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/
There’s an interesting relationship between charities and business. Charities are organisations established to meet a charitable purpose, for the public benefit – not for profit. They are part of what’s sometimes called the ‘third sector’, falling between public services and private enterprise. And of course, charities share similar activities to private companies. They generate income. They employ people. They produce end of year accounts, marketing strategies, business plans…
The purpose of the Management Consultancy Project module is to give students experience of working with a real employer on a live issue. Module leader, Sarah Carnegie, explains: “The module is one of the final year capstone modules that students at the Business School can take. It provides an opportunity for our students to apply the skills and knowledge gained in their studies and is an example of work integrated learning. Research shows this style of learning can assist students in developing their career management skills, as well as being a challenging academic project. The management consultancy projects are key to the Business School developing links with businesses and promotes employer engagement.”
Students: Louisa Abercrombie, Thomas Crozier, William Inkster, Matthew Parnell, Emma Roberts, and Amos Syn were assigned to the project. In consultation with Seven Stories, they defined a project brief to “recommend ways for the client to improve and simplify the overall performance of memberships, in order to maximise revenue in turn improving long-term sustainability.”
After initial meetings with Seven Stories’ Chief Operating Officer, Jon Riley, and Seven Stories’ Development and Relationships team in October 2017, the students began their research. They identified Seven Stories’ market position and competitors, examined Seven Stories’ existing data and secondary data and conducted and analysed primary research including surveys and focus groups.
They then used this research to inform their conclusions and a series of recommendations for enhancing Seven Stories’ membership schemes, which they presented to Seven Stories with their final consultancy portfolio and written report in March 2018.
For Emma and the student team, “Working with Seven Stories gave us all a valuable insight into challenges businesses face and allowed us to actively seek solutions to help a real situation. Every one of us developed skills, contributed to the research and gained real work experience. When we faced challenges, we worked together as a team to overcome these. We all thoroughly enjoyed forming innovative and creative solutions together with Seven Stories to enhance their fantastic business.”
Sarah Carnegie added that: “Academic staff agree the initial scope of the work that the student group may engage with, but it is down to the group to actually deliver. Each student group has weekly contact, during term time, with a member of academic staff as it is important to build momentum and it’s amazing to see how engrossed the students become in their projects and how hard they work for their clients.”
And Seven Stories were impressed with the professional way that the students approached the project. Jon said: “From the very first meeting with Emma, Tom, Will, Louisa, Matt, and Amos, it was obvious that they were really engaged with the consultancy project. They defined their own brief and worked with a number of colleagues in our team to gain a thorough understanding of our work. The conclusions the students came up with were interesting and innovative – we’re actively considering implementing some of their recommendations over the next year.”
What’s next? We’re discussing a second management consultancy opportunity with Seven Stories for the 2018/19 BUS3053 cohort. We’re also talking about collaborating as part of Newcastle University Business School’s MBA internship pilot later in 2018. Watch this space!
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…”
Seven Stories believes that the books children read help them to better understand themselves and the world around them, and they are passionate about championing inclusive children’s literature.
Dr Michael Richardson, leader of the Geography BA’s third year module Geographies of Gender and Generation, approached Seven Stories last summer about a new teaching collaboration focussing on challenging gender stereotypes. As part of this module, students are asked to develop a campaign or activity which promotes gender equality, and then reflect on this through a written assignment. In the 2017 / 18 academic year, Dr Richardson wanted to provide a focus for his students that would allow them to “explore intergenerational practice as an intervention method for the promotion of gender equality”. Having previously worked with Seven Stories on their 2015 Big Ideas project, Dr Richardson saw Seven Stories as a potential collaborator.
After receiving support through the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology’s Learning, Teaching and Student Experience fund to kickstart the project, we developed resources and a programme of student workshops, leading to a final event with children and young people at Seven Stories.
