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.
Featured image: 10th anniversary of Signal – 1980 Patrick Hardy, Aidan and Nancy Chambers, Lance Salway and Elaine Moss (from left to right)
The range of material held in the Chambers archive is truly impressive, hardly surprising given the contribution that both Aidan and Nancy Chambers have made to the fields of children’s and young adult fiction, literary criticism, publishing and education. Thanks to a grant from the Archives Revealed Scheme (funded by the National Archives and The Pilgrim Trust), research supported by Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit and the ongoing commitment and expertise of the Seven Stories Collection team, the Chambers archive will soon be available for use.
In 1969, Aidan and Nancy Chambers established Signal: Approaches to Children’s Books (1969-2003), one of the first journals dedicated to children’s literary criticism and home to the Signal Poetry Award (1979-2001). Through their own Thimble Press, they also published highly influential works of children’s literary criticism, invaluable guides to the best books for children, and Aidan Chambers’ seminal works of children’s literary criticism (‘The Reader in the Book’ ) and on education (The Reading Environment , Tell Me: Children, Reading and Talk ). Added to this is Aidan Chambers‘ work as editor of ground-breaking YA MacMillan Education imprint, Topliner (1968-1980), his own award-winning ‘Dance Sequence’ of young adult novels as well as books for younger readers, and his work as editor of Turton & Chambers, an independent publishing house dedicated to publishing books in translations. What becomes clear on delving into the archive is the richness of the material and the wealth of opportunities it offers researchers.
Let’s take the Turton & Chambers (T&C) material as a quick example. Beginning in 1989, this was a co-equal venture between David Turton, owner of The Singing Tree children’s bookshop in Perth, Australia and Aidan Chambers: Turton provided the finances and Chambers the editorial expertise. According to T&C’s promotional material, their aim was to ‘publish the rare, the unusual, the extraordinary, the refreshing’ (Company Notice, T&C, Books for Young Readers, Aidan and Nancy Chambers archive, Box A, file 11, p.2.). Books that, for Chambers, allowed readers to ‘extend their range of thinking, their imagination’ (Niki Kallenberg, ‘Features: Publishing the kind of book I wish I’d written’, Scan, 9(3), June 1990, 4-9 [p. 5]) in a way he thought was impossible in their own language. Over the course of three years, T&C published 16 books, mostly prose, translated from French, German, Swedish, Norwegian and Dutch. Many T&C authors, such as Maud Reuterswärd (A Way from Home (1990), Noah is my Name (1991), both translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate, Tormod Haugen (Zeppelin (1990), translated from the Norwegian by David R. Jacobs) and Peter Pohl (Johnny, my friend (1991), translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson), were all award-winning novels either in their country of origin or in Europe. Sometimes stylistically challenging, often unusual and innovative, always thought provoking, the T&C list remains relevant and genuinely engaging for readers of all ages.
Aidan Chambers’ correspondence with Anthea Bell, perhaps best known for translating René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s Asterix books, offers fascinating insights into many aspects of their work and lives. Letters illuminate the relationship between translator and editor, the practicalities and realities of working as a translator, and the nuanced and detailed discussions that took place between Chambers and his translators to ensure work of the highest quality. Letters also reveal the warm relationship between Aidan Chambers and Anthea Bell. Writing to Bell on 13th July, 1989, Chambers describes the ‘nerve-wracking’ process of bringing two books to print ‘without the support of a design department’ and comments that despite any resulting shortcomings, ‘at least the books will come from strong personal commitment and extraordinary good will and generosity from those like yourself who have helped with translation and editorial work’ (Box A, file 1).
Happily, the T&C archive has been examined and catalogued as part of a bigger project to fully catalogue the Aidan and Nancy Chambers archive, which will take place over the next 18 months. Work is now underway cataloguing the material for the 100 editions of children’s literature journal Signal, edited by Nancy Chambers. Taking up almost 30 archive storage boxes, the team has begun to weed, process and re-package the material, prior to creating the catalogue. This is a delicate process: a balance has to be found between preserving materials that clearly demonstrate the production processes of the journal with the demands on storage space, the research value of the material, and the ease of use for future researchers. Added to this, is the need to condition check all material prior to re-packaging to ensure that no unwanted substances, i.e. dreaded mould, are transferred into the Collection. All of this adds up to slow and careful work: the weeding process alone will take two months.
The end result will be worth it. Enquiries are already coming in from researchers keen to access the Chambers archive and the team is working hard to get the material ready for them.
Thanks Hazel! We’ll look forward to hearing more about what you’re discovering in the Chambers Collection as your project progresses.
