The Vital North Partnership works with Newcastle University students across the three University faculties and at different stages of academic study. Through formal teaching activities, jointly organised events, placements and internships, and collaborative PhDs, I find students are really inspiring and enthusiastic partners to work with!
In July 2019, I went to the Newcastle University Professional Services Conference and the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference to present a poster about Newcastle University and Seven Stories’ work on teaching and learning in partnership in 2018/19. Here’s the poster that I presented:
It was great to be able to share and talk about lots of different activities at these conferences. I included our Sense Explorers workshops in summer 2019, the music events that students have organised and supported, as well as the sea creatures that the STEM outreach team brought to visit Seven Stories back in September. It was also really interesting to look at the subjects that the Vital North Partnership covers, which shows the breadth of disciplinary areas we engage with.
The poster also featured Dr Michael Richardson’s third year module, ‘Geographies of Gender and Generation’, where students worked with Seven Stories to plan and deliver storytelling workshops with two local schools. And I even had space to mention some of our placements and projects!
I really enjoyed both events, which gave me an opportunity to talk to colleagues across Newcastle University as well as from other higher education institutions around the UK. They were both inspiring days and I made some interesting connections for the future.
Air pollution has a particularly damaging effect on children. They’re still growing and breathe faster than adults do. They also live closer to the ground, where the most polluting gases from vehicles accumulate. Pollution from traffic has been linked to problems with brain development, stunted growth, respiratory conditions, cancers and 300,000 child deaths worldwide.
Children themselves are far from oblivious to all this. The school climate strikes show that young people are forcing air pollution and the climate crisis to the top of the political agenda. The strikes tell us that children demand a platform to challenge pollution in their environment. Unable to voice their concerns in school, they are forced to take radical action. What if instead there was a way to work with children in tackling air pollution and climate change?
Through my research, I look for ways that we can give children the tools, the skills and the confidence to affect change in the cities they live in. With the help of teachers and my colleagues in Open Lab, we’ve come up with Sense Explorers, a toolkit of activities and resources to involve young people in transforming places and the environment.
And this summer, I’ll be delivering four free Sense Explorers workshops with Seven Stories! As part of each workshop, we’ll be exploring spaces around the Ouseburn. Using some digital tools we’ll be collecting data about air pollution, and we’ll also be asking young people to think about what their own five senses are telling them. Can they see or hear what may be causing pollution?
Then looking at this data, we’ll be asking our Sense Explorers to think about what they would do to make the Ouseburn better. I can’t wait to see what ideas they come up with!
Here’s a video about our Sense Explorers workshops at Seven Stories:
Sessions like Sense Explorers help children to learn about the future, what it holds for them, and how they can make it better. We should be showing them what they can – and should – do to make their cities less polluted places.
Urban planners and politicians are often hesitant to work with children, but they shouldn’t be – we need to embrace their creativity and passion to take radical action on air pollution and climate change. More now than ever, we need the original ideas that only children can bring.
Thanks Sean, and to The Conversation for allowing us to republish this content. The four Sense Explorers workshops are now fully booked. We are considering adding some extra sessions so do book on our waiting list (available on the event booking page) and we will let you know if spaces become available.
How can children’s literature collections contribute to supporting children’s health? Is there a role that Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books can play in health settings? How can sharing stories enhance children and young people’s mental wellbeing? In this blog post, find out about how Newcastle University and Seven Stories are starting to explore these questions through the Vital North Partnership’s work…
“What happens in pregnancy and early childhood impacts on physical and emotional health all the way through to adulthood… the earliest experiences, starting in the womb, shape a baby’s brain development.”
The first 1001 days of a child’s life are critical. A period of rapid growth, babies’ brains are shaped by their early experiences and interactions they have with the grownups who care for them. Healthy development, including language development, from conception to age two “is linked to improved mental and physical health, reductions in risk and antisocial behaviour and achievement at school and beyond.”(The 1001 Critical Days).
Seven Stories deliver award-winning learning and family reading programmes, which champion reading for pleasure and support literacy development. Seven Stories also have expertise working with children with additional learning and sensory needs, and delivering activities in hospice and other health settings. Newcastle University’s internationally recognised Faculty of Medical Sciences tackles challenges in health and healthcare, including ageing, cancer, cell biology, genetics, drug development, medicine in society and neuroscience. Through the Vital North Partnership, we aim to realise a range of social, educational and cultural benefits – and exploring public health is becoming an increasing area of focus for our work together.
