I went to a really inspiring exhibition at Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire on Friday (12th Feb). The exhibition was the end result of a project involving various secondary schools who were asked to explore ideas about what their ideal new school would be like.
At the entrance was this colourful wall of ribbons (left), an interactive response to the question ‘How does/did school make you feel? Visitors were invited to cut a piece of ribbon, the colour of which closely described their school experience. I chose the yellowy gold for ‘happy’ and threaded my piece alongside several indifferent blues, quite a few greens for ‘anxious’ and a handful of reds for angry. What a simple idea though – every classroom should have one!
The section I was most impressed with was from the Grove Learning Centre. This is a facility for kids who, like my character Jenny-Jane who I recently blogged about, struggle in mainstream school and require additional support with their emotional and social needs. The Grove group were lucky enough to be working with musician and poet Dave ‘Stickman’ Higgins. He engaged them in all sorts of creative activities. I particularly liked the wall hanging of a madalla (meant to be below but embedded itself above!). The idea of the madalla comes from the African 7 Principles of Man. They are nutrition, religion, spirituality, language, arts, work and family. I presume the thinking behind the principles are that if a person has the right balance between them all, they will achieve harmony.
The Grove’s madalla was a join piece of art in which the whole group participated. I’m guessing that for some of them to work co-operatively was a massive achievement in itself. To create something so beautiful in addition is fantastic. I’d have that in the main entrance to my new school, no problems. There were also some very moving poems, sculptures, a film, photographs and a recreation of a ‘Bloom Room.’ The Bloom Room was a neat idea. A cosy area with bright, colourful sofas and chairs, cushions and rugs the kids sat round to talk through their ideas, it brought home how important the right environment is for learning. People thrive in safe, comfortable places. Why, then, do some schools feel so soulless and even hostile when you enter them?
In their book ‘Our thoughts are bees: writers working with schools’ by Coe & Sprackland there is a wonderful quotation that goes: ‘When children and writers come together a kind of magic happens.’ If anyone wants evidence of that, go to Rufford Abbey this month.