In the first workshop, Jayne Humphreys (Learning and Participation Co-ordinator at Seven Stories) and I introduced the students to issues around gender representation in children’s literature. We also introduced the five books that the students would be focussing on in the final schools event:
Next, the students were asked to pitch which book theywould like to work with. The students said:
“[Izzy Gizmo] promotes the idea of science and technology as a viable career choice for young girls rather than the typical caring roles that are often shown in children’s books. I also like… that the main character is of an ethnic minority”
“I think [Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too)] is… about allowing people of all genders to be more well-rounded human beings. Encouraging emotional literacy in boys in particular is a really simple and effective way to tackle a number of serious issues… This benefits everyone, including women”
Having chosen their books, the second student workshop focussed on storytelling and engagement techniques. Jayne led the students through Seven Stories’ approach to story times and how to use stories as a starting point for other conversations and activities. MP for Newcastle Central Chi Onwurah also attended this session, speaking to the students about the gendered workplace.
In November 2017, the students welcomed a class of Year 5 children from nearby Hotspur Primary School to Seven Stories. Working in groups, the students presented a 30-minute session with a small group of children, where they read their story together, discussed the questions about gender that the books raised, and took part in activities such as games, dressing up and drawing.
The students said:
“I thought it was a really creative way to put something we’ve learnt in lectures into a real-life situation.”
“I think the event at Seven Stories was really beneficial for us, as well as the children. Storytelling is definitely a good way of getting some big ideas out to them… I’m going to use this event as experience towards my future teaching career too.”
Teaching staff at Hotspur Primary School said, “We all had such a wonderful time at Seven Stories – what a great workshop!”
For Dr Michael Richardson, “This collaboration with Seven Stories has enabled me to enhance my teaching practice and improve the student experience. My module promotes intergenerational practice, or in other words, methods of bringing groups of people of different ages together. Of particular note was the impact of the local primary school children on my final year undergraduate students. This highlighted just how much children have to teach us as older people and reinforced just how much intergenerational work is a two-way learning process.”
And Jayne Humphreys said: “For Seven Stories, this has been a wonderful opportunity to engage the children of Hotspur Primary and to work collaboratively with the University students. Using children’s literature to challenge, inspire and empower children and young people is at the heart of the work we do at Seven Stories and it was a pleasure to be part of a project which brought intergenerational groups together and engage children in our local community to think about these big issues.”
What’s next? The students have submitted their assignments reflecting on the workshop, and these are being assessed; I’ll also be interested to hear their reflections on this in their module evaluation questionnaires. Following that, we’ll be evaluating the project and thinking about plans for next year. So, watch this space!
Thanks to the GEO3135 students, Dr Michael Richardson, Jayne Humphreys and Hotspur Primary School for their contributions to this blog post.
Universities and cultural organisations are working more closely than ever before. New roles and initiatives are emerging to manage these collaborations…
Navigating a challenging funding landscape, arts and cultural organisations are increasingly collaborating to make their resources stretch further and engage new audiences. Universities are similarly turning to partners, who can help to demonstrate impact beyond the academy, support challenge-based research funding bids and enhance the (increasingly expensive) student experience.
Aside from these external drivers, there are synergies between the two sectors. Both arts organisations and HEIs can be seen as ‘anchor institutions’, not-for-profit organisations which contribute to learning, economic growth, skills development and community engagement within their regions. Many universities run their own cultural venues; some of our national cultural institutions are eligible to apply for RCUK funding through their status as Independent Research Organisations. You could say we’re natural partners.
For larger organisations managing multiple cultural or HEI partnerships, co-ordination functions often sit with a team within the organisation’s staff structure. The National Archives’ Academic Engagement team co-ordinate engagement with academic audiences; Kings College London’s Cultural Institute facilitates collaborations between the University and the cultural sector.
But as you drill down to a collaboration between an individual university and arts organisation, new partnership models and roles, like mine, are beginning to emerge.
Our partnership is built on a shared ambition: that Newcastle becomes a centre for excellence in children’s literature. My work focuses on initiatives which are genuinely beneficial for both organisations, support our jointly agreed objectives and progress our long-term relationship.
Of course, working for two different institutions isn’t perfect – just imagine working between four different offices and two IT systems – but it’s a model that’s proving successful. Since 2015, our partnership has generated over £800,000 worth of funded activity and engaged with over 100,000 people. And beyond the numbers, I think that more interesting and innovative things happen at this intersection.
