Monday, November 05, 2018

Success and failures of the Eden Project

Dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World by some, the Eden Project needs no introduction. I like it there, it's great, amazing, visionary, with a cool shop! It's a success, it's popular, so why was I so underwhelmed there? Mainly because it feels like the opposite of what it's meant to do. It's become an eco-Disneyland; though it calls itself a charity, it feels commercial and strangely soulless. We came out having had a good time, but learnt nothing. It feels like it's missing an opportunity, in this age of over-consumerism and climate change, to educate and enlighten on the natural world, on sustainability, on protecting the planet. It's taken the consumerist approach: buy, eat, drink, leave. It should be alternative. It should be about community, not big business.

For me it fails automatically as everyone takes their car to visit. Local traffic and pollution has become a problem in the area. There should be a free shuttle bus service from St Austell. The car park in the pit takes up as much room as the actual domes. (Okay, I have used public transport a lot in Cornwall and it's not that much fun; buses in particular are expensive – there are no subsidies like in London and other major cities – and infrequent; all that EU money was spent on, erm, Superfast Broadband, a few new roads, some business start up schemes, some new-technology based industries... you know, nothing useful for the locals.)

A lot of the negative reviews about the Eden Project on TripAdvisor I think are valid: overpriced, unfocused, disorganised, insufficient information, bad food, 'A theme park without rides', 'Greed is a terrible thing'...

Glassdoor reviews by people who work there say poor management, underpaid and overworked staff – the usual... but somehow you want it to be different at the Eden Project. It's just a business, and a badly-run one. To be fair, when we attended a day of TED Talks in Truro recently, we heard a passionate lady who works at the Eden Project talk non-stop for fifteen minutes about fungi; obviously a woman who loves her job. But we also heard from the charismatic Ollie Oakenshield, founder of Rogue Theatre, a group which has stayed small, local, community-based (as opposed to, say, Kneehigh Theatre) and cheap: tickets for a performance still only cost £8.50; food and drink is reasonably priced (rather than doubling the cost like most theatres, cinemas or Eden Projects do). Performances take place in the lovely Tehidy woods, it's family run, and the audience are encouraged to dance on the stage after performances.

Ollie Oakenshield, as he told us in his TED Talk, was born and raised on the Pengegon Estate in Camborne, where more than half the children live below the poverty line. Oakenshield talked about his childhood on the estate, where the local woods and his imagination were an escape from the harsh reality of estate life. Thirty years later, despite EU and council funding for charities, start up business and back to work schemes, little has changed: a third of working age people in the area are claiming unemployment benefits, violence and domestic abuse is rife, children are neglected.

Oakenshield is one of the lucky ones: many children from Pengegon or similar estates in the area (Camborne, Redruth and Pool make up the largest urban area in Cornwall, and also the most deprived 20% in England), who live three miles from the woods and beautiful beaches, have never seen either. This seems extraordinary when tourists travel hundreds of miles to experience Cornwall's wonderful rugged countryside and white sand beaches, but poverty, unemployment, depression, abuse, boredom and neglect are a potent mix in a county where many people see no hope.

Back at the Eden Project, towards the end of the day we saw staff chucking away all the day's unsold food (I have photos to prove it if you're interested). The area around the Eden Project is another deprived part of Cornwall; surely this food should be given to the community instead of discarded?

Obviously, I felt much closer to nature when I recently explored the nearby abandoned Baal pit, where it felt like a real – and free – adventure, where plants and birds are abundant, and commercialism hasn't yet reached it. Though it will – plans are going ahead for the 'eco village'.

Recently in the news...
• Cornwall council housed boy, 17, in a tent
• Gary Barlow apologises after littering the Eden Project with plastic confetti

(I moan about the internet sometimes and Instagram often but what happened was I was in the Eden Project shop – which is cool – and flicked through a lovely gardening magazine called Rake's Progress. Then at home I went to their website. Then I went to their Instagram page, then to Christoffer Dalkarls’s Instagram page because I liked his photos of pigment still lives in the magazine, then back to rakesprogress Instagram page and saw someone called augustabruce had left a comment with just the words @rigbygone (no idea why) so I looked at their page and liked (I don’t mean liked, I mean enjoyed) their photos, then went back to augustabruce but his or her account is private so I went to their website, which I LOVED, though didn’t spend enough time there to figure out what they do, but enough to work out that Taïs did the drawing so went to their website, which was lovely, then Googled the name Taïs and came up with Taïs Kuri’s Instagram page, though no idea if Taïs is Taïs Kuri, probably not, but didn’t really care (though I knew at a glance that this photo would have more likes than the others), and thought I’d quite like to go to Mexico again… and so it goes with the internet, into the night. I recommend it to waste your nights and days.)

Previously on Barnflakes:
The China clay pits around St Austell
Reviving Redruth (and environs)


I really like the Eden Project said...

Go to your nearest theme park or go to the Eden Project, it’s all the same. They want foot fall and for you to buy the plastic tat (made in China) from their ‘gift shop’, then drive home and tell your friends not to go cos there’s too many cars, not enough free gifts and you’re closer to nature in the woods behind the pit.
When I first went to the pit to see the biomes being built you couldn’t even gain entry to the site proper as the place hadn’t even been built yet, this fired the imagination and built fantasy worlds of tropical trees and plants in my head. Then the next time I visited I was Hal complete, the plants were not quite got goin yet and there was something else missing...
...your imagination was no longer needed and you felt disappointed, underwhelmed and out-of-pocket.
Go walk some of the South West coast path, take a dip in the icey waters of the Channel, or a stroll in Tehidy woods but go with mindfulness, listen, tune in and wait. But this is not an ‘experience’ or tourist attraction, you cannot come away from these places with some plastic tat so why go at all?
Stop, Listen, Wait, Sniff, Touch, Observe, Feel...but not too long coz it’s a bit cold out there

Hater of mindless Eden Project critiques said...

Oh yes, Thank you ‘I really like the Eden Project’ but you’re just ranting at yourself and obviously have nothing better to do as well as missing the point altogether. I hope next time you can focus your efforts into a a more coherent and constructive critique

I really like the Eden Project said...

I’ve got plenty better to do thank you ‘Hater of mindless Eden Project critiques’ and this is one of them, replying to my own rant

Barnaby said...

Thanks for your comments. Not sure if you're agreeing with me or taking the piss – or both. All I'm saying is: The Eden Project – fun but flawed.