‘Learning how to learn’ – finding out about the Community Curriculum approach

This week ESRC IAA Officer Dr Eve Forrest, went to find out more about a new approach to school based community partnerships.

On a beautiful autumn afternoon this week, I was lucky enough to travel up to Belsay Hall in Northumberland in time for the opening of a new exhibition called ‘Reimagining Ancient Greece’ a collaboration between Dr Sally Waite, a researcher in Greek Art and Archaeology at Newcastle University, the Shefton Collection at the Great North Museum, English Heritage and Belsay Primary School.


The project combined different elements of the ‘Community Curriculum’ approach, a local-learning model developed at Newcastle University Centre for Learning and Teaching, exploring the potential of utilising community partners to collaborate on a specific area of a school’s curriculum that they have specialist knowledge in. The idea of exploring Greek art and mythology began as part of a pilot from another ESRC Impact Accelerator (IAA) awarded project and has since developed into its own standalone work with new partners. What made the collaboration particularly unique was the strong partnership between Newcastle University and the Great North Museum. In particular it drew from artefacts in the large Shefton Collection, using some pieces that had never been on display before which was hugely exciting for the teachers and pupils too. Using these artefacts as a starting point, children created hands on artwork that allowed them to explore in-depth the everyday life and art of the Greeks as part of their learning in class.

Within a couple of the very grand rooms at Belsay Hall (itself an inspiring and unique example of Greek Revival architecture) glass cases are filled with ancient artefacts and their new interpretations.  Original coins and pottery plates sit beside beautifully painted fragments and coin replicas made by the Year 3 and 4 Belsay pupils. Learning through hands-on art work was central to the project and artist Mina Heydari-Waite guided the children in their drawings and painting, alongside making their own artefacts and in turn, helping create excitement and curiosity about classics and archaeology.

Athenian red-figure wine cup, 525-500 BC, depicting Herakles helping himself to some wine in the cave of the centaur Pholos.

Fragments showing the Labours of Herakles, decorated by year 3 and 4 children at Belsay School and (bottom right) an Athenian red-figure fragment from a krater (used for mixing wine and water) of the fifth century BC depicting the head of Herakles (Shefton Collection 593).

What came across from the children and teachers at the launch was their huge enthusiasm for this new style of learning. In her welcome to those gathered at the opening Clare Cantwell, Head Teacher at Belsay School, perfectly encapsulated the approach from the pedagogical side describing it as a new way of  ‘learning how to learn’ and talked of the potential that this method could have in refreshing  their approach toward lesson planning. The exhibit may be drawing from the distant past but it is clear in the strength of the exhibition that the community curriculum approach is forward-facing and has huge potential as a future method for curriculum development at a local and national level.

Reimagining Ancient Greece  runs until 25th February 2019 at Belsay Hall. To find out more about the Community Curriculum approach and to access resources please go here.

The exhibition was funded through awards from HaSS Faculty, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, The Institute of Classical Studies and Newcastle University Humanities Research Institute  

Read about preparations for the exhibition on the Institute of Classical Studies blog here and here.

Finding Paths Across Waters

The theme of the Being Human Festival for 2017 is Lost and Found. Dr Vanessa Mongey, a Newcastle University Researcher, works on the links between the Caribbean and the North East and spoke to Dr Eve Forrest about the new exhibit she has co-curated in North Shields called ‘Paths Across Waters’ as part of the festival.

How does this exhibit link to themes of Lost and Found?

In the past the seas and oceans were highways and paths that brought many different cultures in contact with the North-East. This had a huge impact on the region, however most of that local history and memory has been lost– we want to change that with this exhibit.

Why is it based in North Shields?

North Shields was a main trading port into Tyneside and was a place where many West Indian Sailors were based; there were many boarding houses in the area. During World War II, Newcastle was advertised as a welcoming place by the (then) Colonial Office and the Ministry of Labour to West African migrants too. Our region it not often associated with the Caribbean and there is quite a large shared history that we want to explore.

Are there other ties to the North East and the Caribbean?

Yes there are many and not necessarily maritime themed! The publisher Bloodaxe Books based in the North-East has published work by British Caribbean authors since it began in 1978. So there has been that poetic and intellectual link in the region for a while too.

What can visitors expect from the exhibit?

Well I don’t want to give too much away! But we wanted to connect the exhibition to its surroundings in the Low Light Heritage Centre on North Shields Fish Quay. There is a live soundscape specifically designed for this exhibition by Professor John Bowers of Newcastle University; a film piece by artists James Davoll and Paul Gibson that will change according to the speed of the wind alongside images from the Imperial War Museum, the National Archives, and much more. There is also an oral history booth where we would like people to tell us about their experiences and memories. We want to find as many lost stories as possible in North Shields and in the rest of the region.

What other events are being held?

We have a workshop on the 23rd November about Caribbean cuisines led by Peggy Brunache from the University of Dundee around food and identity. There will also be a live performance of Garifuna music by Lindel Solis Zenon, a musician from Nicaragua on the 25th November. On the same day I will also be talking about the research behind the exhibit, telling people about the rich global history of the region. All the events are free so we would love to see as many people there as possible!

The exhibition is open Thursday 9 November – Saturday 25 November, 10:00am–5:00pm, at Old Low Light Heritage Centre, North Shields, with free entry from 17-25 November. For details on the workshops please see the Old Low Light website.

To find out more about other Being Human Festival events please go to:  https://beinghumanfestival.org/ or search Twitter using the hashtags #PathsWaters #BeingHuman17

Venue details can be found here: http://www.oldlowlight.co.uk/