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…
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!
Children have fascinating insights into the places they live in, and Seven Stories are interested in how the families that visit them feel about their locality. Yet traditional approaches to urban planning are quite exclusive (and not massively creative) when it comes to consulting and involving children and young people. So what about new and alternative methods?
Today I’m exploring JigsAudio, a research project led by Alexander Wilson, a doctoral trainee in the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Civics at Open Lab. Zander’s research interrogates the intersections between digital technology, design, human-computer interaction and town planning, with a focus on alternative tools and methods to participation.
From that initial conversation, Zander and his Digital Civics colleagues came up with JigsAudio. It combines drawing and colouring in jigsaw pieces, which the children and families visiting Seven Stories are familiar with, with something new: a device which allowed the children to record an audio message about their jigsaw piece. The pieces and their recordings are then combined to create a digital version of the jigsaw online.
JigsAudio’s first test was during the Big Draw in October 2016 and formed part of a range of drop in activities offered that weekend around Newcastle City Futures. Zander said, “A colourful puzzle came back with many varied visions of Newcastle and Gateshead. A five-hour barge trip along the Tyne and a colourful new bridge across the Tyne – painted in green, yellow, black, blue and purple – were just two of the ideas that emerged.”
Following that, Seven Stories also worked with Zander on a second JigsAudio activity for Summer 2017 around their Aliens Love Underpants exhibition, asking children to design and talk about alien planets and reflect on what they value about their own. For Zander: “I’m amazed at the effort the children put into their alien’s planet. It’s really interesting to see that they have such a strong sense of what is important to where they live. As well as a few aliens, we got something that’s really valuable and will hopefully lead to children getting more of a say in how places change. We’ve been underplaying their ability to understand some of the issues planning is facing and hearing their ideas has been an eye-opening exercise. It’s been a fantastic project.”
So what were Zander’s research findings? He found:
“That drawing and talking was effective at getting people to communicate complicated and elaborate visions that might not be easily communicated through a single media.”
“The initial low-tech appearance of the activity encouraged engagement with JigsAudio”. This was particularly important for Seven Stories’ youngest visitors, and they loved the tactile nature of the jigsaw itself. I noticed that the children really enjoyed adding their piece into the constellation of planets, for example!
“Participants were interested in how the JigsAudio device worked and wanted to take part in the activity.” This was backed up by Seven Stories Santander University Intern, Emma, who facilitated the Aliens Love Underpants JigsAudio activity: “You have to watch [the device] quite a lot because… it was quite an interesting thing for the kids; they were picking it up!”
For Seven Stories, using JigsAudio was an interesting way of finding out what their youngest visitors see and think about the place that they live in, and their visions of alternative spaces.
And for Zander, “I’m thinking about how we can use drawing and talking with other topics, and how we might put together a toolkit for children to make their own devices. If you’re interested in having a go with the device, or if you have your own project you’d like to use JigsAudio in, please do get in touch!”
Thanks to Zander for his help with this post! To find out more about JigsAudio, visit: http://jigsaudio.com/
On 8th March 2018, Seven Stories hosted a special event, Little Folk, organised by students Imogen Bose-Ward, Megan Savage, Ada Francis, Becca Twist and Frankie Hay from Newcastle University’s Music BA Honours course.
Having worked with this cohort to deliver a Musical Creepy Crawlies event at Seven Stories in March 2017, Seven Stories were happy to offer this year’s students the same opportunity – to deliver an event as part of their public events programme. In October 2017, I went to one this year’s initial Music Enterprise lectures to meet the students and talk to them about Seven Stories.
Straight after the lecture, Imogen emailed me to let me know that her group wanted to work with us: ‘We are really interested to collaborate with Seven Stories to create an event based around music, dance and storytelling from around Newcastle.’
