Common Ground Toolkit

How to build community through a nature retreat

Think of this material as a "recipe book" to apply with the team or community you want to reconnect with.

Think of a getaway together, away from the hustle and bustle of the city or place of 'toil', a nature retreat in the 'countryside' or near the forest on the edge of town.

Guaranteed to improve well-being and a sense of community.

We hope you find it useful!

The need for sustainability, both in the environmental and resilience sense, underpins our proposal. 

The aim of the Common Ground programme was to provide the framework and tools for participants to enter into a collaborative process of regeneration and resource efficiency for years to come. 

The toolkit was developed based on practical experiences from the Common Ground pilot programme by the project's curatorial team: Alina Floroi, Oana Mondoc, Rucsandra Pop and Cristiana Tăutu.

We are putting on your community's table a 5-course menu of practices for you to sample together at a future retreat

The need for recovery. what did participants say?

"I felt drained of strength and never fully recovered, because I never had such a respite, which - by the way - is recommended to have a certain cyclicity, not once in a lifetime, because burn out doesn't come to visit you just once."

"I felt physically unwell and couldn't fully participate in the events I was organising."

"I felt that nothing made sense, that everyone around was lying and pretending."

"I don't think I've ever been in a burnout like this year. When I felt like I couldn't anymore were the times when I was drained of strength - physically and mentally."

1. reconnect with nature


Put down the phone and emails and turn your attention to what's going on around you. Feel the wind, notice the details and read nature's newspaper! This is how you increase your quality of presence and exist on the spot. You stop running and become part of nature.

Sit Spot

Take something with you to sit on and walk a few steps to a spot in nature or even a park. Aim to stay there doing nothing but observing for 30 minutes. Look at the landscape as a whole, then look at the vegetation, notice if there are birds present or which way the wind is blowing. If you stay still long enough, something interesting is bound to turn up.

Draw what you see

Take a notebook with plain paper and go in search of an interesting detail in nature. It could be a leaf, an insect or a bird. Spend at least 15 minutes drawing. It doesn't have to be perfect. What matters is that you can stick a few details in your memory.

A book to begin with, "How to connect with nature"

Read nature's newspaper in the mud

Look in the area where you are for the bank of a sandy river or a place with mud and puddles. Snow is also ideal. That's where you can "read the paper", i.e. see what critters have passed through. Even if it doesn't seem like you're good at first, take note of the size, shape and then discuss it with a partner. Many clever conclusions can be drawn, and you can also check the internet, where there are plenty of drawings of animal tracks.

Learn about tracking

NATURe at the Common ground retreat

For disconnecting from the hustle and bustle of the city and the daily routine, there's nothing better than a jump into nature. Connecting to the natural ecosystem calms the nervous system and has a disruptive effect of increasing mindfulness of the present. Taking advantage of the spectacular scenery in the middle of which the WeWilder campus is located, Common Ground used track and sign  interpretation as a method of connecting to nature. The animal tracks and signs recognition session was facilitated by Georg Messerer, wilderness guide and part of the WeWilder team. 

The practice involves observing tracks left by animals and insects in the ground or on trees and deciphering the stories these clues tell. Participants worked mostly in teams, but also tried to figure out the signs on their own. The exercise gives a wonderful chance to "get into the animal's skin" and work with others to reach consensus, activating the empathy muscle and challenging participants to hang between the microcosm of a trace and the larger context - where we are, what season it is, what the ground is like or how the wind blows. This day's lunch break spent outdoors in the shade of an orchard gave us the opportunity for a waste-free picnic and a discussion about our place in nature.

2. Body reconnection practices


Be kind to the body that bears you and treat it well too! Get moving in the morning, get out in the sun, dance without thinking it matters what it looks like. Or sit and get a massage from someone.

Massage relay

Get in a circle with everyone present and sit down. Join hands as in a dance. Then your right hand massages the next person's left hand, while getting a massage in your right hand. Then switch. The brain will fizzle a little. Then the same trick with the feet: you give one foot to receive massage and get a foot to massage.

Morning dance

Find a catchy mix or maybe one of our suggested mixes. Dance, shake, bounce, but don't stop for half an hour, solo or with others. Afterwards, the endorphin shower follows. You're welcome!

Here is a good mix


Just like when we were kids, we'd pick up on the dance someone is doing. It has to be a simple, repeatable element that everyone else replicates and you hold it for a minute or two and then change.

The body at Common Ground Retreat

Recovery after an intense period of work involves a return to oneself and, above all, a regeneration of the body. Some cultural workers do office work that requires them to spend a lot of time without moving. At the other end of the spectrum are artists, who often work in difficult conditions and put their bodies under extreme strain. The benefits of movement are well known, and practising it outdoors in a natural landscape has added value to the sessions to relax and energise participants. 

