Hello! I’m Anna and I live in Gateshead, although I am originally from Northumberland. I came to the Museum Studies MA course with the aim of beginning a career in the museums sector, alongside developing my practice as an illustrator.
Hi, I’m Amy and I’m originally from County Durham. I moved to Newcastle 5 years ago when I got my place at Newcastle University to do my Ancient History BA. I decided to do the MA with the intention of (hopefully) being able to get a job in museum learning after. And after all there’s no better place for history than in a museum!
Tell me about the Museums Studies MA course – how are you finding studying at Newcastle?
Amy: I’m loving it! I couldn’t think of a city more suited to a Museum Studies course than Newcastle – there are so many museums and galleries on your doorstep you’re spoilt for choice. I love Newcastle and can’t imagine leaving!
Anna: I could not have asked for a better experience, in all honesty. The course at Newcastle has a great reputation and as I was keen to stay in the North East to help contribute towards the growing arts industry here, it was the perfect choice.
What attracted you to do a placement at Seven Stories?
Anna: What didn’t attract me! Having specialised in creating illustrated books during my undergraduate degree, I have had an interest in the work that goes on at Seven Stories for a while. I previously had some of my illustration work displayed in the visitor centre, which I found very exciting.
Amy: I’m a long-time fan of Seven Stories. I actually came to the opening in 2005 and met Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt; I LOVED Jacqueline Wilson’s books so Nick Sharratt drawing me my own Tracey Beaker, on the cover of my tattered book, is one of my favourite childhood memories.
So, what have you been up to on your placements?
Amy: I’ve been based with the Creative Learning and Engagement team and I’ve been able to learn a lot about Seven Stories offerings, both onsite and in schools.
I’ve shadowed EY, KS1 and KS2 workshops as well as spending a couple of days with Creative Associates learning about the Reader in Residence and Reading for Pleasure offerings.
I’ve also being analysing and interpreting data regarding the learning programmes and spotting any trends and patterns.
Anna: I have been primarily based with the Seven Stories Collections team. My main job has been to catalogue the Fritz Wegner collection, which Seven Stories acquired in 2017.
I have had the opportunity to work in the visitor centre on the de-installation of the Comics exhibition, and on the install for the new Where Your Wings Were exhibition. The tasks I was involved with included removing and packing artworks and display items, assisting in the hanging of artworks, and sourcing some images used in the displays.
How is your placement helping you to develop the skills you’ll need for a career in the museums sector?
Anna: I came to the MA course at Newcastle University with little practical experience of working in a museum environment. The placement has helped me put my theoretical knowledge from the MA course into practice. Working at Seven Stories has given me access to experts in the industry and enabled me to work directly with the collection.
Amy: I already have experience of delivering workshops and activities so doing my placement at Seven Stories meant that I could work with data, figures and reports to learn first-hand how data interpretation can be used to inform the future progression of a learning programme.
It’s something I normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do and I’ve really enjoyed doing something different!
What have you learned from your placement at Seven Stories?
Amy: I’ve learned so much but my favourite part was learning about how much stories and reading can positively impact a child’s development and ultimately improve their academic performance and confidence.
Anna: I’ve learned that a huge amount of hard work, dedication and love goes into maintaining the collections! Before beginning my placement, I was of the belief that museum roles are well defined and separate from one another. I now know that multitasking and cross-discipline work is becoming a more common way of working.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Anna: I would like to thank all of the wonderful staff I have worked with. As an illustrator, it has been an absolute delight to work with original artworks, and it has really inspired me in my own practice.
Amy: I didn’t know it was possible but my time here has made me an even bigger Seven Stories fan!
Thanks Amy and Anna! It’s been a pleasure to work with you both and good luck with the rest of your MA studies!
Inspired by hearing about the ‘A Manchester Alphabet’ project, where 8 primary schools in the North West created their own heritage alphabets, Newcastle University Library led a project with nine classes of Year 5 children, who researched, wrote and illustrated their own alphabet books exploring their local heritage.
Gillian got in touch with Paula Wride, Seven Stories’ Collections Officer, to find out about alphabet books in their Collection. Alongside the extensive Pat Garrett ‘ABC books’ collection, Seven Stories hold original archives for books including Judy Brook’s Mrs Noah’s ABC 123, Robert Crowther’s pop-up Most Amazing Hide and Seek Alphabet Book and Beverley Naidoo and Prodeepta Das’ S is for South Africa.
Over the course of the CPD day, the teachers explored the alphabet book collections, and went on a heritage walk around central Newcastle to find out about the history of the area. They explored different artistic techniques for illustrating their alphabets with the Hatton Gallery’s Education team and tried out creative and non-fiction writing styles.
Next, the teachers used this framework and additional support provided in school by the University Library to develop their project, and engaged each class with creating their own heritage alphabets.
