Patching up – Bethan, midwifery student

When I don my leopard print cardigan with shell buttons, I become a little more ‘Georgi’. Despite the huge gape in the left sleeve, I wear this cardigan regularly and keep it rolled up in my jumper box for those days I need a little extra confidence or to brighten my mood with thoughts of the precious friend who handed it down to me.

Whilst working with Angela to repair the sleeve I reflect on the extent to which my midwifery training and passion is blotting into all areas of my life and soaking it with previously unexplored meaning. I think of my King’s College Uniform in the same way as this cardigan – it presents me to the public as something I aspire to be and in the imitation I become just so. I choose colours of embroidery thread that appeal to me and suddenly they seem to represent a bright and healthy umbilical cord. As I admire the ease and lightness with which Angela creates the first stitches then create my less delicate replication, I am reminded of all the skill being passed onto me by other midwives and how some things just take practice.

Although the repair of my cardigan is visible and imperfect, I have added value and meaning to the cloth by using my hands and tools to gently bring it back together. I hope that whilst I care for women they will be transformed by their own courage and with my help, they can be brought back together as something even more beautiful and more whole.

Patching up 2 Bethan

Words: Bethan
Picture: Bethan

Patching up – Ellie, midwifery student

Ellie, midwifery student

I have decided to repair a woollen jumper that I stole from my boyfriend. The jumper is grey with patterns in cream, blue and pink. It is warm and cosy and very moth eaten, it has about 15 holes in total. I like to wear it when hiding in my bedroom.

I am looking forward to mending it as I like the idea of adding to it. I will try and set myself a certain number of holes to fix per week. As I am midwifery student the time spent sewing can be a chance for me to reflect on my practice.

patching up 1 - ellie (Angela Maddock)

 

Words: Ellie
Picture: Angela Maddock

 

 

 

Inequality in arts consumption related to income

There’s a story that makes its rounds on the internet that when Churchill was implored to cut arts funding for the war effort, his response was to ask, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’

A lovely story, and an admirable Churchillian response, except he never actually said it, or, at least, it seems difficult to find any proof that he did. Wherever the words have come from though, the impulse to continue circulating them in ‘Churchill packaging’ speaks volumes, as they tap into wider feelings about the importance of the arts. From Picasso lauding the benefits of art for the soul, to Ken Danby declaring that ‘Art is a necessity – an essential part of our enlightenment process’ and Bobby Jindal maintaining that culture is ‘vital to uniting us as a nation’, there is a clear sentiment, no matter our inability to articulate by what means, that arts and culture are powerful, and good for the individual and for society as a whole. But for all we shout about these benefits, we should ask ourselves what the real value is if they are reaped by only a select group? For society to truly profit, surely we must see equal levels of participation across its strata. The problem, of course, is that currently, this is not reality.

Using data from the government’s Taking Part Survey, Dr Aaron Reeves, Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, highlighted that active involvement in arts (for example, actually doing a singing class, rather than going to the opera) was strongly correlated with education, not class. But data from the Nielsen tracker, a survey of 2000 people, conducted twice each year since 2014 and commissioned by the Culture and Major Events Consortium at King’s, lends itself more to tracking passive arts consumption (watching the opera rather than actually taking a singing class) in asking participants how often they attend live events. The data shows how this kind of consumption remains strongly correlated with levels of income, highlighting vast inequalities.

Nielsen shows that those who have lower incomes are much less likely to attend arts events as frequently as higher earners. For example, 32% of those who earn between £0 and £6500 per annum attend live arts and cultural events at least several times each year. But this figures stands at 47% amongst those earning £37001 – £50000 and rises again to 52% for those who earn over £50000 per year. The pattern works in reverse when we look at those who say that they never attend live arts and cultural events. Only 11% of those earning over £50000 say that they never attend such events, but 19% of those earning £22001 – £37000 say the same and this jumps to just over a quarter (26%) of those who earn £0 – £6500 each year.