And – that’s exactly what they did! Over the months leading up to March, with support from Jane and the Seven Stories team, the students developed an interactive event, Little Folk, exploring folk songs and stories from the North East. They approached folk performers Alistair Anderson,Amber Jayne Cox and Heather Ferrier to take part, developed the programme and accompanying handouts, and created some beautiful marketing materials:
And all their hard work led to a sold-out event on 8th March at Seven Stories. The families who came to Little Folk sang the Blaydon Races with Amber, heard Alastair tell the story of the Lambton Worm and Heather taught us how to clog dance. And alongside that we heard the Northumbrian pipes, waved ribbons and played with sensory props, and even tried out the concertina! Here’s a taster of the event in the Little Folk promotional video that the students created:
For Imogen and the student organising team, “We were delighted to see such a fantastic turn out and we were really pleased with the event itself and some of the feedback we received from the audience. Hosting an event in collaboration with Seven Stories has been a really fascinating process, and it has been incredibly rewarding seeing how our input into such a brilliant charity has created an event that will hopefully leave an impression on the young audience. Seven Stories have a fantastic loyal audience base, which helped us sell out our debut event. We are now interested in developing what was initially supposed to be a one-time event for a university module into something larger, perhaps by looking into how this event could be held in other areas of the country where there are musical and cultural traditions.”
From Jane’s perspective as their module leader, “The students created an excellent event, with a strong brand and a compelling storyline for their marketing, which has enabled them to attract and engage their audience. They have developed a workshop format which could provide the basis for a future creative enterprise. The Music Enterprise module is intended to help students prepare for their future careers in the creative sector, which may be freelance or self-managed. The Little Folk team have devised, organised and presented a highly successful event, working in an effective partnership with Seven Stories, which will have enhanced their skills and confidence, personal resilience and professional development, and has added to their CVs.”
And Seven Stories loved it! Rose Mockford, Events Co-ordinator, said: “It has been a pleasure to work with this group of students who demonstrated a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of their event planning. Our young visitors and their families really engaged with the varied event programme which the students had devised and our unique Attic space was used effectively create a relaxed family event.”
“Little Folk was particularly special as it offered the opportunity for young people to creatively collaborate with Seven Stories to share local musical traditions and engage and build our audiences. Since this event we have hosted another musical event from Opera North and many visitors booked for this having first attended Little Folk – a true testament to the success of the project!”
Thanks to the students for all their hard work in delivering such a successful event! And it seems appropriate to end with a quote from The Blaydon Races: “Thor wes lots o’ lads and lasses there, all with smiling faces…”
Then there were the roundtable and forum discussions, where we discussed barriers to authentic inclusion, and identified ways to shift these. For Seven Stories, the artform of children’s literature is at the heart of everything they do – and it’s by going to events like this that they can flag up with publishers that inclusion is fundamental to the national story they aim to tell. Seven Stories’ workforce (like that of many arts organisations) is not particularly diverse – they’re aiming to shift that barrier through targeted pathways to work programmes from 2018 to 2022.
Highlights of the day for me were hearing from Year 10 pupil Jarvia, one of Inclusive Minds’ Ambassadors, about her reading experiences – she spoke about reading new writing on Wattpad as she feels it’s less filtered – and I loved hearing Jay Hulme’s“angry trans” performance poetry (his description!):
In the afternoon discussions, I ended up sat next to the author, actress and presenter Cerrie Burnell. In her presentation, she talked about how the books she read as a child didn’t reflect her experience. She recounted a story about playing at Peter Pan in the playground: there was already a Wendy and a Tinkerbell, so one of the other children suggested that she could be Captain Hook – Cerrie was adamant that she was more of a Tigerlily. Cerrie encouraged her fellow authors to represent difference in an incidental way: “write the thing that you know, or write the thing that you want to see.”
Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike mysteries, talked about the two types of offence her writing might potentially cause (the one she loses sleep over is making errors about misrepresenting cultures and experiences outside of her own, which is why in her recent books she has been working with sensitivity readers) and Di Airey of Diversity Dynamics reminded us that although publishing is in some ways ahead of other sectors, that we still have a way to go: “There’s not enough change: there are too many people who hide an aspect of their difference.”
It was an inspiring and thought-provoking day, but ensuring the Vital North Partnership’s activities are inclusive is an ongoing process. We’ve done some interesting work, such as our Diverse Voices? symposium in November, and our recent Geographies of Gender and Generation collaboration, and in 2018, we’ll be focussing on BAME voices in children’s literature and activist networks through a new AHRC Creative Economy postdoctoral fellowship led by Dr Aishwarya Subramanian. But there’s still more to do. As Juno said so eloquently in her opening keynote: “The worst thing we can do is think we’ve done it, we’ve achieved diversity. We haven’t done diversity. You can’t tick diversity off the list.”