The Vital North Partnership is a strategic partnership between Seven Stories and Newcastle University, supported by Arts Council England. The partners share the goal of achieving excellence in the field of children's literature.
I provide project management, development, co-ordination and communication functions to facilitate the Partnership's work.
The Vital North Partnership’s work will be continuing – there are lots of interesting projects coming up this autumn which my Newcastle University and Seven Stories colleagues will be working on. And there are lots of exciting plans in the pipeline. I’ll be keeping a close eye on developments!
For now, I’m signing off the Vital North Partnership blog and I imagine there will be a period of time when this blog won’t be updated. All of the posts on this blog will be backed up on the Children’s Literature in Newcastle blog, which is being actively maintained. Do have a look at their posts to keep up to date!
The Vital North Partnership works with Newcastle University students across the three University faculties and at different stages of academic study. Through formal teaching activities, jointly organised events, placements and internships, and collaborative PhDs, I find students are really inspiring and enthusiastic partners to work with!
In July 2019, I went to the Newcastle University Professional Services Conference and the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference to present a poster about Newcastle University and Seven Stories’ work on teaching and learning in partnership in 2018/19. Here’s the poster that I presented:
It was great to be able to share and talk about lots of different activities at these conferences. I included our Sense Explorers workshops in summer 2019, the music events that students have organised and supported, as well as the sea creatures that the STEM outreach team brought to visit Seven Stories back in September. It was also really interesting to look at the subjects that the Vital North Partnership covers, which shows the breadth of disciplinary areas we engage with.
The poster also featured Dr Michael Richardson’s third year module, ‘Geographies of Gender and Generation’, where students worked with Seven Stories to plan and deliver storytelling workshops with two local schools. And I even had space to mention some of our placements and projects!
I really enjoyed both events, which gave me an opportunity to talk to colleagues across Newcastle University as well as from other higher education institutions around the UK. They were both inspiring days and I made some interesting connections for the future.
Air pollution has a particularly damaging effect on children. They’re still growing and breathe faster than adults do. They also live closer to the ground, where the most polluting gases from vehicles accumulate. Pollution from traffic has been linked to problems with brain development, stunted growth, respiratory conditions, cancers and 300,000 child deaths worldwide.
Children themselves are far from oblivious to all this. The school climate strikes show that young people are forcing air pollution and the climate crisis to the top of the political agenda. The strikes tell us that children demand a platform to challenge pollution in their environment. Unable to voice their concerns in school, they are forced to take radical action. What if instead there was a way to work with children in tackling air pollution and climate change?
Through my research, I look for ways that we can give children the tools, the skills and the confidence to affect change in the cities they live in. With the help of teachers and my colleagues in Open Lab, we’ve come up with Sense Explorers, a toolkit of activities and resources to involve young people in transforming places and the environment.
And this summer, I’ll be delivering four free Sense Explorers workshops with Seven Stories! As part of each workshop, we’ll be exploring spaces around the Ouseburn. Using some digital tools we’ll be collecting data about air pollution, and we’ll also be asking young people to think about what their own five senses are telling them. Can they see or hear what may be causing pollution?
Then looking at this data, we’ll be asking our Sense Explorers to think about what they would do to make the Ouseburn better. I can’t wait to see what ideas they come up with!
Here’s a video about our Sense Explorers workshops at Seven Stories:
Sessions like Sense Explorers help children to learn about the future, what it holds for them, and how they can make it better. We should be showing them what they can – and should – do to make their cities less polluted places.
Urban planners and politicians are often hesitant to work with children, but they shouldn’t be – we need to embrace their creativity and passion to take radical action on air pollution and climate change. More now than ever, we need the original ideas that only children can bring.
Thanks Sean, and to The Conversation for allowing us to republish this content. The four Sense Explorers workshops are now fully booked. We are considering adding some extra sessions so do book on our waiting list (available on the event booking page) and we will let you know if spaces become available.
