mary Branson

Surrey Unearthed - Harvest


To date, 8283 people have directly participated in Surrey Unearthed in the form of workshops, exhibitions, walks and talks.

142 pupils have been guided through their Arts Award qualification by the artists. They undertook all 4 modules as part of the project – learning about the artist, gaining new skills from them, visiting and questioning the artworks and sharing their new skills with others.

5 Exhibitions, 8 Installations, 11 Artist Talks, 19 Art Workshops, 11 Creative Walks, and 3 Film Showings.


Key to the success was the way we approached the community engagement. This was different for each of the 10 projects. Rather than purely delivering workshops, it was more interactive. For example, Ackroyd and Harvey invited people into the empty shop unit throughout the 3 weeks for informal discussion, talks from nature specialists and presentations. Jane Ponsford engaged with people throughout her exploration of four sites across Surrey and they created together using the materials of the landscape. Mary Branson inspired people with her desire to create 66 illuminated outlines of hay bales and had assembly lines of volunteers filling halls to build them, then install them. The celebratory event drew hundreds of people coming together to sing and experience the artwork together.


Surrey Unearthed has been a fantastic project that has developed new partners and inspired new audiences to appreciate the natural beauty of the AONB. It has been a wonderful way to help celebrate the 60 Anniversary of the Surrey Hills AONB designation in 2018

Rob Fairbanks, Surrey Hills AONB Director

Surrey Hills National Landscape Surrey Unearthed - Creativity cooperation and campaigning (c) Ackroyd and Harvey

Surrey Unearthed - Creativity cooperation and campaigning - The Lark Descending exhibition space by Ackroyd and Harvey.

Thank you for all your hard work and please extend our appreciation to Jonathan Parsons for teaching us about his work and for allowing us to view his work in the beautiful backdrop of the Surrey hills. Working for the Arts Award has inspired our students so much that many more are now asking how they can become involved and those that went through this cycle are keen to move on to the next level which is really encouraging. It has given confidence to students who are often overlooked for academic recognition or sporting achievements. It has boosted their self-esteem and given them a taste for success It has been a pleasure to be a part of the Surrey Unearthed project and has helped us to unearth some hidden artistic talents in the process!

Participant - Lydia Smyth, Head of Arts, Thomas Knyvett College