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

Have you ever considered how the design of spaces can help children learn and explore? In this blog post, Daniel Goodricke provides an overview of the research project, ‘Children in the Archive and the City: Collaborative Practice with Seven Stories’.

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

The project investigates how children interact with museum, archive and reading spaces, as well as the broader context of the city, and explores how spaces could be reimagined with and for children and young people. The investigation aims to:

  • identify changes that can be made to the Seven Stories’ spaces to bring children’s books to a broader demographic
  • develop and test a series of possible design scenarios and alternative configurations of museum, archive and reading spaces to further encourage children and young people to interact with Seven Stories’ Collection
  • propose changes that can be made to both physical and digital spaces in order to bring maximum benefit to people of the North East, as well as national and international stakeholders.
Reading sill in the Story Station, Level 4 of Seven Stories’ Visitor Centre. Image source: Daniel Goodricke.

As an architect and educator, I was motivated to undertake this research project following my experience as part of multi-disciplinary teams responsible for the design and delivery of centrally-funded secondary school projects as part of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP). Whilst the programmes were commendably ambitious; tasking school governors, principals, staff, local communities and, even, the pupils themselves with developing an ‘educational vision’, the projects often soon reverted to more normative and routine production modes.

Acknowledging end users as experts in their own experience, this project positions children and young people at the centre of the design process by means of a series of co-design workshops. Employing creative research tools, such as body mapping, illustrated writing and sensory collage, each workshop endeavours to gain a better understanding of children and young people’s current experiences of Seven Stories spaces across a range of scales including their interactions with books, ‘nooks and crannies’, archive, building, and the city. The Finnish-born American architect, Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) admonished designers to:

“[a]lways consider a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”

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

The workshops, supported by continued creative dialogue, will also begin to articulate the goals, priorities and values of stakeholders, providing participants with a direct involvement in the decision making of architectural proposals. In respect of the latter, I recently attended a series of three linked seminars on the theme of Architecture and Education – specifically how architecture may be used to express educational aims and values  – held at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. I hope to elaborate on some of the presented ideas with reference to my project in a subsequent blog post.

Professor Sir Christopher Frayling’s highly influential paper, Research in Art and Design (1993), categorised the varying relationships between research and design (or, architecture) as constituting one of either, ‘into’, ‘for’ or ‘through’ the discipline. This project adopts a ‘through’ approach as it utilises the design process as a methodology in order to undertake the research investigation itself. Such as approach also provides participants, particularly children and young people (given how little emphasis is placed on architecture within the National curriculum), with a relatively unique experience, knowledge and understanding of architecture and the built environment around them, as well as the skills and confidence to become involved in debates surrounding it within their own communities. The Ouseburn Trust, including the now amalgamated Ouseburn Futures,  have long engaged residents, workers and visitors to the Valley in influencing what happens there and shaping the regeneration process.

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

The findings of the project will culminate in the production of a design brief, developed through the close dialogue with representatives of Seven Stories, end users, neighbouring communities and other stakeholders. The brief will assist in articulating Seven Stories’ capital ambition of a new permanent and accessible home in Newcastle, as it aims to establish itself as an international centre of excellence for children’s literature, by defining the scope and outlining the deliverables of any future capital development project.

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

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

Q&A: Museum Studies MA placements at Seven Stories

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

Hi Anna and Amy! Please introduce yourselves.

Hello! I’m Anna and I live in Gateshead, although I am originally from Northumberland. I came to the Museum Studies MA course with the aim of beginning a career in the museums sector, alongside developing my practice as an illustrator.

Hi, I’m Amy and I’m originally from County Durham. I moved to Newcastle 5 years ago when I got my place at Newcastle University to do my Ancient History BA. I decided to do the MA with the intention of (hopefully) being able to get a job in museum learning after. And after all there’s no better place for history than in a museum!

Newcastle is home to many museums and attractions, including the Baltic art gallery and the Sage Gateshead. Image: Newcastle University, photography by Chris Bishop
Newcastle is home to many museums and attractions, including the Baltic art gallery and the Sage Gateshead. Image: Newcastle University, photography by Chris Bishop
Tell me about the Museums Studies MA course – how are you finding studying at Newcastle?