How can cultural organisations collaboratively develop immersive digital experiences? And how can ideas about space and place in magical realism inform more creative approaches to designing augmented reality technologies?
Many organisations in the cultural sector recognise that expanding digital capacity is a priority, but they are limited by funding, time and staff expertise to support this. The #CultureIsDigital 2018 report advocates for design-orientated digital thinking ‘to unleash the creative potential of technology’ and collaborating with technology partners is often seen as a solution for a lack of in-house resources.
In late 2017, Google and Apple had released new augmented reality features that allowed much more complicated interactions with real space on mobile phones. We wanted to explore whether magical realism, a literary genre that plays with the boundaries between real and imaginary spaces, could inspire new creative approaches to these new technical developments.
Seven Stories had recently acquired David Almond’s literary archive. An award-winning author of children’s and young adult books, David’s work explores ambiguous and confusing crossovers between worlds; past and present, everyday and mythical. We used this as our starting point to explore how researchers, museum professionals, digital designers, children and young people could inform new kinds of spatial interactions for AR. We wanted to experiment with a sustainable and collaborative approach to digital R&D in the context of cultural organisations.
From June to December 2018, Tom and Kim worked with Diego Trujillo Pisanty, a researcher and media artist, and Seven Stories. We led six creative workshops, some as part of the 2018 Great Exhibition of the North programme, engaging around 80 participants. During the Great Exhibition, Seven Stories delivered an artistic trail around the Ouseburn Valley featuring new writing by David Almond, and a major exhibition, ‘Where Your Wings Were’ focusing on his archive.
In the workshops, we wanted to create open environments where people could explore experimental ideas. Each workshop had a separate focus, but aimed to explore creative analogies to immersive technology – ideas of other worlds, magic, the fantastic and interdimensional – to inform the design of the app, and enhance our understanding of the value of spaces and places within David Almond’s work.
From the creative ideas generated in the workshops, we designed and built a smartphone app, Magical Reality, which leads you on a trail to find AR objects around the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle. Research Associate Diego led the technical development and it’s now available on Android and iOS platforms. The app uses AR technology to embed digital artefacts, developed from archive materials held at Seven Stories. We used an experimental and collaborative design approach to see how the knowledge and imaginative ideas of the different parties involved in the project could inform the development.
Here’s a video of the app in action:
There were many interesting things we learnt from evaluating this project, which was supported by Research Associate Dr Gabi Arrigoni; not least that the stakeholders involved consider innovation very differently. For the research team, the creative process informing the app was seen as the most significant contribution to the field; Seven Stories valued new ways of engaging with their audiences and connecting archive material to places; whereas digital professionals were interested in digital innovation around the app’s use of AR.
As Vital North Partnership Manager, one of the things I found most fascinating was seeing different kinds of knowledge and experience being brought together through the four workshops I took part in, and the way in which the research team created open spaces for knowledge exchange. I also really valued the way that this project moved beyond transactional digital commissioning and towards more experimental and open-ended R&D within a museum setting, which mirrors some of the processes Seven Stories uses as we develop our programmes and exhibitions.
Since we finished our work on Children’s Magical Realism for New Spatial Interactions: AR and Archives in December, we’ve been busy! Firstly, Dr Tom Schofield and Professor Kim Reynolds have been busy working on academic outputs. Kim has given a paper on ‘Augmenting Almond’ at the University of Western Australia, and will be presenting this project in June in Berlin, and October at the University of Buckingham. Tom will be presenting a paper as part of Designing Interactive Systems 2019 in June in San Diego – as one of the most prestigious conferences for interaction design in the world, we’re very excited!
Secondly, Tom and Seven Stories were successful in a bid for AHRC Follow on Funding for an extension project, Embedding Magic: AR and Outreach. This will extend the work we began our original workshops by developing these into a programme that Seven Stories’ Creative Learning and Engagement team will be delivering with Research Associate Dr Miranda Iossifidis in the East End of Newcastle, empowering children and young people to connect with the places and spaces within their community. We’re also planning a short series of workshops for cultural and digital organisations to present this collaborative process in early summer. Watch this space!
