Feral State is a knowledge sharing space for community practitioners, artists and academics. Our interdisciplinary research projects are developing a body of learning around the value of disused land for young people living in disadvantaged urban areas. 

Disused, forgotten or abandoned places represent sites of social exclusion within the urban environment, and are often prevalent in areas of multiple deprivation. Typically, they attract anti-social or criminal behaviour, producing a negative social impact on the surrounding areas and communities, yet as our research has shown, these  sites also have the potential to be transformative spaces for local communities.

Our action research projects have produced evidence that connects time spent in disused wild spaces with increased wellbeing, mental and physical health, while increasing positive social activity in such spaces increases pro-environmental behaviour through a sense of stewardship and shared responsibility for the local environment.


Research Projects


Exploring Wild Spaces and Wellbeing Growing levels of childhood obesity, increasing amounts of screen time and rising reports of mental health issues in children and young people have become a cause for concern. Dr Jenny Hallam, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Derby, looks at the benefits of nature and outdoor play in tackling these problems.

Action research project produced by Laurel Gallagher with funding from the Canal and River Trust

2019 Nature Connections Conference Presentation

Connecting with nature the urban way


Feral Futures Exhibition showcasing the finds of ten child explorers who investigated, mapped and recorded a local area of disused, wild industrial space. Through play, discussion and experiment, the children found clues about how this space once emerged and came to an end, which non-human friends are using it now and what sort of future it might yet have.

Co-produced by Laurel Gallagher and Ben Anderson with funding from the Being Human Festival 2018

Stoking Curiosity 2018

BBC Radio 3 Why trespassing is the right way to go!


Adapt the Nothing The peripheralisation of ordinary groups of young people leaves Middleport with the impression of a monoculture of troubled and trouble making teens, but in reality, there are many more positive young people whose imprint cannot be felt in the public realm.

The ‘Planning the Future’ workshop was co-designed by Nicola Winstanley and Laurel Gallagher to introduce basic concepts of planning then support young people to create a campaign of tactical urbanism that led to unexpected results.

Publication documenting workshops, experiences and groups associated with Middleport, produced by Nicola Winstanley with funding from the Arts Council.

Forest Worlds Festival 2019

The Forest Worlds Festival was produced by Urban Wilderness as a public event and an action research study in collaboration with academic research partner Dr Jenny Hallam. The project evaluated the impact of working co-creatively for the commissioned artist David Bethell and a group of local school children.

“Their excitement in seeing their work exhibited and pride in hearing the artist speak about how the young people had co-created the piece was evident. Returning to the park helped the young people develop a new relationship with it and hopefully laid the foundations for a longer-term connection between them and the space. The boys also commented that they hoped that the sculpture would help inspire other children at the school to try art.”

Using Art to reconnect children to nature

Forest Worlds Festival Report

Urban Wilderness is a not for profit company funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and Arts Council.

Who we are

Laurel Gallagher’s place-based art practice interrogates concepts of value in relation to public land use, particularly in areas of urban deprivation. Laurel works in collaboration with young people, local community groups and artists to produce social, physical and psychological interventions that question economic land value systems. Working with academic partners Laurel develops action research projects evidencing the positive impact that connecting young people with disused urban land has on their wellbeing, sense of identity and belonging.

Laurel is co-director of the not for profit company Urban Wilderness producing youth led placemaking projects, co-creative experiences and narratives that challenge perceptions of young people, urban deprivation and public land use.

Dr Jenny Hallam works as a senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Derby. Jenny has a long standing research interest in the arts and exploring the ways in which the co production of artwork shapes children’s understanding and experiences of the visual arts. Initially, her focus centred on using ethnographic methods to investigate the ways in which art is taught in primary schools.

More recently, Jenny’s research has been informed by a community psychology approach and she works closely with Urban Wilderness as part of a research partnership. This on going research collaboration seeks to explore the ways in which nature and the arts are incorporated into community projects for children and young people which are designed to support wellbeing and tackle social inequality.

Who we work with

Dr Ben Anderson is a multi-award winning environmental historian whose research seeks to explain how people made sense of their lives by interacting with their immediate environments. This has led him to investigate naked trespassers from early-twentieth century Vienna, the role of the rural landscape in courtship for schoolteachers and clerks, and the ways in which an Alpine landscape of huts and paths was first invented in urban museums and exhibitions. After completing his doctorate at Manchester University in 2011, Ben briefly worked at the University of Gloucestershire, before arriving at Keele in 2012. In 2018, he became an Arts and Humanities Research Council/BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker (see broadcasts here and here). His first book, Modern Natures: Mountain Leisure and Urban Culture in fin-de-siècle England and Germany will appear in late 2019.

Nicola Winstanley is a socially engaged artist who seeks to explore the relationship between participatory arts, perceptions of place and community action. By forging new relationships between art, people and place, Nicola believes that art practice can have a lasting effect on communities. Nicola has collaborated internationally with artists and worked alongside academic researchers to evaluate the impact of ‘place’ on individuals and communities. Nicola has 10 years workshop and 8 years public consultation experience, as well as having designed and managed large scale public art projects. Nicola is currently undertaking a negotiated MA to build an understanding of the role socially engaged artists can play in urban regeneration, particularly town planning, public spaces, and social housing.