Charlie Whinney & ‘Creative Communities CIC’ artist group named

Charlie Whinney of ‘Creative Communities CIC’ art collective announced as artist tasked with installing the largest section of the Sycamore Gap tree at The Sill. 

The artist commission is in two phases and is led by Northumberland National Park in partnership with the National Trust – who gifted a section of the trunk to the National Park – the Hadrian’s Wall Partnership and Historic England.   

Two phase commission

The first phase will see an anniversary exhibition created and a public consultation, which will open at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre a year on from when the tree was felled. 

Community feedback will then inform the second phase of the commission, which will provide an artistic response and permanent setting for the trunk as part of Northumberland National Park Authority’s permanent exhibition at The Sill.  

Who is funding the commission?

The Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland is providing £50,000 for both phases, including from North East Roots fund, which enables people living elsewhere to give back to the region. The Linden Family, Michael and Christine Heppell and Duncan and Sarah Davidson funds at the Community Foundation are also contributing alongside a dedicated gift from Ventient Energy.   

More about the artist

The team of three successful artists are Charlie Whinney, lead-artist, maker of large projects in UK, Asia, USA, and Laurent-Perrier Design Award winning product designer. Nick Greenall, project manager, environmental education provider, film maker and archivist, and Matt Sowerby, a climate activist and celebrated poet. Matt was the 2018 National Youth Slam Champion and 2023 Uni-Slam Champion. He has performed in the Houses of Parliament, BBC Radio 3, and his work has been exhibited by the United Nations in 2022.   

Creative Communities UK is a community interest company known for creating eco-friendly objects, sustainable art projects, community projects and courses in sustainable design practice.  Charlie Whinney Studio’s work straddles fine art, architecture and design and is grounded in making and ecology, and they are also leaders in steam-bending wood.  

The group responded to a call in April from Northumberland National Park Authority for artists, designers and architects to pitch for a commission to create a legacy for the tree, that would provide an opportunity for the public to re-connect with the largest part of the felled tree.  

The creative idea

Charlie Whinney’s successful idea centers around documenting and archiving people’s feelings and memories and asking what promises, oaths and vows they could make that would make a difference to the Sycamore Gap tree’s descendants or to the tree itself, were it still intact. The artist is hoping it will reveal unexpected connections between the tree world and human society.   

The anniversary exhibition will include the tree, a short film, and an opportunity for the public to contribute to plans. 

Hear from the group who have led the commission

Tony Gates, Chief Executive of Northumberland National Park Authority was one of the first people on the scene at Sycamore Gap after the tree was felled. Now looking forward to the commission, he said:  

“The appointment of Charlie Whinney as artist to take on this unique creative commission is extremely exciting. Not only have they a proven track record in creating and delivering large scale projects, but their ethos aligns to Northumberland National Park’s, in that they are truly committed to securing a legacy for both people and nature through the connection to Sycamore Gap. I am fascinated to see how they interpret and incorporate people’s views and heartfelt emotions into the installation, and I feel honoured we have the opportunity to create a special place for people to come and connect with the tree.”  

Charlie Whinney, lead artist at Creative Communities UK said:  

“I’m feeling humbled to be given such a big responsibility, and I’ll do my very best to honour the amazing context around this wonderful tree. Our project involves both the creation of beautiful art as well as being a form of practical environmental activism. Our sycamore tree, with all other trees, plants, and all of nature, was in constant state of exchange and renew, and with this project we will create a unique opportunity for people to enter into this same system of reciprocity resulting a legacy of real positive ecological change.” 

The exhibition is funded by the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland. Rob Williamson, Chief Executive of the Community Foundation, said: 

“It is brilliant to see the appointment of Charlie Whinney and Creative Communities CIC for this commission. Charlie’s body of work is so relevant to what we all want to see – a legacy for the Sycamore Gap tree, but also a wider conversation about community, nature, and the environment. It’s especially fitting that half of the Community Foundation’s £50,000 grant has been made possible by supporters of our North East Roots Fund which enables expats from the region who remain passionate about this place to give back, alongside the generous donors we work with here. We and they are very much looking forward with excitement to seeing the work Charlie creates at The Sill.” 

The anniversary exhibition will open to the public at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre on Saturday 28 September, one year after the fallen tree was discovered.