1 attended several times per year

Source: Nielsen Tracker 2014-15 (n=2391)

2 never attends

Source: Nielsen Tracker 2014-15 (n=1322)

Asking respondents why they do not attend arts and cultural events more often, further underlines the inaccessibility of such events for those with lower incomes, with 59% of those earning £0 – £6500 saying that it is too expensive for them to do so. Half of people earning £6501 – £22000 also give this reason, in comparison to just over a third (36%) of those who earn between £37001 and £50000.

All this is set against the government’s cuts and although the Chancellor of the Exchequer has assured the Arts Council and our national galleries and museums that their funding will remain the same in cash terms until 2019-20, local government funding will have seen cuts of over £6 billion by the end of the parliament. This means local authorities prioritising more money on core services and less money for the arts. When The Stage newspaper contacted a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government for comment on the cuts, he declared that ‘councils have to play their part in tackling the deficit’. The results of all of this will be the hiking of ticket prices, less varied programmes and those organisations with fewer wealthy patrons finding it increasingly difficult to get by, further limiting accessibility for the least economically advantaged.

All the while, the government, in their Culture White Paper are extolling the value of arts and culture for everyone, announcing, ‘we will ensure that children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are inspired by and have new meaningful relationships with culture’. There are lots of vague statements in this paper; lots of promises and wants, and most of the explanations of how they will achieve these things are just as woolly – ‘To deliver this we need strong leadership and better collaboration’.

The reality of all the cuts to local government and subsequently to arts funding, is that more private funding will be required and as they say, he who pays the piper calls the tune. It’s hard to see how this will have any effect other than ensuring that those at the top are increasingly the ones shaping the tone and the narrative of artistic production. The data already shows that 40% of those who earn more than £50000 say that they are very or extremely interested in the arts, compared to just 26% of those who earn between £0 and £6500, and perhaps this is telling us something about the relatability of much artistic production for many from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Actors like Octavia Spencer and Will Smith have highlighted the importance of people being able to see representations of themselves in creative ventures, and it’s often suggested that we look to find ourselves in art. But with more private funding and even more of the agenda set by the people with the ‘big bucks’, those whose participation we seek to increase are unlikely to be able to find themselves. Participation with arts and cultural events, as the data shows, is already characterised by inequalities, stratified by income, and with more cuts on the way, this is only likely to get worse.

Words by Georgina Chapman, undergraduate, Department of Liberal Arts, King’s College London. Georgina worked with the Culture teams at King’s to analyse and reflect on the results of the Nielsen public opinions tracker, a survey of 2000 people that is conducted twice each year and has been running since 2014. The tracker survey is commissioned by King’s College London. 

Mapping international cultural partnerships at King’s

King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowships gives undergraduate students the unique opportunity to learn alongside leading King’s academics and experts. This blog, written by undergraduate International Literature student Natasha Daix, reflects on the experience of working alongside the Culture teams to map and explore King’s international cultural collaborations.

As a King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow (KURF) working with Ruth Hogarth, Director of Cultural Partnerships & Enquiry at King’s, my role was to explore the landscape of the university’s international cultural collaborations. This entailed mostly desk research: I was to comb through the King’s website and promotional materials to catalogue all of the university’s international partner HEIs and record them in an Excel table, labelling their department, global region and the type of partnership they had with King’s (such as student exchange, research, joint teaching etc). Once this was done, I selected a few other UK universities and rummaged through their websites to find information about their cultural partnerships. The end goal was to find partnerships that King’s could either learn from, or potentially participate in.

The result is quite satisfying. It was quickly visible that King’s has more substantial partnerships with Asian, American and Australian universities, a multitude of smaller partnerships with European HEIs, and only few partnerships within South America and Africa. Furthermore, information on other universities’ international cultural collaborations was hard to find. My finding suggest that, amongst its closest competitors, King’s is the only university to have such a developed infrastructure around the production of culture and partnerships. Or, perhaps, King’s is the most transparent about its cultural collaborations.

I was attracted to this KURF assignment because of the international and cultural aspects of the project. Being a student of International Literature, it was interesting to find out about King’s involvement with international universities through its exchange programs and joint teaching. It was also exciting to imagine ways King’s could be involved with international universities culturally in the future, because these partnerships have the potential to directly impact on students’ experience of higher education.