We’re starting to explore how we can collaborate with public health providers and enhance public understanding of health and wellbeing, and we’re already planning some interesting activity. Here’s what I can share so far about our 2019 plans…
What makes us, us?
On Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd March 2019, staff and students from Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience and School of Psychology delivered a weekend of activity, ‘What Makes Us, Us?’, at Seven Stories. Led by Dr Ann Fitchett and Dr Billie Moffat-Knox, children and families visiting Seven Stories engaged with Newcastle University students to explore what it means to be human – what we have in common, and what makes us unique. Through different activity stations, families learnt about brain science, why acts of kindness make us happy and how we see colours.
Henry Marsh on ‘brain surgery and other stories’
Thinking about how children’s books can engage with health narratives and medical research, we’re looking forward to this year’s Fickling Lecture on Developments in Children’s Literature with Henry Marsh, neurosurgeon and author. Marsh pioneered techniques in operating on the brain under local anaesthetic and has written two books about his experience as a neurosurgeon.
Henry Marsh will be discussing how doctors, witnesses and participants in the stories of their patients’ lives, are beginning to tell children’s stories about their practice. He will explain what he thinks makes a good medical story for younger readers.
Enhancing young people’s resilience with Readers in Residence
I’m also very pleased to say that the Vital North Partnership has secured funding from Newcastle University’s Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty Impact Fund to support a new project. This will bring Seven Stories’ Creative Learning and Engagement team and the Children’s Literature Unit together to explore how children’s literature can be used to support young people’s wellbeing.
I am excited about the potential impact of this new focus for our work together – and I believe that through the Vital North Partnership, Seven Stories and Newcastle University can enhance and promote public health, and particularly children’s health, in the North East and beyond.
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/
While I was visiting, Annie showed me the creatures that live at Dove Marine, and told me about her work on engaging children and young people through taking marine science activities out to other venues. It struck me that it could be really fascinating to explore this with Seven Stories’ visitors, too.
So, on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th September 2017, Seven Stories and Marine Sciences collaborated to offer a special ‘Under the Sea’ themed weekend!
Faculty Outreach Officer Charlotte Foster led a team of students and together they took over Seven Stories’ Studio space. And they brought some amazing marine creatures with them!
Seven Stories’ visitors had the opportunity to see and handle starfish, sea anenomes, crabs and lobsters in designated handling sessions. It was amazing to see these creatures up close and learn about their behaviours and habitats. They fascinated both adults and children – even if some of them found Larry the lobster a bit scary…
Students from the Street Science team supported the handling sessions, origami and colouring in crafts, and an activity station all about marine conservation.
And Seven Stories’ staff got involved as well! They delivered under the sea-themed storytimes, colourful displays and decorations in the bookshop and café, and I even spotted some crustacean croissants…
Cathy Brumby, Seven Stories’ Senior Visitor Services Co-ordinator, said: “Charlotte and her team were fab! So friendly and approachable. The craft was great and well received, as well as the actual creatures, of course. It was lovely to be able to extend the activity throughout the building.”
Charlotte said: “Staff and students from Newcastle University’s Dove Marine Laboratory had a wonderful time introducing sea creatures at the Seven Stories ‘Under the sea’ event. It was a fantastic setting and Seven Stories were incredibly supportive (some even joined in holding a starfish or two!)
The weekend was a great opportunity for the next generation to learn about our amazing oceans. The team at the Dove hopes to continue working alongside Seven Stories to help inspire and enthuse families about the world around them.”
Seven Stories’ mission is to celebrate and share children’s books, and there are some amazing children’s books all about science. From books like Carnovsky and Rachel Williams’ Illuminature, where you can discover different animals using a three colour RGB lens, to books like Andrea Beaty and David Roberts’ Rosie Revere, Engineer, which comes with engineering activity kits, there are lots of titles which encourage children to think about science and provide STEM role models.
When I heard that Seven Stories were thinking about taking part in British Science Week, I recommended that they connected up with Newcastle University’s Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering. What better way to explore science with our visitors than inviting some real scientists to celebrate with us?
So on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th March 2017, the Street Science team took over the Studio at Seven Stories to celebrate British Science Week 2017. The Street Scientists are a group of current students studying STEM subjects at Newcastle University. They bring science to life using ordinary household items – bottles of water, drills, toys… even toilet seats!
Street Scientists James, Jenny, Kathryn, Nina, Pete, Jessica, Lysander, Nimarta, Phoebe and Rachel talked to our visitors and showed them lots of fun experiments. I think it’s evident from these photos how much fun the families had and how engaged even our youngest visitors were – a very happy British Science Week!