Friday 10 September 2010

Net works or networks in Frankley

In 2007, we had just completed training as the first cohort of Creative Agents at Bright Space.  Holly Hill Church School had funding to prepare for their Change application and for us to trial our new creative agent roles - I took more the role of the creative agent at Reaside, and Juliet Raynsford was more the creative agent at Holly Hill, although both of us shared roles.

Juliet’s specialism matched Reaside’s drama interest, becoming an enquiry on ‘How can drama change the world?’. At Holly Hill they were interested in developing and supporting the wider school community with no fixed media. This became ‘What makes School?

At Holly Hill, we started working with the school council. Previous council minutes were dominated by school dinners, which seemed like a natural starting point. Inspired partly by the work of Stan’s Cafe in a local primary, we started to ‘make school’ out of school dinner. We explored archives, made our own bricks from clay in the playground, experimented with cakes and other materials before creating an art installation made entirely from bits and pieces brought in or found in the school.

There were difficulties, and although a number of creative partnership projects had run at Holly Hill previously, this appeared to be the first attempt at a ‘whole school’ creative project. The groundwork had been done for our ‘Change Programme’ and although over the next year we worked mainly outdoors, our area of focus did not change. We were interested in promoting creativity across the whole school, to support and develop more general social skills, and look to the wider school, Frankley and Birmingham communities.

In those early tendering, real paper database days, I contacted a few people we thought would be good, and introduced them to the staff on a staff training day. Everyone liked each other, and itching to get going with the work, we arranged a visit to the wonderful Bishops Wood Forest School Centre with staff, parents and children, in what was to be a fabulous start to avery productive year, working with Sarah Jenkinson, Gillian Twaite, Marcella Erskine & Nick Williams. The real find of the year turned out to be on the doorstep - 100 yds away was the ancient Balaam Wood, previously unknown to most of the staff, and apparently never before ventured into with children.

The end of the year came suddenly, and so ended the funding from Creative Partnerships.  There was no opportunity to continue with CP. The project had been a wonderful creative adventure for all involved, but where was the embedding of practice? How could we continue? Caroline Proctor found additional funding to carry on. Initially the nursery and music specialist teacher employed Marcella to continue weekly music workshops and related CPD. Then in Spring funding and time was found to work on ‘Our Community’ - a project I had suggested, and was invited to come back as creative practitioner to deliver.

For ‘Our Community’ I had grand plans of involving parents, community leaders, local organisations, everyone in school in a project working mainly outside school, supported by digital media. I don’t think I’d properly considered we would be working with a tenth of a change school budget, or indeed that although I felt digital and social media would really help, I don’t think anyone else did.

For initial research I googled Frankley, and found ‘Frankley Travelodge’ top of the list, followed by houses for sale, more ‘Travelodge’ references, ‘Frankleytalk’ - a local schools podcasting site set up with previous CP funding, the parish council site, a local businesses site claiming ‘Frankley is much more than just a motorway service station’, and Frankley Library site.

Initially I contacted Podnosh, responsible for Frankleytalk, thinking this could be the start of
something interesting. Over the course of the month or so I was inputting to the site, I watch it steadily move from tenth to first on the ‘Frankley Birmingham’ google-o-meter. Looking back I
should have taken more notice that Frankleytalk had ceased to be used for nearly two years,
and that the low number of visits to any Frankley websites meant that my usage of ‘Frankleytalk’
was probably the sole reason for its rise in popularity. This, my first experiment in blogging, was useful to me, but probably not to anyone else in Frankley.

I had, however, made contact with a number of different community partners, and the
workshops included visits to Frankley Library, Frankley City Learning Centre, and several visits
back to Balaam Wood supported by the Park Ranger service, Adam Bates from OPAL, Nick
Williams and the wonderful Friends of Balaam Wood. For me it was great to see connections
made in the previous year being developed. Teaching staff regularly use Balaam Wood
creatively for a range of different curricula areas and year groups. The Library were renewing
links with teaching staff and children, and the City Of Learning Centre developed further
work with Holly Hill after our visit. We had, of course, other outcomes, including the creation
of ‘Steve the Colourmaker’ - a giant collaborative chalk silhouette artwork outside the school
(see chalk images above), and created a lovely home for Steve and cutouts of all the chalk monsters made from silhouettes in Balaam Wood. We also had a lot of fun and achieved a number of learning objectives too.

Maybe digital networking hasn’t worked here, but the contacts and networks made through Holly
Hill’s Change Year have made a big difference and continue. Although Creative Partnership's funding ceased over a year ago now, a creative philosophy and practice continues at Holly Hill. The hard work of staff, parents and children at Holly Hill, together with their community will maintain outstanding creative practice.
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