However, for me, working in the Inigo Rooms in Somerset House East Wing was one of the best parts of the Fellowship. Every time I walked out of the office, a new addition had been made to the gallery space, bringing together, piece by piece, King’s recent exhibition, Paths to Utopia. We watched a black and white painting full of strange mythological creatures cover the walls of a neighbouring room and the creation of an immersive cave-like structure containing deformed mirrors popped up in the corridor space. Truly here the worlds of artists, academics and policy makers collide, sometimes quite literally because of all the construction.

As an admirer of visual arts, I could not hope for a better place to work during a month of my summer break. The experience has sparked my interest in a sector I was barely aware of until now, and that I would like to be more involved in.

The Fellowship was greatly enhanced by the bright, passionate people I worked with in the office. I enjoyed their live commentary on the recent Referendum and it was lovely to have Ruth as a supervisor, as she was always encouraging and trusted my decisions. The autonomy I was given felt very empowering. Overall, it was a great first experience in the working world, which has had a powerful impact on my outlook. Indeed, even as I meet students on my Summer Abroad Program in Shanghai I am thankful to King’s – I cannot help but catalogue all the HEIs Fudan University is partnering with! Perhaps they could be interested in future partnerships with King’s.

Words by Natasha Daix.

 

Reducing stigma around Autism Spectrum Disorder

Hidden challenges: a day in the life of a young person with Autism Spectrum Disorder is a project that aims to improve public understanding of autism spectrum disorder in young people by producing engaging visual illustrations to depict their day-to-day life. The project was led by Virginia Carter Leno, a PhD student in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s. Victoria writes below about her motivations for the project and the research that went into the production of the cartoon vignettes that were produced in collaboration with Dominique Sherwood, an independent graphic designer.

This project started for me after a conversation with a parent of a young girl with autism. She was explaining that her daughter has extremely sensitive hearing, and so to her even people talking quietly can sound like shouting.

She said this can cause her to become distressed and sometimes shout at people in public, including in their local supermarket. She said thankfully everyone there was very understanding, but she worried this would not be the case elsewhere. This got me thinking about how parents of children with autism might feel that the general public may not understand why their child can become very distressed in certain situations, and at times may cast negative judgments.

Therefore I wanted to make a piece of work that would educate the public about why some young people with autism might behave in slightly unusual ways, with the hope of increasing public understanding about what life is like for a young person with autism.

Stephen Final

I spoke to clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and people who work in autism research, and also consulted with parents of children with autism, and adults with autism. This allowed me to get a really in-depth idea of the types of situations young people with autism might find challenging, and how this can lead to behaviours that the general public might find confusing or unusual.

I decided the best way to convey this information to the public was to create a series of short stories or vignettes about four young people with autism, and a certain situation they might find stressful. Next I teamed up with a graphic designer called Dominique Sherwood, who helped me to sketch out what the scenes for each story would look like, and then created colourful cartoon-like graphics for each story.

When we had our first draft of the scenes, I consulted with the parents of children with autism and adults with autism I had spoken to when I started the project, to make sure what we had created echoed situations they had experienced, and asking if they had any feedback on the way the vignettes looked.

Tom Final

After taking their advice on board Dominique made any necessary changes and created the final four vignettes. I hope you like them, and most of all I hope they will help the public understand the everyday challenges young people with autism can sometimes face.

Find out more about the project on the Culture web pages.

Words by Virginia Carter Leno, a PhD student in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s.

Images by Virginia Carter Leno and Dominique Sherwood

One year on: Cultural Challenge winner at the Roundhouse

The King’s Cultural Challenge summons the collective and individual creative-brain power of King’s students, inspiring debate, reflection and the generation of original ideas for how art and culture can positively transform the world that we live in.

Hundreds of students receive coaching and submit their ideas each year as part of the challenge. Four of the best ideas win their creators a paid internship with one of the Cultural Challenge partners: the V&A, the Roundhouse, the Southbank Centre and the Royal Opera House. 