Finally, the children’s artwork and writing was professionally collated by Michael Sharp from the University Library’s Special Collections team to make a series of beautiful alphabet books. These were printed by Print Services, Newcastle University and presented to the children in a special assembly in school – along with their Heritage Schools plaque from Historic England!
For Gillian: “Working with local primary schools was great for Newcastle University Library. It gave us the chance to raise awareness of our Special Collections amongst local teachers and demonstrate how individual items from our collections can be used to inspire fun and creative educational projects.”
For Paula at Seven Stories: “Creating the digital resource for this project was a real bonus of this collaboration – this is a living resource that has a legacy on our website. We loved highlighting this project to the authors and illustrators whose collections were used.”
And Hazel from the Hatton Gallery agrees: “For the Hatton Gallery, it was a great opportunity to work in collaboration with Newcastle University Library, schools, Historic England and Seven Stories.”
What did the teachers think? One of the teachers who participated said: “We are proud to be a Heritage School. It has given children an amazing sense of pride seeing their book in print. Each child has gained new experiences through heritage walks, walks around the immediate school area, a bridges walk along the Tyne as well as working with the Hatton Gallery artist.”
And the young people loved it too! Students said:
· “Everyone put so much effort in.”
· “It was fun learning new things about the area.”
· “I’ve never had a book with my work in and now I do I’m really proud of myself.”
Thanks to the project, there are now an additional 5 Heritage Schools in the North East. Historic England’s Victoria Angel said: “The books are absolutely fantastic – they’re wonderful. It was great to see how inspired the schools’ senior leadership teams were by them! The children really saw that the books reflected their area, and their poetry, artwork, prose, research and independent learning is clearly demonstrated in the books.”
Evaluating the project, we reflected on what an interesting collaboration this has been – and we’re hoping it will lead to additional partnership work in the future. And aren’t the alphabet books that the children created amazing?
Thank you to colleagues at Newcastle University Library, Historic England, the Hatton Gallery and Seven Stories for their contributions to this post.
Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books and Newcastle University share the ambition that Newcastle becomes a centre for excellence in children’s literature – for collections, research, learning, engagement and professional practice.
From 2015 – 2018, Seven Stories and Newcastle University worked together on the Vital North Partnership, a strategic development programme funded by Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund. This aimed to:
Enhance and scale up their collaborative partnership
Increase Seven Stories’ financial resilience and diversify income
Support Seven Stories’ long-term business planning
Arts Council England funding, matched by Newcastle University, supported the employment of a Partnership Manager (me!) to lead the collaboration, and provided a project budget.
Developing a museum / university partnership
The Vital North Partnership has strengthened and significantly developed Seven Stories’ collaboration with Newcastle University, through activities including:
Developing a detailed options appraisal for Seven Stories’ future infrastructure, and securing funding through the Higher Education Innovation Fund to explore models for the long-term future of the collaboration.
Through the project, Seven Stories’ work became embedded within Newcastle University’s structures, and enhanced their financial resilience.
For Newcastle University, new research collaborations were developed, wider audiences accessed academic research, and the Partnership provided unique opportunities for teaching and learning.
The partnership between the two organisations has been recognised by Arts Council England through the 2018 – 22 National Portfolio scheme, and with match funding from Newcastle University, we are looking forward to an ambitious programme over the next four years. And for more information on that – watch this space!
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!
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.
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.
Victoria: Hello! I’m from Texas and graduated from Texas State University with a BA in philosophy, and trained as a special education teacher before starting my MA here in Newcastle.
Samantha: I’m Samantha Dunning. I did my undergraduate in Anthropology from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. I always loved museums, both visiting and volunteering, so decided to get my MA Museums Studies and hopefully turn my love into a career.
Tell me about the Museums Studies MA course – how are you finding studying at Newcastle?
Samantha: I’m very happy with my decision to attend Newcastle University. The modules were stimulating, theoretical and practical. I’ve enjoyed living in Newcastle. There are plenty of museums and historical places to visit. It’s also one of the friendliest places I’ve been.
Victoria: It’s been absolutely exhilarating! The course has been very practically useful, and we’ve had some fascinating guest lecturers and opportunities for hands-on work. The museums in and around Newcastle are all top-notch and there’s always something new and exciting to go check out.
What attracted you to do a placement at Seven Stories?
Victoria: I actually heard about Seven Stories before I even moved over here; everyone who knows my love of fairytales and children’s books told me I would fall in love with Seven Stories, and they were completely right! Having the opportunity to do my placement working with children and books was perfect for me.
Samantha: I have done little archival work in the past and wanted the knowledge and experience. With the installation of a new exhibition coming, I saw the opportunity to do other museum work. I wanted to get as much out of my placement as possible. Seven Stories offered that. As a lover of books, I knew the collections and exhibitions here would be of great interest to me.