A collective ‘brand’
An extension of this model is Opera North and the University of Leeds’ pioneering DARE collaboration, positioned as a collective ‘brand’ embedded within both organisations. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the partnership has impressive statistics, encompassing more than 250 projects and attracting £3million in new funding.
DARE Director Lesley Patrick says: “The fundamental pillars to building the relationship included identifying areas of common ambition, to form an equal partnership with a common language. This created a framework which removes ‘policing’ and allows conversations to breathe.”
“DARE has allowed each organisation to prioritise the development of initiatives that make a positive contribution to achieving its own ambitions. It drives the partners to think and act more broadly, outside the traditional spheres – it enables business development.”
Networks of partnerships
And as partnerships between the sectors increase, new co-ordination initiatives are developing to support, catalyse and highlight activity. Culture Forum North launched in 2015, bringing over 50 Higher Education and cultural sector partners in the North together to discuss collaborations. The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement’s MUPI project, which began in 2015, brokers and analyses partnership activity between small to medium-sized museums and HEIs.
There’s a culture change going on here: arts research and arts organisations are demonstrating that our sectors can work together innovatively and effectively. But external funding is still primarily sector-specific. Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council have yet to release a collaborative funding call. Perhaps there’s an opportunity here for our funders to work in partnership, too?
Thinking about collaborating with a university, what animal is a university like? Is it an octopus? A soaring eagle? A bee? Or a huge, slow-moving whale? That was the opening question posed to delegates at the NCCPE Engage Conference 2017, and set the tone for two days of creative debate about the nature of university collaborations.
In the first plenary, Ahmed Bawa of Universities South Africa focused on the ‘intensely local, and intensely global’ challenges which we face in society today. In a context of growing inequality, he encouraged universities to think hard about what they can do to further the social justice agenda. Newcastle’s Institute for Social Renewal, and Seven Stories’ work with children and young in some of the poorest areas of the North East, means this is a focus for the Vital North Partnership’s work.
Nancy Cantor’s plenary, on Rutgers University’s work as an anchor institution within Newark, New Jersey, considered social justice in the context of the “birth lottery”. Universities do brilliant work on widening participation, but generally focus on Year 6 and above. In my work with Seven Stories, I see first-hand the impact that engaging with the arts has from birth onwards; and I often wonder whether universities need to engage with children and young people at an earlier stage.
In a complementary mini-plenary, I heard Sophie Duncan and Paul Manners from the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement talk about their attempt to create a typology of public engagement activity, and the motivations behind it. This seemed quite a successful and helpful framework when considering a single project, but I struggled to see how the Vital North Partnership’s work as a whole would map onto this.
And of course, I also presented at the conference. I participated in the Co-production in Practice workshop, where I discussed building momentum within existing partnerships and came up with some top tips with the other delegates attending. I also took part in the poster party – here’s my poster, which captures just some of the highlights of the Vital North Partnership’s work in 2017:
So what is collaborating with a university like? Well, I would say a hybrid between an octopus and a whale. Newcastle University is a huge organisation, but through the Vital North Partnership, Seven Stories is collaborating with lots of different Schools and departments. A whoctopus, if you will. What do you think?
In the foreword to the recently-published anthology of fiction and poetry for young adults, A Change is Gonna Come (Stripes, 2017), philosopher Darren Chetty writes, “We can think of change as the space between who we are and who we want to be—between being and becoming—as individuals and as communities” (7-8).
This sentiment entirely encapsulates the motivation behind the Diverse Voices? symposium I helped to organize with Seven Stories, the UK’s National Centre for Children’s Books, and Newcastle University, a symposium where Chetty was a participant. During my year as Leverhulme Visiting Professor (2015-16), I formed a relationship with the people at Seven Stories Collections – archivists, curators, and librarians – that was both personal and professional. They were supportive of (and occasionally amused by my revolutionary passion for) my project to make Black British literature a more “normalized” part of British children’s literature. As I put it in the book that resulted from that year at Seven Stories, “The face of Britain might have changed after World War II, but not necessarily the hearts and minds of white British people. This is partly because the Blackness of Black Britons was made manifestly obvious and continually depicted as Other; but the whiteness of white British society has remained largely invisible” (Children’s Publishing and Black Britain5).