Last year, Kat Pierce  – BA English Literature, Faculty of Arts & Humanities – won an internship with the Roundhouse for her idea: The Grid – an innovative scheme to rebalance the distribution of cultural arts funding across the UK, based around three initiatives: Be a Boss, Transport a Brain, Influence the World.

Interning at the Roundhouse by Kat Pierce

Around a year ago today I won an internship at the Roundhouse after taking part in the King’s Cultural Challenge 2015. Around a year ago today, I didn’t know much about the Roundhouse. I knew that it was a music venue, I knew that it was in Camden, I presumed that it was round. During my time at the Roundhouse as on a Performing Arts Placement, I was lucky enough to learn more about how this iconic institution runs and operates, meeting some phenomenally talented early-career artists and a wonderful team of people along the way.

Defying the stereotype that interns are only ever entrusted to make tea and coffee, I was encouraged to get stuck in with preparations for Roundhouse’s Last Word festival, a month long celebration of Spoken Word. One of my first tasks was helping to organise and facilitate the Roundhouse’s long-running and much celebrated Poetry Slam. After helping with programming, drawing up contracts and collecting trophies, I watched poets from across the nation perform alongside trailblazers in the field of spoken word at an evening that was both humorous and heart-rending.small Roundhouse 2016 Poetry Slam winner Madi Maxwell-Libby (2)

Other memorable moments from Last Word festival included: sitting in on a late-stage rehearsal and lending a hand in setting up performances for Cecilia Knapp’s fantastic one-woman show, Finding Home; helping to organise tickets and generally run around after the superbly talented finalists of Words First, a poetry showcase organised in collaboration with BBC 1Xtra (featuring the phenomenal Kate Tempest); watching Irvine Welsh and Beardyman perform with improvised music during performance extravaganza, Tongue Fu.

words first

Once Last Word festival had drawn to a close, it was time to press on with preparations for the Roundhouse’s Punk Weekender. As the punk scene came to life in the mid-late 70s, the Roundhouse played host to seminal musicians such as The Clash, The Ramones, and Patti Smith. In homage to the building’s longstanding relationship with the sub-culture, Roundhouse was to host a weekend of live music, DIY stalls, talks and workshops. I was asked to walk through Camden Market, chatting to independent stall-holders, record stores and zine producers to ask if they wanted to take part in the event as well as contacting smaller business-owners online.

Roundhouse Punk Weekender Flyer

But my internship at the Roundhouse also took me further afield than Camden Market. More specifically, to Leeds, Manchester and Cardiff for Bryony Kimmings’ Boys Project: ‘a long term art and activism project, exploding media stereotypes and the political marginalisation of the young’. The project fuses politics and art to inspire its participants (50 young men) to become art-activists. During my time as an intern I helped to organise Roundhouse’s involvement with the project, travelling with participants to the above UK cities and hearing from fantastic speakers such as Owen Jones, Michael Sani of Bite the Ballot and Richard Hawkins of the Heathrow 13 along the way.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. After a wonderful six weeks of interning, encouragement and opportunities it’s safe to say that I’m gutted to be leaving the Roundhouse. From performing arts, to development, to marketing and beyond, thank you all for making me feel welcome from day one.  And thank you to King’s for the opportunity to work in one of London’s most respected and well-loved arts venues.

Photography by Cesare de Giglio 
Words by Kat Pierce

 

Reflections on coal

COALSTORE was a project by Something & Son that was supported by King’s and that ran over the summer. The project produced ornate pieces of wearable art using coal as the raw material. The pieces in the collection were produced by hand in the vaults of Somerset House by a new movement of jewellery makers and material alchemists working under the tutelage of internationally acclaimed artists, theologians, academics and philosophers from King’s. The pieces were then displayed in the New Wing of Somerset House in a public exhibition, COALSTORE.

King’s students were employed in the COALSTORE to answer visitors’ questions about the pieces and to explain the processes and theory behind the initiative. One such student has written the below blog entry detailing their experience.

1 – COALSTORE – by Tallulah Griffith, student of Liberal Arts, King’s College London.

coalstore 3

Art often compels us to reassess our way of seeing. In the store, coal became precious rather than practical: here, a material hierarchy was problematised.

