rural regeneration

Down a winding unpaved road, near the mountain town of Serra, Tomar in Central portugal lies an abandoned olive oil mill from the turn of the century, dilapidated and roofless, with strong stone walls still standing. Steeped in history, this once-abandoned corner of the world is being regenerated into a unique creative and cultural experience: a Brain Spa.


This is the UnSchool's CO Project CAMPUS IN SUNNY Portugal: an experiment inTO RURAL regeneration, sustainability and creative change-making.


The brainchild of award-winning designer, TED speaker, UNEP Champion of the Earth and social entrepreneur, Dr. Leyla Acaroglu, the CO Project is all about creating a space for experiential learning and activating creative optimism as a tool for addressing real-world problems such as those addressed in the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN.




This project will see an ambitious restoration of the the old olive mill building, along with the regeneration of the olive and citrus farm to create a unique mixed-use facility for learning, collaborating, and activating creative change. The project is being built in stages with 2017-18 seeing the restoration of the farmhouses and establishment of a small retreat facility.

we are building a brain spa, living learning LABORATORY and cultural destination for creative change-makers. 



About the Mill

As part of this project, we have taken on the old olive mill that for many years pressed and produced the rich olive oil for the region. For the last 50 years, it has been weathered against the elements. 

We are working on the restoration plans to sustainably restore and build a unique accommodation and collaborative retreat space in the mill. 

Once the mill is ready to host guests, it will be the UnSchool programs, host curated cultural and creative programs and be available for like-minded organisation to hire for offsites and events. 



This beautiful property is located on top of a valley in a small river-side town of Serra, Tomar. The Quinta (small farm, in Portuguese), has an 2 old farmhouses and an old olive oil mill that was decommissioned over 50 years ago and has since been left to ruin.

Since taking on the project just over 1.5 years ago, we have been busy working with a team of expert local craftspeople and builders to lovingly restore and renovate the old farmhouses into a variety of different accommodation and creative spaces for use in phase 1 of our ambitious project to create a cultural destination for creative change-makers.

In total, the farm has over 150 olive, fig, orange, lemon and quince trees. We are continuing to build the farm with the addition of an organic vineyard and a food forest. We plan on having all manner of fruits growing along with the productive organic vegetable garden, where most of the fresh vegetarian food that appears on the farm house table comes from.

The Quinta was abandoned for over a decade before being taken on by the UnSchool as a living laboratory for exploring positive change through creative interventions. We are building a space for the UnSchool programs and a unique off-site reterat facility to share with like-minded organisations for collaborative learning around sustainability, design and systems change. 


A Note from Leyla

Nature is a magical mystery to me. I have spent years becoming an expert in social systems and the industrial approaches to meeting human needs, all in the name of helping to solve the impacts that they collectively have on the planet. 

I really like this planet. I'm a extremely grateful for all its quirky diversity and abundance. Plants puzzle me, and animals amuse. But the missing piece in my research has been: how do natural systems sustain themselves, evolve, and produce so efficiently and beautifully?

On my quest to figure out how the magic is made, I decided to find a laboratory big enough to experiment with the natural principles that make life.

The quest resulted in taking on an abandoned farm in Portugal, a precious olive and fruit grove that for over 100 years sustained a family with an abundance, but had been left for over a decade and now in need of some TLC.

Trees are resilient, but cultivated trees need support. Some of the olive trees on the farm are over 200 years old, and they possess the character of a wise old grandparents. 

Experimenting with nature in the context of this living lab is not about dissecting the parts of what makes a plant grow. It's about understanding the whole, how it all fits together to sustain and regenerate itself. 

Humans make linear systems that have negative externalities, but nature makes regenerative systems that adapt to sustain the entire system. As designer and creatives we have the opportunity to discover how to meet human needs in ways that contribuet back to the planet.  

I'm excited to share this farm with you, on our collective quest for creative world changing.




The idea behind this project is to explore natural systems design, and create a space for global change-makers to connect, regenerate and collaborate on enacting positive impact through creative interventions. 

The goal is to facilitate a constantly emerging living laboratory that hosts creative minds from around the world, with curated programming to complement a multitude of collaborative uses.

It's co-creating in the country! With nature as the key educator, and collaberation the fuel for creativity.

We invite contributions from all fields of experimental inquiry and welcome a broad spectrum of people to the new home for the UnSchool of Disruptive Design for activating creative change making.