How can children’s literature archives help us to understand what it’s like to be torn from your home as a refugee?
For her PhD project ‘The Other Side of Truth: agency, representation and belonging in Beverley Naidoo’s refugee fiction’, Helen King explores the role of children’s books and archives in shaping how we think about the refugee experience, and empowering children to engage creatively and politically with literature.
Beverley Naidoo (pictured above by Linda Brownlee) donated her archive to Seven Stories in 2016. The Collection is an essential part of what Seven Stories do, and they hold archives from numerous authors with huge value, both for the general public and for research. Naidoo’s archive is a really important acquisition for Seven Stories, and contains research for and responses to her fiction, as well as material relating to her careers as a researcher, teacher and activist.
A South African author, Naidoo was exiled to the UK as a result of her anti-apartheid activism, and themes of displacement and the effect of totalitarianism and racism on children runs through much of her work. Her novel The Other Side of Truth won the Carnegie medal in 2000. This book tells the story of two Nigerian children who are forced to seek asylum in the UK due to their father’s critique of the military rule of General Sani Abacha in the mid 90s. Exploring themes such the loss of home, the impact of trauma and importance of the individual refugee story, this novel is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago, and forms the starting point for this research project.
I am still in the early stages of my research, and already I have found so much thought-provoking and challenging material within the Naidoo archive. With a framework of postcolonial theory that examines how colonial dynamics have and still do affect our constructions of race, nationhood and citizenship in the UK, I am using Naidoo’s fiction and her archive to explore the following questions:
What does it mean to belong as a refugee child?
How can a children’s author represent voices that are marginalised, misrepresented and silenced by popular rhetoric and the media?
What agency can children have in the face of social inequality, either as creatives or as activists, and how can children’s literature give them this?
How can Seven Stories use the Naidoo archive to develop new creative engagement with their collections?
My time is spent between Newcastle University, the Seven Stories archive in Felling and their visitor centre in Ouseburn. I will be posting here from time to time as the project develops, and as the public engagement aspects of my project take shape over the coming months.
Viewing the Naidoo archive as carrying such potential, this project will facilitate in Seven Stories finding new ways to bring the archive to the general public through exhibitions and engagement with groups from their local community who have experienced displacement themselves. Children’s literature archives are not simply slices of history, but are active sites of debate, creativity and activism through which children can be empowered to tell their own stories.
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.
Have you ever considered how the design of spaces can help children learn and explore? In this blog post, Daniel Goodricke provides an overview of the research project, ‘Children in the Archive and the City: Collaborative Practice with Seven Stories’.
The project investigates how children interact with museum, archive and reading spaces, as well as the broader context of the city, and explores how spaces could be reimagined with and for children and young people. The investigation aims to:
identify changes that can be made to the Seven Stories’ spaces to bring children’s books to a broader demographic
develop and test a series of possible design scenarios and alternative configurations of museum, archive and reading spaces to further encourage children and young people to interact with Seven Stories’ Collection
propose changes that can be made to both physical and digital spaces in order to bring maximum benefit to people of the North East, as well as national and international stakeholders.
As an architect and educator, I was motivated to undertake this research project following my experience as part of multi-disciplinary teams responsible for the design and delivery of centrally-funded secondary school projects as part of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP). Whilst the programmes were commendably ambitious; tasking school governors, principals, staff, local communities and, even, the pupils themselves with developing an ‘educational vision’, the projects often soon reverted to more normative and routine production modes.
Acknowledging end users as experts in their own experience, this project positions children and young people at the centre of the design process by means of a series of co-design workshops. Employing creative research tools, such as body mapping, illustrated writing and sensory collage, each workshop endeavours to gain a better understanding of children and young people’s current experiences of Seven Stories spaces across a range of scales including their interactions with books, ‘nooks and crannies’, archive, building, and the city. The Finnish-born American architect, Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) admonished designers to:
“[a]lways consider a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
The workshops, supported by continued creative dialogue, will also begin to articulate the goals, priorities and values of stakeholders, providing participants with a direct involvement in the decision making of architectural proposals. In respect of the latter, I recently attended a series of three linked seminars on the theme of Architecture and Education – specifically how architecture may be used to express educational aims and values – held at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. I hope to elaborate on some of the presented ideas with reference to my project in a subsequent blog post.