Amy: I’m loving it! I couldn’t think of a city more suited to a Museum Studies course than Newcastle – there are so many museums and galleries on your doorstep you’re spoilt for choice. I love Newcastle and can’t imagine leaving!

Anna: I could not have asked for a better experience, in all honesty. The course at Newcastle has a great reputation and as I was keen to stay in the North East to help contribute towards the growing arts industry here, it was the perfect choice.

What attracted you to do a placement at Seven Stories?

Anna: What didn’t attract me! Having specialised in creating illustrated books during my undergraduate degree, I have had an interest in the work that goes on at Seven Stories for a while. I previously had some of my illustration work displayed in the visitor centre, which I found very exciting.

Amy: I’m a long-time fan of Seven Stories. I actually came to the opening in 2005 and met Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt; I LOVED Jacqueline Wilson’s books so Nick Sharratt drawing me my own Tracey Beaker, on the cover of my tattered book, is one of my favourite childhood memories.

St. Wilfrid's Primary School visit Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, Image by Richard Kenworthy
St. Wilfrid’s Primary School visit Seven Stories’ Time to Get Up Exhibition. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, Image by Richard Kenworthy
So, what have you been up to on your placements?

Amy: I’ve been based with the Creative Learning and Engagement team and I’ve been able to learn a lot about Seven Stories offerings, both onsite and in schools.

I’ve shadowed EY, KS1 and KS2 workshops as well as spending a couple of days with Creative Associates learning about the Reader in Residence and Reading for Pleasure offerings.

I’ve also being analysing and interpreting data regarding the learning programmes and spotting any trends and patterns.  

Anna: I have been primarily based with the Seven Stories Collections team. My main job has been to catalogue the Fritz Wegner collection, which Seven Stories acquired in 2017.

I have had the opportunity to work in the visitor centre on the de-installation of the Comics exhibition, and on the install for the new Where Your Wings Were exhibition. The tasks I was involved with included removing and packing artworks and display items, assisting in the hanging of artworks, and sourcing some images used in the displays.

David Almond's notebooks, part of the Seven Stories Collection. Image: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children's Books
David Almond’s notebooks, part of the Seven Stories Collection. Image: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books
How is your placement helping you to develop the skills you’ll need for a career in the museums sector?

Anna: I came to the MA course at Newcastle University with little practical experience of working in a museum environment. The placement has helped me put my theoretical knowledge from the MA course into practice. Working at Seven Stories has given me access to experts in the industry and enabled me to work directly with the collection.

Amy: I already have experience of delivering workshops and activities so doing my placement at Seven Stories meant that I could work with data, figures and reports to learn first-hand how data interpretation can be used to inform the future progression of a learning programme.

It’s something I normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do and I’ve really enjoyed doing something different!

Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy
Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy
What have you learned from your placement at Seven Stories?

Amy: I’ve learned so much but my favourite part was learning about how much stories and reading can positively impact a child’s development and ultimately improve their academic performance and confidence.

Anna: I’ve learned that a huge amount of hard work, dedication and love goes into maintaining the collections! Before beginning my placement, I was of the belief that museum roles are well defined and separate from one another. I now know that multitasking and cross-discipline work is becoming a more common way of working.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Anna: I would like to thank all of the wonderful staff I have worked with. As an illustrator, it has been an absolute delight to work with original artworks, and it has really inspired me in my own practice.

Amy: I didn’t know it was possible but my time here has made me an even bigger Seven Stories fan!

Thanks Amy and Anna! It’s been a pleasure to work with you both and good luck with the rest of your MA studies!

Filming Seven Stories’ Life-Changing Stories campaign

Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books are currently raising £7,000 to put children with additional needs at the heart of their story. In this post, hear how film production intern and Newcastle University PhD candidate Evripidis Karydis has supported Seven Stories’ very first crowdfunding campaign…

Seven Stories believe that stories help children to understand the world around them, and that every child regardless of age, gender, background and ability should have the opportunity to enjoy this experience.

With this in mind and with the promise of 50% match funding from the Community Foundation Tyne and Wear, they decided to try crowdfunding for the first time to secure additional funding from their supporters and the public. Seven Stories will be using the money raised to fund a range of accessible events and experiences designed specifically for children with sensory and additional needs.