How can children’s literature collections contribute to supporting children’s health? Is there a role that Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books can play in health settings? How can sharing stories enhance children and young people’s mental wellbeing? In this blog post, find out about how Newcastle University and Seven Stories are starting to explore these questions through the Vital North Partnership’s work…
“What happens in pregnancy and early childhood impacts on physical and emotional health all the way through to adulthood… the earliest experiences, starting in the womb, shape a baby’s brain development.”
The first 1001 days of a child’s life are critical. A period of rapid growth, babies’ brains are shaped by their early experiences and interactions they have with the grownups who care for them. Healthy development, including language development, from conception to age two “is linked to improved mental and physical health, reductions in risk and antisocial behaviour and achievement at school and beyond.”(The 1001 Critical Days).
Seven Stories deliver award-winning learning and family reading programmes, which champion reading for pleasure and support literacy development. Seven Stories also have expertise working with children with additional learning and sensory needs, and delivering activities in hospice and other health settings. Newcastle University’s internationally recognised Faculty of Medical Sciences tackles challenges in health and healthcare, including ageing, cancer, cell biology, genetics, drug development, medicine in society and neuroscience. Through the Vital North Partnership, we aim to realise a range of social, educational and cultural benefits – and exploring public health is becoming an increasing area of focus for our work together.
We’re starting to explore how we can collaborate with public health providers and enhance public understanding of health and wellbeing, and we’re already planning some interesting activity. Here’s what I can share so far about our 2019 plans…
What makes us, us?
On Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd March 2019, staff and students from Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience and School of Psychology delivered a weekend of activity, ‘What Makes Us, Us?’, at Seven Stories. Led by Dr Ann Fitchett and Dr Billie Moffat-Knox, children and families visiting Seven Stories engaged with Newcastle University students to explore what it means to be human – what we have in common, and what makes us unique. Through different activity stations, families learnt about brain science, why acts of kindness make us happy and how we see colours.
Henry Marsh on ‘brain surgery and other stories’
Thinking about how children’s books can engage with health narratives and medical research, we’re looking forward to this year’s Fickling Lecture on Developments in Children’s Literature with Henry Marsh, neurosurgeon and author. Marsh pioneered techniques in operating on the brain under local anaesthetic and has written two books about his experience as a neurosurgeon.
Henry Marsh will be discussing how doctors, witnesses and participants in the stories of their patients’ lives, are beginning to tell children’s stories about their practice. He will explain what he thinks makes a good medical story for younger readers.
Enhancing young people’s resilience with Readers in Residence
I’m also very pleased to say that the Vital North Partnership has secured funding from Newcastle University’s Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty Impact Fund to support a new project. This will bring Seven Stories’ Creative Learning and Engagement team and the Children’s Literature Unit together to explore how children’s literature can be used to support young people’s wellbeing.
I am excited about the potential impact of this new focus for our work together – and I believe that through the Vital North Partnership, Seven Stories and Newcastle University can enhance and promote public health, and particularly children’s health, in the North East and beyond.
When asked by our lecturer what we wanted to do for our Music Enterprise event as part of the MUS3095 third-year module, we knew we wanted to do something educational, fun and for a good cause. We all had some prior experience of working with children in music education events through outreach projects, work experience or student placements. This became the focus for our events management project.
We began the process by visiting Percy Hedley School, a charity-funded school for children with additional needs based in Jesmond. After meeting with the headteacher and the music teacher at the school, we began to realise the unique approach they took to music education. More than anything else this visit inspired us and we realised that music really can be so much more than the notes on a page.
After this inspirational visit, we decided that we definitely wanted to do an event for children that would be interactive and participatory throughout. We wanted to have the event open for families to be able to come along, have fun and engage in music. Our next mission was to find a venue to host our event.
