The Eden Project: anything’s possible with the right vision

The Eden Project: anything’s possible with the right vision

Sir Tim Smit, co-founder of Cornwall’s Eden Project, explains how a galvanising message can hold a team together through the toughest of projects.

Nestled into a sterile old china-clay pit outside the neglected town of St Austell, the Eden Project draws around a million visitors a year. They come not just for the innovative architecture and exotic flora, but also for the art and sculpture, restaurants and education centres, and a gig programme that has hosted Pulp, PJ Harvey, the Kaiser Chiefs and Kylie Minogue. So how did it all come to pass?

Well, this fertile mix bloomed from the mind of Sir Tim Smit. Of course, this was not Smit’s first horticultural project. Having built a successful career in the music business, writing hits and producing for Barry Manilow, Alvin Stardust and Twiggy, Smit had moved to Cornwall and found a lost world of his own. One February day in 1990, there he was, machete in hand, hacking through “laurels as thick as a man’s thigh” on an overgrown old estate a friend had inherited.

It was this “piratical” process of restoring the Lost Gardens of Heligan over the course of six years that proved to Smit the power of storytelling as a means of building a team and bringing other people into his vision. “If the project is an orchestra, the skill of the conductor is to create a narrative in which everybody who participates can be a star of some kind,” he says.

Putting it into practice
Construction on the Eden Project began in 1998. Here was that ethos writ large: a project to prove that, if enough people buy into the dream, they can pull off the remarkable – transforming a site left for dead into a living celebration of our interdependence with nature.

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Posted by Dave Waller on 26th May 2020

About the Author

Dave Waller is a writer based in Cornwall. His work involves listening to people share stories of forging their own path and making a positive contribution to the world. And then crafitng it in a way that's fun to read. This could end up anywhere from the business pages of The Times to a stage at the Edinburgh Fringe.

He's also very interested in the blurring of lines between observing and participating – he keeps coming back to music, and its power to create space for people to learn and grow and not treat each other quite so badly.

This story originally appeared in the spring issue of Project journal. Read the full article The big interview: Sir Tim Smit or Download the latest digital issue now.

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