Teaching and learning in partnership with Seven Stories

Newcastle University and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books share the goal that Newcastle becomes a centre for excellence in children’s literature – including in University teaching and learning. In this post, I’ll be reflecting on some of our activity in 2018/19 and sharing a poster I presented at two recent conferences about this work.

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:

Teaching and Learning in Partnership poster.
Teaching and learning in partnership poster.

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!

Lucy uses her storytelling skills as part of a workshop with Marine Park Primary School. Image: Newcastle University
Lucy uses her storytelling skills as part of a workshop with Marine Park Primary School. Image: Newcastle University

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.

Children in the Archive and the City: Collaborative Practice with Seven Stories

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 takes the form of a collaborative, creative practice-based PhD between the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, and forms part of the Vital North Partnership.

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.
Reading sill in the Story Station, Level 4 of Seven Stories’ Visitor Centre. Image source: Daniel Goodricke.

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.”

Creative workshop as part of the Sensory Spaces event. Image source: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books.

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.

Seven Stories Visitor Centre is located at the heart of the Lower Ouseburn Valley. Image source: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, photographed by Damien Wootten.

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.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council‘s National Productivity Investment Fund and is supervised by Professor Prue Chiles, Professor Adam Sharr and Professor Matthew Grenby, whose collective expertise include the design of learning spaces, architectural phenomenology and children’s literature.

To follow the progress of the project, including research findings and workshop outcomes, please revisit the Vital North Partnership blog from time-to-time, or follow us on social media at @reimagining7s (Twitter) and reimagining7s (Instagram).  If you’re interested in taking part in the research, please feel free to contact Daniel at daniel.goodricke@newcastle.ac.uk or daniel.goodricke@sevenstories.org.uk.

Q&A: Museum Studies MA placements at Seven Stories

This year, Newcastle University Museums Studies MA students Amy and Anna undertook placements with Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books. Hear about how they found their placement experience in this post…

Hi Anna and Amy! Please introduce yourselves.

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!

Newcastle is home to many museums and attractions, including the Baltic art gallery and the Sage Gateshead. Image: Newcastle University, photography by Chris Bishop
Newcastle is home to many museums and attractions, including the Baltic art gallery and the Sage Gateshead. Image: Newcastle University, photography by Chris Bishop
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.

St. Wilfrid's Primary School visit Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, Image by Richard Kenworthy
St. Wilfrid’s Primary School visit Seven Stories’ Time to Get Up Exhibition. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, Image by Richard Kenworthy
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.

David Almond's notebooks, part of the Seven Stories Collection. Image: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children's Books
David Almond’s notebooks, part of the Seven Stories Collection. Image: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books
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!

Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy
Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy
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!