Newcastle University

Summary of activity

A Sense of Place is an archive and nature inspired project led by the Education Outreach Team at Newcastle University Library. There have been two phases of the project, the first took place in 2019 and the second in 2020.

To date, six North East schools (Benfield School, Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College, Walker Riverside Academy, Bedlington Academy, Haydon Bridge High School and Prudhoe Community High School) have taken part in A Sense of Place.

Participating students have explored the archives within the University’s Special Collections, visited the National Trust estate at Wallington, and Northumberland National Park and worked with creative practitioners to produce their own artworks.

‘I learned how to form a poem through structure and developing a deeper meaning which otherwise I would have struggled with.’

A Sense of Place participant, 2019

The project was funded by Historic England and has been delivered in partnership with the National Trust, Northumberland National Park, English Heritage and the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts and School of Fine Art.

Line image of a perched bird with an orange leaf in the top-right-hand corner

Image credit: participant of Sense of Place project

Challenges and opportunities

Ahead of the first phase of the project the Education Outreach Team had only worked with Bedlington Academy on a food technology project. They had to develop new relationships with teachers from other schools and in another department at Bedlington to ensure the success of both phases of the project.

The project was informed by Newcastle Universities five ways to wellbeing and Inspiring Learning For All frameworks. It aimed to support students to develop their research skills and inspire their creativity. One of its key objectives was to encourage students from city schools to explore the local natural environments while also providing opportunities for students to develop their learning across History, English and Art.

A Sense of Place was a time intensive project with activities taking place in different locations, with multiple students, teachers and leaders over a period of three days. Everyone involved was invested in the project and committed to making it a success.

The team have now delivered two phases of the project. The first phase, which ran in 2019, involved 90 Year 9 Students from Bedlington Academy, Haydon Bridge High School and Prudhoe Community High School. This project involved students studying the Bewick images held in the University’s Special Collections, working with an award-winning published poet, Sinéad Morrissey, exploring Northumberland National Park, and taking part in a creative workshop led by creative practitioners. The works they produced were displayed at The Sill, Northumberland National Park.

The second phase of the project engaged Year 10 and Year 11 students from Benfield School, Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College and Walker Riverside Academy. This project was inspired by the beautiful landscape, house and grounds of Wallington, as well as the archival collections of Thomas Bewick and the Trevelyan family held at Newcastle University. Students took part in poetry and art sessions in school, an art walk and tour of Wallington. They also got to toast marshmallows with rangers in the grounds of the Wallington estate. Each school also worked with a creative practitioner to create their own Bewick-inspired prints, photographs and willow sheep sculptures.

Outcomes for service users

To date, six schools and over one hundred and sixty students have participated in A Sense of Place. Informal evaluations have highlighted the impact of the project on students and teachers.

Comments collected to date include:

‘It’s a new experience that opens your eyes to things you hadn’t known before’ – Year 9 student

It’s an inspiring place with a story behind it’ -Year 10 student

Teachers also felt the project had been successful. One commented that:

‘Our students will take lifelong memories from this project. It has been incredibly rewarding.’

Both projects concluded with an exhibition and many students commented on how proud they were to have their work exhibited in a public space.

‘It makes me feel proud that my work is good enough to be exhibited’- Year 9 student.

‘I feel honoured to have our work exhibited at Wallington Hall’.

The students and teachers expressed an appreciation for being in a different environment and for having an opportunity to do something outside of school.

The online exhibition which was developed in the second phase remains accessible. It features images of students engaged in the project and examples of the prints, willow sheep sculptures and photographs created by the students.

What was learned from the process?

The Education Outreach team has learned a lot from both phases of A Sense of Place. They have developed their confidence in running a project of this scale and duration. The team also learned how to adapt quickly as they had to tailor the programme in response to Covid-19 restrictions.

It was not possible to have students on site at the University during the second phase of a Sense of Place. The team had to revise planned activities so that they could take place within schools. While it was possible for the team to develop virtual activities by sharing images from the collections, this did not have the same impact as it did for students who had previously visited the University in person. There was a missing ‘spark’ that comes with seeing original material.

There were also plans to hold a family picnic to coincide with the display of artworks at Wallington in 2020. While it was not possible to do this, an online exhibition of the student’s work was compiled to accompany the public exhibition. The structure of the online exhibitions worked very well and the costs attached were not prohibitive, it provided another way to celebrate the student’s work.

For the Education Outreach team one of the key successes of the project was working with and commissioning creative practitioners who were highly skilled. It was important that students had the opportunity to work with paid professional artists so that they could see creative careers as an area of opportunity for themselves.

Key advice

One piece of advice the Education and Outreach team would give to anyone thinking of taking on a similar project is to plan thoroughly and be clear in your communications. There were multiple stakeholders involved in the planning and delivery of A Sense of Place and it was vital that the team had a clear plan of activities which they could share with all participants.

In their initial conversations with teachers the team needed to be upfront about the commitment required from the project: three days out of the school term. If the school were unable to make that commitment then the project was not going to work for them.

Discussions with teachers took place at least a year in advance and alternative plans for activities had to be developed quite quickly in response to Covid-19 restrictions. The team also had to communicate clearly and frequently when revising the original activity plan, to establish what activities would be possible virtually and in real life. While it was not possible to have people visiting the University, students did get to take part in an outdoor art walk and undertake creative activities in their school.

How will this work be developed in the future?

The project has already led to the development of other wellbeing projects at Newcastle University Library, including Get Creative workshops which are offered to students attending the university. These wellbeing workshops have been developed collaboratively between the Education Outreach team and the Wellbeing department at Newcastle University.

Following an evaluation of the Sense of Place projects, successful aspects were adapted to the development of the workshop. This involved providing students an opportunity to browse and touch original resources from Special Collections in a welcoming environment. This was followed by a creative craft activity, proven to help with wellbeing, e.g. origami, print making, willow weaving, watercolours, etc.

Students were encouraged to chat freely and make connections throughout the event.

One participant from the workshop commented ‘It’s therapeutic and a great way to breathe a little bit from the university workload and try something new’.

 Comments from participants include:

  • ‘I really enjoyed meeting new people and the mix of heritage and activity’
  • ‘It’s a great mindfulness exercise’

Find out more about this case study by contacting Sara Bird, Education Outreach Officer, Newcastle University