Sunday 10 June 2012

Water - it's all about recycling

Waiting with the Team from Birmingham Archives and Heritage for sixty children from Paganel Primary, I pray that the coach is on time - there's a lot to do in a day.  Next month we have a trip to the seaside with sixty more children from Paganel - getting the timing right makes a big difference.

I'm with Richard Albutt, Nikki Thorpe, Nicola Gauld from archives.  We have pencils, clipboards, cameras, and an extensive collection of archive images of the canals around Gas Street and Chamberlain Square which the team has researched and printed ready for the day.  The School have already had access to a Tide~ watery resource pack, used in previous years - archive images and stories relating to the building of the Elan Valley reservoirs which now provide Birmingham with its water.

My first activity is a quick check to see what the children know about water, and what it is used for:

Half the group go with Richard, Nikki and Nicola around Gas Street.  The city trail idea is borrowed from Andy Green and Connecting Histories, and our trail may be recycled itself at some point.  Walking along the canal we spot references to James Brindley, it's maker in 1767 - the first canal in Birmingham going to Wolverhampton.  We use the archive images to spot what has changed, what is the same.  Richard provides expert commentary down to Gas Street, the first street in Birmingham's to have street lighting.

All sixty children go on to visit the sealife centre, a stop for shopping and lunch then the walk to Chamberlain Square.  We had calculated the amount of walking on googlemap, but realise now, we were pushing this group to walk so far.

We arrive at Children's Lives exhibition a little late, but still with time to visit this amazing exhibition examining the lives of children from the 18th century to the present day - it is the first major exhibition on childhood to be held in Birmingham, and although aimed at older children and adults, it's enjoyed by our children, particularly the replica fireplace for budding chimney sweeps. For many of the children this is the first time in an exhibition of this kind, or indeed in BMAG. Some children say it was their first visit to town.

Our last stop, in Chamberlain Square is a significant watery stop. With Joseph Priestley (discoverer of carbonated water), James Watt (father of Steam power) looking down from their plinths, we join a brass replica Thomas Atwood below Chamberlain's impressive fountain. Again emphasising the importance of water in our city, and the way it has empowered us, the people of Birmingham, and made our city. We briefly look up and around the square, with the help of more archive images, before we do our last activity - rubbings from the ground, and all around:

Fitting that the children are drawn to take rubbings of the drains - another reminder of our watery dependence.

My own nine-year old walks in as I'm scanning the images of the rubbings.  I explain the rubbings were copies from artwork, stone and fittings in Chamberlain Square, and now I am using the drawings to make a collage.

"That's like recycling", he says.

Useful links:


  1. Conservation of water is a good practice we can teach our kids. In that way they can help the future.

  2. You're right - Understanding the historic importance of water to us, particularly clean water available to all, and it's role in our city is pretty important too.