The Diverse Voices? symposium, held at Seven Stories, allowed some of the brightest thinkers in writing, publishing, librarianship and academia to come together and think about ways to ensure that real change would finally come to the UK’s children’s literature. This blog highlights some of the thoughts (both from the event, and from their more public commentary) of the main speakers of the day.
Catherine Johnson encapsulates the idea of Britishness/whiteness in her short story from A Change is Gonna Come, “Astounding Talent! Unequalled Performances!” In this story, the young protagonist is told to, “Fight the world . . . You are a black man in a white world. A foreigner” (69). When the main character protests that he was born in Norwich, the man responds, “I doubt if anyone else sees it that way” (70).
Although I was familiar with this attitude, that if you are Black, Britishness is out of reach, I knew that Seven Stories did not want to mirror this sentiment in their museum or archives. Collections and Exhibitions Director Sarah Lawrance pointed out on Friday that, “We have a longstanding commitment to collecting diverse authors and materials” at Seven Stories, but it has not always been an easy task for them.
Part of my remit during my Leverhulme year was to provide some recommendations for expanding the collection, but I was very conscious of the fact that I – like most of the Seven Stories staff – was white and middle-class, and an American to boot: the very picture of privilege. What is the point of a person who has always been privileged enough to raise her voice (in revolution or otherwise) speaking on behalf of those whose voices have been historically side-lined? I did not want to replicate old histories. I suggested we bring some intellectuals – writers, editors, librarians, publishers, academics, book people – from historically-marginalized groups to Seven Stories to hear from them directly. Sarah agreed – as did so many of the great names that we invited.
We called the symposium “Diverse Voices?” because it reflected Seven Stories’ previous Diverse Voices initiatives and left open the question of whose voices were heard and where those voices were welcome. It became part of Newcastle’s Freedom City 2017 project, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Newcastle University’s granting an honorary doctorate to Martin Luther King, Jr. The themes of Freedom City 2017 were those that King mentioned in his speech at the ceremony: the effects of war, poverty and racism on society. King had come to Newcastle from my current hometown of Buffalo, where he argued that these problems affected young people the most because “the best in these minds cannot come out” when they have to worry about their education, their housing, their ability to make their voices count.
I was lucky enough to discuss these ideas with author Alex Wheatle MBE in our Into Crongton with Alex Wheatle event on Thursday 23rd November 2017, who said that the characters in his Crongton series were affected by all of these issues – from World War II, which brought so many of their parents and grandparents to Britain, to the day-to-day poverty that prevents them from reaching their goals, to the institutional racism that keeps them “in their place”. All of Wheatle’s young adult characters in his Crongton series have creative and artistic dreams, but there remains a question over whether they will be able to achieve them. As he said at the symposium when talking about how whiteness influences prize-giving, “Otherness wasn’t quite adjudicated for.”
Otherness, or rather being othered, was something that had affected many of the speakers at the symposium. Filipino writer Candy Gourlay mentioned that her work had been translated to television with her main characters depicted as white because there was always “the assumption that if I had a hero, my hero would be white”. SF Said wondered if by only listing his initials on his books, he had created the same assumption: “The minute I took away the obvious ‘difference’ of my name, doors opened for me.”
Some of the participants mentioned historical moments when those doors were opened because of cultural change; author Beverley Naidoo talked about how “There were really close connections between anti-apartheid movements and what was going on in the UK” in the 1970s and 1980s. And librarian Jake Hope reminded the audience of the “radical roots” that led librarians (Black and white) to demand changes in publishing during that same time period. This sense of history was underscored by author Patrice Lawrence, who highlighted the importance of the historical record: “The joy of looking at archives,” she said, is that “you come to understand how we got to where we are.” And archivist and author S. I. Martin pointed out that archives could teach more than just adults: “Archives are a world that kids can write themselves into.”
There was at times a rumbling undercurrent of concern that the symposium was a good start whose promise might never be fulfilled. Author Ifeoma Onyefulu spoke those concerns out loud when she said, “It’s good to talk, but where’s the action?”