Item #17 was a particular conversation-starter: the gold ring with welsh anthracite nugget. This type of coal is rare and extremely pure, and many appreciated its ironic similarity to a diamond ring. Similarly, bulkier pieces seemed to recall jet jewellery.

The collection challenged my conception of coal’s value by alluding to other configurations of carbon: I suddenly found value to be an abstract concept. I became increasingly aware of the power of the consumer, and the potential of luxury items to call on the wealthy to use their assets for change.

coalstore 2

 

Further, although I had anticipated an exploration of the aesthetic and environmental significance of coal, I was also confronted with it as a highly politicised material. I encountered ambivalent responses from former coalminers and their families. Though many accepted that mining was not a sustainable practice, they also lamented Britain’s loss of industry.

Some struggled with the idea of coal as valuable because they’d had an indefinite free supply when employed. Others had trouble reconciling beautiful jewellery with the dust-filled lungs and injured backs which had afflicted their fathers or uncles. Yet, the pieces also had a nostalgic relevance for these visitors. I found myself learning about disputes between Thatcher’s government and the NUM, and about the recent closure of Britain’s last deep coal mine. I had to be passionate about climate change issues as well as sensitive to individual loss of trade, weighing up global and local, long-term and immediate effects.

My ability to negotiate these conflicting issues improved as I conversed with customers, and they continually widened my understanding. I often felt that these discourses were the artwork. I also talked with active combatants of climate change, people who run solar power plants and clean-energy companies. For me, the highlight of the experience was the variety of people I encountered; I appreciated their insightful views and personal histories.

Working at the coalstore has allowed me to engage with these political, social and environmental issues, to participate in topical conversations, and to re-imagine coal as a prized material. I’ve learnt much more about renewable energy alternatives and coal as a source of livelihood. I’m very grateful for this the opportunity to expand my knowledge, by talking to such interesting people.

300x300

Fuelling collaboration through partnership

An interview with Dr Kate Dunton, Research and Education Manager, Cultural Institute and one of the organisers of the London Arts and Humanities Partnership.

How can higher education institutions work with cultural partners to support postdocs? What skills can be gained from sharing knowledge and experiences between industry, the arts and universities? To find out, Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group and a King’s cultural partner that are working with the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP) on initiatives to support PhD students, interviewed Dr Kate Dunton, Research and Education Manager, Cultural Institute at King’s College London and one of the organisers of the LAHP.

We reproduce the interview with permission from Routledge. 

The LAHP brings together three leading UK research organisations, has 750 active research staff and more than 1,300 PhD students. Routledge (part of the Taylor & Francis Group) is a cultural partner, working with the LAHP on initiatives to support their PhD students. This includes a daylong workshop on ‘Publishing your research: an introduction’, where students will have the opportunity to get guidance and support from across our books and journals teams, and from journal editors and a published book author. We’ll be tweeting tips and tricks from the day this week, and have a series of guest blogs from the postdocs on the LAHP over the course of the next month.To begin our series of guest blogs, Kate introduces the LAHP, its aims and work, and discusses how collaboration is key to its success.

‘…a highly talented bunch of Arts and Humanities PhDs’

On joining the Cultural Institute at King’s in January 2016, my first task was to plan a Summer Week for the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP).  On one side, we had our first cohort of 80 LAHP students – a highly talented bunch of Arts and Humanities PhDs across King’s College London, University College London and the School of Advance Study.

‘representing some of the leading organisations in the arts, culture and heritage sector’

On the other side, an extremely distinguished roster of Cultural Partners representing some of the leading organisations in the arts, culture and heritage sector.  The question now was how to bring them together.  Key to this would be understanding the needs and priorities of both, and how they might overlap in mutually enhancing ways.

This remains, in truth, a work in progress.  My highly pleasurable work on LAHP involves meetings with our key contacts at organisations as diverse as Routledge, the Victoria and Albert Museum, AM Heath Literary Agency, the British Film Institute, Tate Modern and Lambeth Palace Library.  We also survey each incoming cohort to find out how they might like to work with partners, what they might bring, what they might gain.  Running and evaluating events like the Christmas networking event, last year’s Summer Camp, and this year’s placement scheme, also provides crucial opportunities to chat with partners and students, and observe what works and what doesn’t.