Professor Sir Christopher Frayling’s highly influential paper, Research in Art and Design (1993), categorised the varying relationships between research and design (or, architecture) as constituting one of either, ‘into’, ‘for’ or ‘through’ the discipline. This project adopts a ‘through’ approach as it utilises the design process as a methodology in order to undertake the research investigation itself. Such as approach also provides participants, particularly children and young people (given how little emphasis is placed on architecture within the National curriculum), with a relatively unique experience, knowledge and understanding of architecture and the built environment around them, as well as the skills and confidence to become involved in debates surrounding it within their own communities. The Ouseburn Trust, including the now amalgamated Ouseburn Futures, have long engaged residents, workers and visitors to the Valley in influencing what happens there and shaping the regeneration process.
The findings of the project will culminate in the production of a design brief, developed through the close dialogue with representatives of Seven Stories, end users, neighbouring communities and other stakeholders. The brief will assist in articulating Seven Stories’ capital ambition of a new permanent and accessible home in Newcastle, as it aims to establish itself as an international centre of excellence for children’s literature, by defining the scope and outlining the deliverables of any future capital development project.
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/
In June of last year, I packed up my books and my notes and closed the door to my office at Queen’s University Belfast for six months. As a Northern Bridge doctoral student I was given the opportunity to take up a placement with one of the consortium’s partner organisations and naturally, I jumped at the chance! I chose to work with Seven Stories for several reasons – firstly, books were foundational to my childhood, and my love of literature has seen me through two (and a half) degrees in the field. The thought of seeing some original material up close was exciting! Secondly, I liked the idea of working with an organisation that has strengths in public engagement, both through the visitor centre and at the archive. As the final year of my PhD roared into view, I was also aware of the need to plan for the next stage in my career, and I was keen to develop some skills beyond those which writing a thesis can offer.
So what have I been up to? The simple answer is LOTS of things!
When I first arrived in Newcastle, the team at Seven Stories were gearing up for a changeover in one of their gallery spaces. During these times they need all-hands-on-deck to get things ready for a new exhibition, and so I was kitted out in steel-toed boots and put to work! I was able to assist with de-installing the Michael Morpurgo exhibition (by taking artwork off the walls, scraping off vinyl lettering, changing light-bulbs and dismantling built props) and installing the Comics exhibition (almost the same in reverse!). It was great to start my time at the visitor centre, getting some very hands-on experience in the public-facing side of museum work. Later on, I had a chance to do some audience research in the Comics gallery, and it was lovely to see families and children engaging with the space and the objects on display.
After things had calmed down a bit, it was time to learn how to use CALM, the management system used by the archive to record their holdings. Once I had got to grips with this, I was able to tackle my first collection – Noel Streatfeild’s – which included original manuscripts, correspondence, and personal diaries. This was exciting for me as a life-long fan of Ballet Shoes, and the collection granted me a much better insight into Streatfeild’s writing practices, and the personal experiences which shaped her stories. It was incredibly satisfying to take charge of the collection, ensuring it was organised, repackaged and catalogued in an accessible way, while respecting as much of the original order as possible. Even more satisfying was getting to see the material in use before I left. You can read more about the collection in my post for the Seven Stories blog.
After completing work on the Streatfeild collection, I spent a bit of time in the world of the Wombles sorting through some of Elisabeth Beresford’s huge collection. The Wombles material had been worked on by several volunteers before me, and will probably require the attentions of a few more before it is complete. I realised just how lengthy the cataloguing process can be in a collection of that scale, and I was better prepared for the final collection I worked on, which ran to almost 50 boxes! Working on this was especially exciting as I knew the material would be used extensively – I was given the chance to select items and write some copy for the collection highlights page, as well as liaising with senior curator, Gill Rennie, and presenting some of the material to various teams in the organisation. Unfortunately I can’t say much more about this mystery collection yet, but keep your eyes peeled for an exciting new exhibition this summer!
Although work at the archive took up the majority of my time, the team gave me the chance to get involved with lots of varied activities in the organisation, from working at white glove handling sessions (at a wedding, a conference and a schools project) to helping at a celebration event for the Living Books project. There was never a dull moment, and I’m really thankful to all the wonderful members of staff for their patience in showing me the ropes and sharing their fantastic knowledge of children’s literature, as well as making me feel right at home in the office.
I’m now back to normality in Belfast, finishing my thesis and missing the Seven Stories tea breaks. I learned so much during my placement, and would highly recommend applying for Northern Bridge funding – it’s a fantastic opportunity to test the waters of research-adjacent careers, while completing your thesis. I would come back to Seven Stories tomorrow if I could, so here’s hoping it won’t be the last you’ll see of me!
Thanks Amy! Everyone at Seven Stories really appreciated all your hard work. This was a really successful first Northern Bridge placement experience for Seven Stories, so much so that we’ve just welcomed our second placement student!