Mădălina Dan, contemporary dance dancer and choreographer, proposed a series of morning movement sessions and shared mindfulness practices for the body that each of us can apply, alone or with another person. In her practice, Mădălina explores the mind-body-emotion relationship and generously invests in the Romanian dance scene, but her concerns go beyond dance. Mădălina is a guide to one's relationship with one's body, and the practices she proposes - ranging from breathing techniques to massage - are designed to inspire participants to remember their bodies when they return home.

3.Practices of reconnecting with the self


Sometimes reconnecting with the self happens if others make room for us. Do the exercise of creating space for someone else just by asking and listening. Meeting your thoughts is an exercise in creating time and space and you can do this in a quiet place or outside with some friends without allowing other elements to distract you.

The Hologram

In short, three people support the fourth by asking questions from one of the areas they have taken responsibily: social, psychological and physical. At the end of 30 minutes, they give this person a short testimony about times when they felt the same way. Then at the end they offer the person concerned a piece of advice or a challenge. Recommended to take a look at the protocol at length.

Read more

Supehero game

There's a superhero in all of us. With the help of a discussion partner, you can bring it out. Take it in turns to do a 10-minute interview that aims to find out what she likes to do, where she shines, when she saves the day. Then each of you draw a caricature of the person as a superhero on a card and give them a name . Then present them to the others in plenary and put the cards on the wall.

Until everything gets sorted out

The tribe can come up with solutions to all problems. Invite the participants to a circle and everyone says what is on their mind. Then in popcorn style, anyone can offer advice to someone who has voiced something. The session continues until the participants feel the issue is resolved.

The self at the common ground retreat

Because the participants came to the retreat after a very busy period, we felt it was important to create a safe space for them to reconnect with themselves and actively reflect on the notion of self-care. We provided a setting in which participants could honestly ask themselves how they are feeling at this time in their lives and, more importantly, what they would need to be better.  

Cassie Thornton, a Berlin-based artist from the United States, introduced participants to a solidarity-based self-care protocol called Hologram. Inspired by the social care practices of free clinics that emerged in Greece during the financial crisis, the Hologram is a collective and supportive practice of care and wellbeing in which three people (a triangle) are invited to listen and ask questions of a fourth person (hologram). One member of the triangle asks questions about social health, another about physical health, and the last about mental/emotional health. The hologram includes a structured protocol for viral distribution of care to ensure that all caregivers are cared for. Participants tested this practice among themselves with the idea of taking elements or the entire protocol into their future practice.

4. Practices for reconnecting with RESOURCES


Think about how you'd be doing if money didn't exist. Sure there are many kinds of capital, for example equity capital or who do you know. Surely there are people who don't need certain resources or even industries. How you find those resources is a matter of communication.


Share with the group a pack of 2-colour post-its. On one colour write what you have to offer and on the other what you need now (material or skills). Then look at what others have written and add new ideas. Finally, see if you can combine some needs and offers through barter. It's important that everyone signs up so you know who to get back to if something new comes up.

Learn the ABCD of the power of the gift

Freecycle club

It may not even be a full-fledged classifieds website, but in any community you can make a group to put up materials, surplus or loan items for sale. It's important that you or someone else is a facilitator of the group, who may also know who/what else they can do to get the group going.

Get inspo from the Circular Arts Network

The anything Hackathon

You can suggest a real mission, like "let's landscape the garden" or a play mission "let's build a chill space" at the office. Ask people in the group to bring what resources they think would be useful, or prepare some materials yourself that can act as design constraints. And this is a good thing. In a few hours, many hands can work wonders.

Ressources at the Common Ground Retreat

We imagine a world where pooling resources takes the pressure off each of us. Sometimes, it turns out that an object that is useless to someone is just what someone else needs. The exercise of (re)thinking what we have to offer, professionally, in a bounded personal setting, can bring surprises to the surface. 

At Common Ground, we identified what we have to offer and what we need, then looked at these resources together. Building together, we explored how we could use diverse resources together.

Megan Williams from CAN ARTS was our guest speaker who intended to inspire participants through the model of the organisation she is part of. CAN is a recycling and reuse tool that helps the cultural sector combat the climate emergency. CAN stands for Circular Arts Network, an online platform that supports the circular economy within the arts community.

5. Community reconnection practices


Just as they say it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to raise an idea. See to it that people close to each other get together in joint missions, where everyone finds something to do as much as possible without bosses. Some will happily work together, and some will happily stay together, but that's ok too.

The hangout place

A community can start with 3 comfortable cushions on the ground or a bench in the shade of a tree. Engage the group in thinking about what kind of space would be "hygge" with questions on "what to sit on?", "how to illuminate it?", "what to write on or serve snacks on?". Consider making it an arrangement where everyone can hear or see each other easily.

Play anthropologist in the countryside!