So, what have you been up to on your placements?
Samantha: I have done a lot of different work in my 30 days. I helped with the framing for the Comics exhibition. I also created facsimiles of older, more delicate comics that the visitors could page through and read. I assisted in the de-installation of the Michael Morpurgo exhibition and the installation of the Comics exhibition. Finally, I worked on a new archive acquisition: researching, sorting, numbering, repackaging, etc.
How is your placement helping you to develop the skills you’ll need for a career in the museums sector?
Victoria: Being able to focus solely on the way museum learning is developed and delivered has been so useful; our MA course touches on a little of everything, which is wonderful, but having the opportunity to see how the particular area in which I want to make a career works in the real world has been fascinating – and, honestly, a lot of fun. I love museum learning but I definitely needed some practical know-how to back up the enthusiasm!
Samantha: I have definitely received some practical, hands-on experience in a museum and archive. I could use all of this in the future. I also witnessed many discussions and decision-making that I could look back to if I ever find myself in similar situations.
What have you learned from your placement at Seven Stories?
Samantha: I have learned some conservation techniques, archival research and database entry, the process of exhibition installation, condition checking and much more.
Victoria: I’ve learned how much impact reading outside of schools has for children both in school and in life in general, and how that informs museum learning programmes. Seven Stories does amazing work immersing children in stories, and that makes an incredible difference in school performance in addition to just being a whole lot of fun for the children. Museum learning programmes have a unique opportunity to be as engaging and entertaining as they are practical and useful.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Victoria: Many, many thanks to everyone on the Learning and Participation team and the visitor’s centre staff for making my placement experience so fantastic! I’m so thrilled I had the opportunity to be a part of the wonderful work Seven Stories does.
Thanks for all your hard work Sam and Victoria, and good luck with the rest of your MA!
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.
The documentary, which will begin on Tuesday 8th August at 9pm, explores the concept of utopia by looking at this from a range of different perspectives. From Thomas Moore’s sixteenth-century coining of the term, to Newcastle’s own Thomas Spence, Soviet spa towns, wikipedians, feminist theatre, Steve Reich, Minecraft, Star Trek and beyond, the series is certainly wide-ranging.
Richard Clay, Professor of Digital Humanities in Newcastle University’s Faculty of Humanieis, Arts and Social Sciences, explains how the opportunity to curate Utopia came about: “I’ve done a couple of BBC4 documentaries in the past (The French Revolution: Tearing up History and A Brief History of Graffiti) and a production company approached me and said they’d been commissioned to make some films about utopia for the BBC with me writing and presenting. At first I thought it’s just too big a topic, spanning historical periods and cultures. But I concluded that it’d be a fascinating subject to explore and an amazing experience to film – which it was, especially the time we spent with young people at Seven Stories. Their vision and principles made me wonder whether Jean-Jacque Rousseau was right back in the eighteenth century – we’re born utopian and then corrupted by society…”
Professor Grenby led a workshop at Seven Stories with a group of Year 5 children from West Jesmond Primary School to explore how both historical and contemporary children’s books influence children’s visions of alternative worlds. Using the concept of utopia as a starting point, the children created drawings and talked about the other worlds they conceived of.
Professor Grenby said: “Seven Stories was the perfect venue for filming, being itself a sort of utopian vision of what a child-friendly museum of children’s books can be.
The children from West Jesmond Primary School were fantastic. We asked them to draw pictures of their own personal utopias. The results were really wonderful. Waterworlds, worlds floating in the air, a city situated on a gigantic flower, with different zones for different grades of celebrities. When we asked the children what the rules would be in their utopian societies, there was a definite air of radicalism. One girl said that cars would be against the law. Another said there’d be no kings or queens! One of the boys said that everyone would have to do at least half an hour’s sport every day.
But not all of these fantasy worlds were happy places. In one girl’s vision of the future, all the people were sad because they had to live in the sea, and all the fish were unhappy because they had to live on the land. It was a remarkable insight into how utopian thinking gives a really direct insight into people’s most pressing concerns in the now.”
John Beattie, Business Development Manager at Seven Stories, worked with Professor Grenby and the production company, Clear Story, to set up and support the filming. John said:
“Dystopias are a trend in contemporary children’s literature – with titles like The Hunger Games and Divergent dominating bestseller lists – so it was really interesting to watch the young people discussing utopias with Professor Grenby. Books can help children to identify with and shape the world around them, and exploring utopian worlds provides positive models for children to explore how society might develop in the future.”
And I’ll leave it to Professor Richard Clay to have the last word: “the whole crew loved filming at Seven Stories. So big thanks to your team, that great school, and those fab youngsters. The sequences we shot look wonderful!”
I’m looking forward to watching the documentary, and if you miss it tonight, then make sure you catch it on BBC iPlayer!