Launching the Life-changing Stories campaign, Kate Edwards, Seven Stories’ Chief Executive, said: “Our ambition is for Seven Stories to be a hub for parents and carers of children with disabilities to socialise, play and learn more about how to enrich their children’s lives through the wonderful world of children’s books.”

This campaign video was filmed and edited by PhD student Evripidis Karydis (or Evris, for short!), who produced two 4 minute trailer videos to support the communications.  Evris is undertaking an NCL Internship through Newcastle University’s Careers Service. NCL Internships are open to all current Newcastle University students, and offer a placement of up to 100 hours during University terms and a student bursary of £750, made up of contributions from the business and the University.

Marketing and Communications Manager Victoria Sanderson, said of Evris’ work on the crowdfunding campaign: “Evris’ performance throughout the project was exceptional; he offered expert guidance when it was required, identified any risks prior to filming which increased efficiency, met deadlines, used his initiative when editing the videos and was accommodating with amends, even when they arrived after signing-off.  Overall, Evris was professional and a delight to work with.”

This built on Evris’ previous internship with Seven Stories in the 2016/17 academic year, where he filmed Seven Stories’ Living Books project in early years settings, working with the Creative Learning and Engagement Team.

For Evris, “having already completed a NCL internship with Seven Stories during the 2016/17 academic year it was not difficult for me to decide to work with the foundation once again. The people at Seven Stories are true professionals and really helped me to produce high quality videos for their causes. Furthermore, the reason behind the crowdfunding campaign was another motivation for me to say yes and work once more with Seven Stories and I am pleased that my videos contributed in order to achieve the goal of raising £7000.

Being an aspiring filmmaker myself working through my internship I have managed again to practice my filmmaking craft and helped me develop my communication skills.

The highlight for me during my placement was when I got the chance to film a family for the crowdfunding campaign video as it gave me a good insight of the people who were going to be benefited by the campaign.

I truly believe that the work being done at Seven Stories is really important as it is making a massive difference in children’s lives and their families and I would really like to work with them again in the future.”

Take a look at Evris’ second video from the Life-changing Stories campaign:

And the results? Well, Seven Stories hit over 75% of their funding target in the first day of the crowdfunding campaign, which is amazing news! Thank you to Evris for helping to make this campaign such a success. But they still need a few more donations to hit their £7000 target before 2nd April 2018 – can you help Seven Stories to ensure that every child is part of their story?

Find out more about the campaign and donate now at: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/life-changing-stories 

Seven Stories’ first Northern Bridge placement

In this post, Northern Bridge PhD student Amy Burnside reflects on her six-month placement at Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books in 2017. The Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership is formed of Newcastle University, Durham University and Queen’s University Belfast and their strategic partners and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. 

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!

The Comics exhibition at Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, photography by Rich Kenworthy

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.

Ruth Gervis, RG/01/01/03,13,31. Selection of finished pencil drawings for Ballet Shoes, circa 1936. © Estate of Ruth Gervis
Ruth Gervis, RG/01/01/03,13,31. Selection of finished pencil drawings for Ballet Shoes, circa 1936. © Estate of Ruth Gervis

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!

Amy helping at the Living Books party. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books

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!

Amy Burnside

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!

Exploring Marine Sciences at Seven Stories

In September, visitors to Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books went ‘under the sea’ with Newcastle University’s Marine Sciences. We had a whale of a time!

Way back in April, I went on a trip to the coast to meet Annie Russell at Newcastle University’s Dove Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats. I’d heard that Marine Sciences, which is based in the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, had some really interesting outreach and engagement initiatives, and I wanted to find out more…

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 introduces families visiting Seven Stories to different crab species. Image: Newcastle University
Faculty Outreach Officer Charlotte Foster introduces families visiting Seven Stories to different crab species. Image: Newcastle University

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…

Visitors taking part in the animal handling sessions. Image: Newcastle University
Visitors taking part in the animal handling sessions. Image: Newcastle University

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…

Seaside shortbread and crustacean croissants! Image: Newcastle University
Seaside shortbread and crustacean croissants! Image: Newcastle University

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.”

Hooray for fish! A display of sea-themed stories in the Seven Stories Bookshop. Image: Newcastle University
Hooray for fish! A display of sea-themed stories in the Seven Stories Bookshop. Image: Newcastle University

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.”

Find out more about Marine Science Outreach at http://www.ncl.ac.uk/nes/outreach/marine/