When Leamington Community Primary was built 90 years ago, it was located on a farming estate. It is now in the middle of the Norris Green housing estate in Liverpool. Despite this being an area with high levels of multi-generational unemployment and other markers of social deprivation (34% of the students have special educational needs), it has spawned notable musicians (Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen; Holly Johnson and other members of Frankie Goes to Hollywood; A Flock of Seagulls), actors (Geoffrey Hughes and Tom Baker) and radio presenter Winifred Robinson.
Leamington’s links with the local community and the creative initiatives the school has taken to address some of the challenges, especially through the arts, were the most memorable aspects of our visit.
It’s not every day you get to visit Narnia. On our tour of the school, we found ourselves in the middle of a narrative immersion session designed to bring this topic and text to life. Teachers use props, costumes, storytelling and characterisation to stimulate emotion and imagination.
In this session, the students had gone to another room where they touched and interacted with objects from a pre-prepared box (ice packs, snowflakes, etc.). When they returned to their classroom, it had been decorated with furry coats across the door and other props. Students could then react to the space and the objects, and ask questions of the teacher who was in costume and character. We could almost taste the Turkish Delight! This was the first part of a project that looked more closely at the story. Apparently, the class did get to taste some of those pink squidgy sweets later.
Other areas of the school were dedicated to creating similarly immersive environments (forests, under the sea, space, etc.).
The school had strong links with The Bluecoat, a gallery in the centre of Liverpool. Among other ‘Out of the Blue’ initiatives, The Bluecoat had provided free bus tickets and café vouchers for children, parents and families to visit during half term.
The partnership was working towards the design and installation of a large sculptural illuminated piece of art in the school grounds as a permanent structure – something to bring fun and light into the dark days of winter, arts lead Steph Leach told us.
We were lucky enough to attend an after-school Art Club session in the art room with a Zoom link to Bluecoat-linked commissioned 3D sculpture artist Bruce Asbestos, who is based in Nottingham (like us!). The Art Club children were working with Bruce to design the new work around themes of community, love and friendship. Bruce showed how simple objects could signify emotion and connection – a big red bow tie, a happy/sad faced Japanese doll, a hat in the shape of a slice of cake, and his ‘cheap’ wedding ring.
The students had brought objects (lots of teddy bears) and ideas to the session. They made quick five-minute sketches and worked with plasticine to create models for their ideas.
Bruce came into school the week after and worked with the children, using air dough, on their initial ideas which included food, monsters and cartoon characters. More Zoom links will refine the ideas. The plan is to install the final sculpture in the playground in February 2022 in a place where families and the local community can see it.
The newly extended art room was just one of the ways the school was developing their arts rich profile.
The main hall had also been extended specifically to include raked seating, stage blocks, black wrap-around curtains, and high-end stage lighting. The children talked to us a lot about the performing arts they do in school.
Finally, Head teacher Paul Vine had just bought a double decker bus. We sat on the bus in the playground while we heard about Paul’s plans to convert the downstairs into a space where parents could come to wash and dry clothes, make meals, have drinks, and get information and advice. Upstairs is planned as an immersive area for the children – blacked-out, full of stars, moons and rockets!
Along with the big colourful illuminated sculpture, the extended art room and performance space, and the immersive areas, the bus was a great example of how school-centred arts, could fire the students’ imagination and creativity whilse engaging, inspiring and supporting the local community.
Thanks to Head Paul Vine and Arts Lead Steph Leach for arranging our tour of the school and interviews with students and staff. We look forward to seeing the finished sculpture in February.