At the beginning of the semester, Rachel had come to Newcastle University and talked to us about the possibility of hosting an event at Seven Stories. We met with Rachel and Rose Mockford, the Events Co-ordinator at Seven Stories, at the end of November to see if they would be interested in working with us and luckily for us, they were!
We had the basic structure for our event but we still needed a theme to tie our ideas together. We were aware that there had been other musical events based upon books held at Seven Stories that were successful and so we began to discuss books that had been influential in our childhoods. ‘Elmer’ by David McKee was suggested and we quickly realised that this story was ideal for our event. Not only could we envisage how this wonderful story could be musically adapted, we also felt that the themes of finding happiness and accepting our individuality resonated with our experience of visiting Percy Hedley School.
Seven Stories informed us that this would be fitting as they are celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the story with their Elmer and Friends exhibition. We spoke to our fellow students and found a group of keen, enthusiastic musicians excited about the opportunity to perform together. The Elmer’s Colourful Concert band consists of Rebecca Roberts (singer), Joe Issa (pianist), Glen Bruinewoud (trumpeter) and Alex Utting (trombonist) but be assured they won’t be the only people making noise on the day!
As we’re putting the final touches on our event, we would like to welcome you to join us for Elmer’s Colourful Concert on Sunday 17th March, 2:00-2:45pm at Seven Stories, Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Tyne and Wear, NE1 2PQ. It’s a 45 minute event aimed at children aged 7 and under and their families. Tickets are £5 per person (including children and adults) and you can book online via the Seven Stories website!
Thanks Christie, Sarah, Kate and Loren! I’m really looking forward to your Colourful Concert – where there’ll be a very special visit from a certain rainbow elephant…
…and at the same time, Career Development Module students have been working with Seven Stories, developing skills in exhibitions, internal communications, events, and creative learning to enhance their employability.
Final year student Lucy Napier is participating in both of these modules, so I caught up with her to hear about her experience of two very different collaborations.
Hello Lucy! Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hiya Rachel! My name is Lucy Napier and I am a stage 3 student, studying Business and Geography as part of my Combined Honours degree. I have interests in hanging out with friends and horse riding BUT I also like working hard to try and graduate!
This year, you’re undertaking a Career Development Module with Seven Stories – what’s that, and why did you choose to do this as part of your degree course?
The Career Development module runs in both Stage 2 and Stage 3. I chose to do it in my third year so I could have an idea as to what I am interested in terms of career choices. I chose Seven Stories for my placement as I researched into their core beliefs and what they do as a non-profit and I loved everything about them, from keeping original drafts of great children’s authors in collections at Felling to the workshops and exhibitions they give to the local children in the North East area. I chose to do this as part of my degree as it is a nice change than sitting in lecture halls and this module gives us good work experience and guidance for our future careers.
What have you been doing at Seven Stories during your Career Development Module placement so far?
My title at Seven Stories is Internal Communications Volunteer, and over my year here I am aiming to identify improvements in communications between Seven Stories’ three sites. Having researched within the business and conducted meetings with various people across the organisation I am aiming to bring together everything I have found to design and come up with an internal communications strategy.
And you’ve also been studying as part of the Geographies of Gender and Generation module. That’s been quite a different experience, I imagine?
Yes, it has been. I found the module very interesting as it was looking at life through an intergenerational and sometimes a feminist lens, it taught us how gender and generation can be created through society and how society can be affected by them. For example, we learnt about age-friendly cities and how spaces can be designed to benefit younger generations. I really enjoyed this module as it made you rethink a lot of things and that gave me another perspective on society and geography as a whole.
Tell us about the work you did with Seven Stories as part of the Geographies of Gender and Generation module.