‘…a growing sense of what can be gained through such collaborations’

Like much of my work with the Cultural Institute, I feel at different times like a dating agency, a marriage guidance councillor, and even a somewhat disreputable door-to-door salesman, trying to coax both sides into an encounter in the ‘third space’ between the two sectors whilst remaining sensitive to their core business, whether that be completing their doctoral research on schedule or being a busy director, publisher, researcher, or educator in a leading arts, heritage or cultural organisation.  Miraculously, it seems to work.  This is in part due to the enthusiasm, curiosity and good will on both sides, but it also relies on a growing sense of what can be gained through such collaborations.

‘…insights, experiences, skills and resources’

Our partners have been enthusiastic about the research skills that our arts and humanities doctoral students can bring to archival work, to better documenting particular aspects of their collections, or interestingly, archiving and sharing their own institutional history – often stored in boxes in a hidden cupboard, somewhere.  In turn, our students are increasingly aware of the range of insights, experiences, skills and resources that our cultural partners have to offer around object-based research, publishing, archiving, cataloguing, communication and public engagement.

Next steps for the LAHP will be to keep an eye on the research placements that are about to start at the V&A, the National Gallery and Tate, and hopefully grow the number of placements made available and taken up next year.  More generally, we aim to keep learning about how we can work together and provide opportunities for fruitful collaborations.

In William Boyd’s latest novel, Sweet Caress, his characters play a game in which they sum up a mutual acquaintance in four words.  LAHP in four words?  Surprising, evolving, unruly, brilliant.

THE CIVIC ROLE OF ARTS ORGANISATIONS: A LITERATURE REVIEW FOR THE CALOUSTE GULBENKIAN FOUNDATION

To kick start the current Inquiry into the Civic Role of Arts Organisations, King’s College London were commissioned to a take thorough look at all the relevant published literature. It took us in all sorts of disciplinary directions: through geography, economics, sociology, arts practice and many others. We also looked at studies from all over the world. This blog post focusses on one particular aspect of the review: the research challenge of studying a phenomenon that is frequently ill-defined and the subject of numerous non-overlapping academic disciplines.

Defining civic role

A real challenge at the heart of this work is defining precisely what is meant by ‘civic role’. It brings to mind politics, community, rights and responsibilities. The arts can be used to provoke, to catalyse, to enable and inhibit the way that people engage with the world around them. After reviewing the relevant literature we have taken the civic role of arts organisations to mean: The ways in which arts organisations animate, enhance and enable processes by which people exercise their rights and responsibilities as members of communities. Overall, the literature on the civic role of arts organisations tackles a variety of themes that are broadly grouped under two main headings: the effect of arts organisations on places and on people.

Difference disciplinary approaches

Much of the work we do here for at King’s draws upon a vibrant mix of disciplines. This review was no different. A cultural studies approach emphasises the subjective experience of art upon people. Urban planning, human geography and cultural economics bring another set of perspectives. These disciplines attempt to capture what is characteristic of a place (for example, what are the attributes of places) whilst also capturing data on activity that happens therein. A sociological perspective is built upon the recognition that the phenomena being studied are culturally specific and contested, and that there are hierarchies in society that may not be immediately identifiable. Finally an arts-based approach considers art as a manifestation of people’s engagement with the world and seeks to understand it on those terms. We sought to draw from all of these perspectives in our literature review.

The need for evaluation, a theory of change, and the “literature gap”

We found that two fundamental shortcomings hamper attempts to evaluate the civic role of arts organisations. The first of these is the methodological difficulties that dog all evaluations seeking to understand the impact of these interventions: the impacts can be diffuse, the means to collect data can be intrusive or inappropriate, and the resource (in terms of people and money) to do it properly can be prohibitive. The second shortcoming is the lack of well-considered theories of change. These shortcomings are further compounded by a “literature gap”: either great work is taking place that is not being sufficiently evaluated, or there is energy and enthusiasm expended on projects that have no measurable benefit. The Gulbenkian Foundation’s Inquiry will need to keep all of this in mind when formulating any experiments and interventions. There are clear lessons to be drawn from the literature.