Many of the symposium participants found the pace of historical change too slow, and did not wait for a space to be made for them. Verna Wilkins, the founder of Tamarind and then of Firetree Books, talked about how her life’s work was “an attempt to redress the balance” in the world of publishing. The illustrator Yu Rong spoke about seeing a hole in the publishing world: “There is very little about China and Chinese people in UK children’s books” and so Rong has done her best to fill up that hole, at least a little bit.
But for almost everyone at the symposium, action by one group of people was not enough to bring real change for everyone. Instead, it will take hard work and difficult discussions to change children’s literature in the UK if we are going to make every child feel a sense of belonging in the world of books. We must read differently – think differently – speak differently. We must cross the barriers that keep us apart by any means necessary.
In Sita Brahmachari’s recent book for the publisher Barrington Stoke, Worry Angels (2017), she writes about the difficulty and necessity of communication:
“If someone doesn’t speak the same language as you . . . when you want them to understand not just the words that you say, but what you feel, then you try to speak in any way that you can . . . with your hands, with your eyes, with pictures in the sand . . . You act things out . . . you let the feeling show in your whole body . . . whatever way you can to show them you want to be your friend” (71).
It is this kind of communication we need to keep up between us all, even when it is hard. When it goes wrong – as it will – we must keep on trying. This is the only way to ensure that the change we want will come in British children’s books – for all kids.
On 13th November 1967, Dr King came to Newcastle to accept his award, and in a moving address spoke of “three urgent, and indeed, great, problems that we face not only in the United States of America, but all over the world, today. That is the problem of racism, the problem of poverty, and the problem of war.”
Half a century on, the Freedom City 2017 festival aims to focus on these three problems, bringing Dr King’s legacy to life for a new generation and stimulating debate.
Newcastle University and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books are both getting involved in the commemorations, and the two organisations are collaborating to present a number of joint events.
Fickling Lecture on Developments in Children’s Literature
Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE on ‘Facing Adversity with a Smile’
Tuesday 3rd October 2017, 5.30 – 6.45pm, Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building, Newcastle University
Floella is also an actress, presenter (I have very early memories of seeing Floella on the BBC’s Play School and its successors), writer, independent producer, businesswoman and working peer. She has campaigned for 25 years on behalf of children and young people, and for diversity to be reflected in every aspect of our society.
Thursday 23rd November 2017, 6pm – 7pm, followed by a book signing, Percy Building, Newcastle University
Alex Wheatle MBE, winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2016 and author of young adult novels Liccle Bit (2015), Crongton Knights (2016) and Straight Outta Crongton (2017), will be in conversation with Professor Karen Sands O’Connor (SUNY Buffalo State) in this free author event.
How do the Freedom City 2017 themes of war, poverty and racism play out in Crongton, where gangs rule the streets? We’ll find out…
This event is jointly hosted by Newcastle University’s School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics and Seven Stories.
Diverse Voices? Curating a National History of Children’s Books
Friday 24th November 2017, 9.30am – 6pm, Seven Stories
Seven Stories is the National Centre for Children’s Books – how are Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voices represented in our national story of children’s literature?
In this one-day symposium, we’ll be exploring this question with speakers including Sita Brahmachari, Candy Gourlay, Jake Hope, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, SI Martin, Beverley Naidoo, SF Said, Professor Karen Sands O’Connor, Alex Wheatle OBE and Verna Wilkins.
In Conversation with Catherine Johnson and Patrice Lawrence
Friday 24th November 2017, 4.30 – 6pm, Seven Stories
We’re opening up the last session of the Diverse Voices symposium to a broader audience. Join us to hear authors Catherine Johnson and Patrice Lawrence talk about their work and reflect on issues around children’s literature and race.
I’ve just enjoyed reading Catherine’s The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo (2015), and Patrice’s first book Orangeboy (2016) was a fantastic (and deservedly award-winning) debut. They’ll be chaired by teacher Darren Chetty, who contributed to the 2016 anthology The Good Immigrant.
This event is jointly hosted by Newcastle University’s Institute for Social Renewal and Seven Stories.