As part of the module our assessment was based on working with children, alongside Seven Stories. We had to get into groups and deliver a storytelling to a group of children. My group looked at Elmer and the Hippos by David McKee. We then designed an activity based on teamwork as we thought that was the main theme within the book. The aim of this work was to watch how my age group act with younger children and this is known as intergenerational practice. We then had to write up a report on the work completed and how we learnt from the children and how they learned from us.
How did you find the final GEO3135 workshop with the children from Hotspur Primary School and Marine Park Primary School at the Great North Museum: Hancock?
The final workshop was good fun and very different to other work I have had to do as part of my degree. My group worked with Year 4 children from Marine Park Primary School. We found that the children felt that Elmer and the Hippos was too young for them. However, they loved our teamwork activity of being blindfolded and trying to find cones, and looking back we should have made tried to extend this element of the session.
What has it been like seeing two very different sides of Seven Stories’ work – and what have you learned?
Having worked on both sides it has given me a unique view. I have seen Seven Stories through the customer’s view through GEO3135, as we had an exciting storytelling along with an activity. These were based on the book Not Now Bernard by David McKee which was good fun as we could be children! Then through my Career Development Module, I can see how all the events are organised by Seven Stories, how much effort goes into organising a day within the Visitors Centre and how much everyone works their absolute hardest.
What impact will your work with Seven Stories have on your future studies, research and career plans?
My work within Seven Stories has made me look more into a career working within non-profits. It has impacted me so much that I am looking at going to India working with children and teaching them English for a few months after I have graduated.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
I would just like to add that I love everything that Seven Stories do, I think they are a fantastic charity and I have loved working there! And if you haven’t been to visit, I really do recommend it, it’s a fantastic day out for families.
Thanks Lucy! I’ll look forward to seeing the results of your Career Development Module placement – good luck!
Later that afternoon, join author and Lecturer in Creative Writing, Ann Coburn, for our creative writing workshop for adults, Undiscovered Land: Write Like David Almond. Start your own story incorporating elements of memory, history, magic and transformation. I can’t wait to see what our writers come up with!
On Sunday 18th November, come and take part in our Wavering Boundarieswalking tour, led by Dr Tom Schofield from Digital Cultures in Culture Lab. Magical realism, augmented reality and literary archives come together in this guided walk around the Ouseburn Valley, and you’ll be one of the very first to try out our Magical Reality app.
“My work explores the frontier between rationalism and superstition and the wavering boundary between the two.” David Almond
Seven Stories are also supporting Newcastle University’s final festival event, Songs from the Dam, with Kathryn Tickell, David Almond and Amy Thatcher. This special musical performance will present local songs and folk tales, and celebrates David Almond’s new book The Dam, beautifully illustrated by Levi Pinfold, which tells the story of the flooding of Kielder Water.
Lauren is an award-winning artist and writer. She’s the creator of much-loved characters including Charlie and Lola,Clarice Bean,Hubert Horatio and Ruby Redfort. And in 2017, she became Children’s Laureate, recognising her innovative work in raising the profile of illustration as an artform, her role in translating books into other media, and her advocacy for visual literacy and creativity.
The UK Children’s Laureate role is sponsored by Waterstones and co-ordinated by BookTrust, and recognises ‘an eminent writer or illustrator of children’s books to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field’. It was established in 1999, and recent Laureates have included Chris Riddell,Malorie Blackman and Julia Donaldson. All of the Children’s Laureates champion children’s books and the power of reading.
Through her laureateship Lauren is highlighting the importance of creativity, and she’ll be focussing on this in her talk in Newcastle, Staring into Space with Lauren Child:
“It is now widely recognised that creativity is as important as literacy or numeracy, and that allowing ourselves the time, space and freedom to be creative is essential for good mental health…sometimes we need to stare into space.” Lauren Child
The lecture will take place on Tuesday 23rd October 2018, 5.30 – 6.45pm in the Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building, Newcastle University. Staring into Space with Lauren Child is part of the free Insights public lecture series at Newcastle University, in partnership with Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books and BookTrust. Do join us for this fascinating event!