Find an excuse to research any topic that people in a village are good at and go to them in teams with questions on the given topic: gastronomy, building, customs, ideals, etc. All you need is a notebook, a pen and a bit of guts at first, and then enough willpower to refuse the various drinks offered. You'll hone your empathetic research tactics and apply them to projects where you get closer to the "beneficiaries".

Briefly on the art of asking questions

Community table

Find some excuse and perhaps invite members of a surrounding community - people from a village, staircase neighbours, suppliers, etc. Make a menu list and see which people in the group know how to make certain specialities. Then ideally go to a farmers' market or even to the village to pick up ingredients and cook. The important thing is the process, the food will be good anyway after so much preparation!

Foraged recipes

Community at the Common Ground retreat

WeWilder is located in the village of Armenis and relies on relationships with local people, who are the main suppliers of the produce used as ingredients for the food cooked in the campus kitchen. In fact, the locals also participated in the construction of the main building, called the Fairy, and the three huts where guests can sleep. WeWilder has supported several villagers to open guesthouses, such as SubMăgrin House or MuMA Hut, a building on the hills of Sat-Bătrân that impresses with its minimalism and location. By creating demand for local products and local hospitality services, WeWilder wants to further inspire the community to get involved in green businesses.

The strong link with the community is visible from the start on campus, through the presence of Dosia Vela, the cook who reinterprets traditional dishes, turning every meal into a real treat. Dosia cooks only with local ingredients, with great inventiveness, and is a very good storyteller, drawing connections between local culinary tradition and the contemporary and progressive ethos of WeWilder. We wanted retreat participants to deeply understand the relationship between the young WeWilder team and the local people, so on the last day of the retreat we cooked for the locals ourselves. The retreat participants divided into teams and visited several households in Armeniș and three other villages in the commune - Feneș, SubMargine and Sat Bătrân. The villagers who welcomed the participants into their homes, offering them produce from their gardens or from the animals they raise, were then invited to a community dinner where the life stories of the local people mingled with those of the guests.

Did it wot?

"Better means doing simple activities, cooking, eating good food, dancing, talking about other things, taking care of myself in general."

"I loved the mix of activities with time spent in nature, time for connecting with the body and not just the head. :) As we all spend a lot of time in our heads, through the nature of our jobs, it can become a trap and even a prison. [...] As I said at the fire, the mix has solved the old dilemma of choosing between nature and culture, because we are, in fact, nature producing culture."

"It gave us a sense of belonging. It was a pleasure to do something together that everyone enjoys."

What we learnt

Common values. We adhere to self-care, respect for our loved ones, our hosting place and the ecosystems we are part of.

The right place for a retreat. Ideally in the middle of nature and connected to the local community.

Contributing. The participants, facilitators and organisers formed a community of practice where everyone contributed.

Rest anytime. We understand that it's good to give the option to anyone to have a break when they need it.

Love goes through the stomach. A collective cooking session, local and seasonal ingredients works wonders.

Ears pricked. Sometimes we need to talk to people who don't give us advice, but listen.

Nature bathing. There's a lot of wilderness in Romania. Immersion in nature is a source of revelation and reconnection.

Diversity of people. In contact with diverse people, participants get the opportunity to reflect and make changes, inspired by others.

Move your body. We benefited from integrating body-centred practices: dance, stretching or massage.

common ground retreat pilot

Armenis, Banat region, September 2023

If you want to replicate the common ground pilot, here are our recommendations

  • All or nothing. Do not offer the option of partial participation so that participants can integrate the full experience and not break the sense of community.
  • Empathetic facilitators. Choose facilitators who know the sector in which participants operate to increase the potential for connection.
  • You're not your job. Build the experience from the personal, not the professional level.  
  • Do your research beforehand. Check through a questionnaire or face-to-face discussion what participants need by talking to one of them.

  • Place for a breather. If you're still organising a retreat, especially in the cultural sector where precariousness makes people work overtime, make room for breaks without an agenda.
  • Replace it with activities within reach. If interpreting nature's signs and marks isn't to your taste, choose foraging - gathering plants from the wild - or quiet walks in the forest (shinrin-yoku).
  • How long it takes. If a five-day retreat is too much, go for an extended weekend.
  • If anything... You can leave us a question and we can enlighten with our experience.

Special thanks to our team of visual storytellers, that helped us document the process and illustrate this toolkit.

Videographer & editor

Raul Stan

Photographer & videographer

Vlad Braga

Director & videographer

Matei Pleșa

With gratitude for the project team

Choreographer, trainer

Mădălina Dan


Alina Floroi


Ioana Hogman

Wilderness trainer

Georg Messerer

Financial Fairy

Ancuța Mihăescu

Community organizer

Oana Mondoc

Community facilitator

Rucsandra Pop

Cultural Liaison

Cristiana Tăutu

Artist, Trainer

Megan Williams