The project aimed to introduce the students to Newcastle University and develop their creative writing and artistic skills by challenging them to create their own fairy tales. 60 Year 8 pupils from Excelsior Academy,St Cuthbert’s High School and Park View School explored fairy tales through two days of workshops at Newcastle University, led by Newcastle University Library’s Outreach Team.
On their second visit to the University, the children focussed on illustration, taking part in a visit to Fine Art at Newcastle, and an illustration workshop facilitated by the Hatton Gallery’s Education Officer.
Day 2 also included a fairy tale Collections handling with Seven Stories. Paula was really keen for Seven Stories to be involved in this project because ‘it gave us an opportunity to work in partnership with the Special Collections team, to share our Collection in a different environment and give children hands-on access to archival material.’ She chose to show a selection of books and original illustrations from the Seven Stories Collection‘to show the variety of different techniques and styles that illustrators use’.
I went along to help facilitate the Seven Stories sessions, where Paula introduced the material – and then we let the children explore the Collection for themselves!
For Gillian Johnson, Education Outreach Officer at Newcastle University Library, “one of the key aims of the project was to inspire the young people taking part by giving them the opportunity to engage with exciting materials and meet different people outside of the classroom. And the fantastic original artwork shown to them did just that!”
I really enjoyed talking to the young people about the Seven Stories Collection. Paula commented that “the children were clearly interested in the material and asked lots of intelligent questions – and there were lightbulb moments for the teachers, too!” Gillian said, “The children were really engaged with the Seven Stories archive handling session. They were keen to study the illustrations up close; they put gloves on to handle the material and used magnifying glasses to look in detail at the artwork.”
What did the teachers think? “Exposure to original illustrations was a great experience for my students – they were able to see that they don’t have to create the perfect product in their first attempt!”
After the two days of workshops at Newcastle University, the children completed their fairy tale stories and illustrations back at their schools. Then, the Library combined these into a beautiful volume and presented a copy to each student at a celebration event held at the University.
Reflecting on the project, Gillian said, “We were really impressed with the high quality of the finished stories and illustrations produced by the children. The quality of the work shows that the students had really benefitted from the fantastic resources and expertise they had access to throughout the project.”
And the teachers were equally impressed! “My students are now lucky enough to call themselves published authors at the age of 12/13! They have been given exposure to so many different areas which have, and will continue, to inspire them.”
The seminar was suggested by Sage Gateshead’sDave Camlin. It gave us the chance to reflect on our time working together on Northern Bridge so far, and “to explore some of the tensions and opportunities inherent in collaborative approaches to the generation of new knowledge.”
Of course, there are tensions; when you bring together any group of academic institutions, or cultural organisations, there is competition – for students, for audiences, for funding. And although learning is at the heart of what both universities and cultural venues do, the processes through which we generate knowledge are quite different. We speak different languages. We have different drivers. Working in collaboration requires negotiating all of these factors.
Another tension which formed a focus of conversation during the day was the inequality of engagement with the arts. The Warwick Commission’s Enriching Britain, Culture, Creative and Growth Report states that “the wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population forms the most culturally active segment of all”. How to reach those beyond that 8% is certainly a challenge.
But democratising culture and knowledge is becoming increasingly important in both the higher education and cultural sectors. The Research Excellence Framework emphasises the impact of research ‘beyond academia’; Arts Council England encourages the organisations they fund to reach more demographically diverse audiences.
From my experience of working on the Vital North Partnership between Newcastle University and Seven Stories, collaboration holds exciting opportunities. Partnership helps to make our activities more interesting and diverse. At the intersections between universities, cultural organisations and communities, we can draw on our collective expertise to create new kinds of shared knowledge. And with increasing pressure on arts budgets, we can pool our resources and become more efficient.
I explored the Vital North Partnership’s unique ecology at the seminar, giving a Pecha Kucha presentation:
It was also interesting to reflect on what role Northern Bridge, as a Doctoral Training Partnership, has as part of our shared ecology. I think the ways in which universities and arts organisations collaborate is changing. We are asking different questions, and having new conversations. I work at this boundary – and I’m interested to see where we’re headed next.