And, Lauren will be doing an exclusive Q&A on the Newcastle University Facebook page before the lecture. If you have any questions for Lauren, please post them in the comments section below!
Hello! I’m Anna and I live in Gateshead, although I am originally from Northumberland. I came to the Museum Studies MA course with the aim of beginning a career in the museums sector, alongside developing my practice as an illustrator.
Hi, I’m Amy and I’m originally from County Durham. I moved to Newcastle 5 years ago when I got my place at Newcastle University to do my Ancient History BA. I decided to do the MA with the intention of (hopefully) being able to get a job in museum learning after. And after all there’s no better place for history than in a museum!
Tell me about the Museums Studies MA course – how are you finding studying at Newcastle?
Amy: I’m loving it! I couldn’t think of a city more suited to a Museum Studies course than Newcastle – there are so many museums and galleries on your doorstep you’re spoilt for choice. I love Newcastle and can’t imagine leaving!
Anna: I could not have asked for a better experience, in all honesty. The course at Newcastle has a great reputation and as I was keen to stay in the North East to help contribute towards the growing arts industry here, it was the perfect choice.
What attracted you to do a placement at Seven Stories?
Anna: What didn’t attract me! Having specialised in creating illustrated books during my undergraduate degree, I have had an interest in the work that goes on at Seven Stories for a while. I previously had some of my illustration work displayed in the visitor centre, which I found very exciting.
Amy: I’m a long-time fan of Seven Stories. I actually came to the opening in 2005 and met Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt; I LOVED Jacqueline Wilson’s books so Nick Sharratt drawing me my own Tracey Beaker, on the cover of my tattered book, is one of my favourite childhood memories.
So, what have you been up to on your placements?
Amy: I’ve been based with the Creative Learning and Engagement team and I’ve been able to learn a lot about Seven Stories offerings, both onsite and in schools.
I’ve shadowed EY, KS1 and KS2 workshops as well as spending a couple of days with Creative Associates learning about the Reader in Residence and Reading for Pleasure offerings.
I’ve also being analysing and interpreting data regarding the learning programmes and spotting any trends and patterns.
Anna: I have been primarily based with the Seven Stories Collections team. My main job has been to catalogue the Fritz Wegner collection, which Seven Stories acquired in 2017.
I have had the opportunity to work in the visitor centre on the de-installation of the Comics exhibition, and on the install for the new Where Your Wings Were exhibition. The tasks I was involved with included removing and packing artworks and display items, assisting in the hanging of artworks, and sourcing some images used in the displays.
How is your placement helping you to develop the skills you’ll need for a career in the museums sector?
Anna: I came to the MA course at Newcastle University with little practical experience of working in a museum environment. The placement has helped me put my theoretical knowledge from the MA course into practice. Working at Seven Stories has given me access to experts in the industry and enabled me to work directly with the collection.
Amy: I already have experience of delivering workshops and activities so doing my placement at Seven Stories meant that I could work with data, figures and reports to learn first-hand how data interpretation can be used to inform the future progression of a learning programme.
It’s something I normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do and I’ve really enjoyed doing something different!
What have you learned from your placement at Seven Stories?
Amy: I’ve learned so much but my favourite part was learning about how much stories and reading can positively impact a child’s development and ultimately improve their academic performance and confidence.
Anna: I’ve learned that a huge amount of hard work, dedication and love goes into maintaining the collections! Before beginning my placement, I was of the belief that museum roles are well defined and separate from one another. I now know that multitasking and cross-discipline work is becoming a more common way of working.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Anna: I would like to thank all of the wonderful staff I have worked with. As an illustrator, it has been an absolute delight to work with original artworks, and it has really inspired me in my own practice.
Amy: I didn’t know it was possible but my time here has made me an even bigger Seven Stories fan!
Thanks Amy and Anna! It’s been a pleasure to work with you both and good luck with the rest of your MA studies!