Download the executive summary of the literature review.

Download the full literature review.

Words by Dr James Doeser, Research Associate, Culture, King’s College London.

My primary school is at the museum – the teacher’s perspective

Laura Luxton is a teacher at St Thomas Community Primary School, Swansea. Laura and her pupils have been part of a series of pilot projects that test the hypothesis that there may be beneficial learning and social outcomes for primary school children and their families if their primary school is located in a museum. One of the pilots situated a Year 1 and a Key Stage 2 class from St Thomas Community Primary School at the National Waterfront Museum. Here, Laura writes about her experience of the pilot and how it has impacted on the school life of her pupils.

On the first day back at school following the Christmas Holidays, we had an ‘in service training day’. After a busy Christmas term and an even more manic fortnight off, I was grateful at the prospect of being eased in gently to returning to the classroom. The morning progressed with statistics and action plans and a casual mention of being asked to participate in a project called My Primary School at the Museum. It was explained that one year group would visit the National Waterfront Museum on a coach, each day for a five week period and teach from there. The room fell silent as every teacher considered how daunting this would be; all of the children, every day for five weeks! We eagerly waited to see who would be chosen to go down and, despite avoiding eye contact; I was called in to the office to say I was first up with my lovely class of four-year-old reception children, twenty seven of them to be exact.

With that many children of that age group, there was no doubt that this would need to be executed with the organisation skills used in military operations. Myself, and the three Teaching Assistants in the class, spent every break time chatting about how exciting it was going to be and the opportunities we would all be given during the project. The more we spoke about it, the more we fell in love with the idea – we had no idea just how much we would end up enjoying ourselves and seeing such a huge impact on the children.

I developed a lovely working relationship (and ongoing friendship) with Leisa, our point of contact at the museum, who provided me with a list of activities and workshops the children could participate in. This worked out as once or twice a week, I then planned relevant activities within literacy and numeracy around the theme of these activities. The timetable was action-packed,including;

  • aircraft and transport – with museum workshops and a morning with an award-winning author (that the museum has links with)
  • pirates – a fancy dress day and a museum-facilitated workshop with artefacts,
    seaside – the local area and a journey through history with a visit to the beach,
    toys – a workshop led by a curator where parents could join us for the day and learn with their children, and;
  • creatures of the sea – where a team of marine biologists from Swansea University brought starfish, fish, snails and crabs from their trawl that morning and the children were allowed to handle them and were encouraged to talk about their features and enhance their vocabulary.

This was all accompanied by the same format of reading, writing and numeracy that would take place in school. Within the themes, the children were more engaged and confident in their work. We also visited the Leisure Centre opposite the museum for our physical education lessons and the local art gallery provided a facilitated day for the children to embrace their creative side.

The children progressed beautifully and absolutely flourished in the five weeks in a way we had never seen since the start of the year. They became more independent with their personal skills; toileting, organisation, preparation and separation from their parents in the morning. They grew closer as a team, it was as if they felt more dependent on each other now they weren’t surrounded by other children – they bonded and looked after each other and were working together far more. The children also became more socially adept to life in a public place; respecting elderly people, respecting strangers and the need for safety, and, most obviously improved were their manners – I don’t think we could walk past people without them commenting on how small but well behaved the children were! We saw children who had barely spoken in school become animated and vocal, challenging themselves, communicating with their peers and displaying such a fabulous range of emotions.

We grew to love the museum in a way we never anticipated. We used the classroom offered to us in the same way we would in school but the children were reading and writing for purpose in a real-life setting. You could see the benefits of them reading words on displays, talking about exhibitions whilst learning about their heritage. It became a second home and although it was tiring (mentally and physically) the clear benefits to all of the children has shown that this fabulous concept of joining a museum and their wealth of experience, artefacts and links, with a school – really does work!

Find out more about the series of pilot projects on the King’s website

Words by Laura Luxton