Creativity during a pandemic in Sheffield schools

Create Sheffield

During our latest online support session, our arts and cultural Partners were invited to share some of the work they have been doing in schools since lockdown. Claire from Seven Hills Secondary Special School, and James from The Sheffield College also came along to paint a picture of what life is like in these educational settings in our new Covid ‘normal’. 

There were some clear messages which we would like to share with you:

  1. Some of our arts and cultural Partners have and are still doing work in/with schools - both remotely and face to face.
  2. There are great examples of artists/practitioners working face to face, adapting to each schools’ management of PPE and bubbles, ensuring the staff & children’s safety. 
  3. Some artists/practitioners are working solely online, and others have developed a hybrid model combining zoom calls and creative materials which are sent into schools. 
  4. Very often artists/practitioners are working with schools that they already have relationships with, and many are offering arts activities for free through different project grants. 
  5. Artists have been delivering CPD training for teachers, helping instil the skills and confidence to deliver these creative sessions where they cannot be present physically.
  6. Teachers and educational settings are under enormous strain and pressure to keep their children and young people safe, and are also doing their utmost to provide the best possible learning experience for all.
  7. It looks like this will be our ’normal’ through spring 2021 and into the summer. 

For inspiration in these bleak times, here are some of the stories and experiences shared by attendees to this session - both from our arts and cultural Partners and from our education colleagues.  (We know of many other examples of great creative work that is still happening in the city too. Do let us know so we can share the brilliant work that is happening.)

Angie Hardwick

Photo credit : James Mulkeen. (Festival of the Mind)

Angie Hardwick is a freelance visual artist, whose work usually involves doing creative workshops in Sheffield communities and schools. Angie feels fortunate to still be able to work on a number of creative projects with children, often weaving around the challenges that working safely in bubbles brings. Some of her creative after school clubs have been kept on, and others have been cancelled, (perfectly demonstrating the variety of what schools are able to offer and cope with!)

Angie is working through Ignite Imaginations, and shared with us an example of her work for them. She is designing packs which help children explore their experience of lockdown creatively. Through short zoom sessions in their school setting, Angie supports children and teachers with the step-by-step instructions contained in each pack.

'Cognitive' a series of suspended ceramic cogs that captures the thoughts, emotions and perceptions of the Darnall Community during the covid lockdown . The art work also represent working together, to repair a community damaged by the pandemic. 

Zoom and other online platforms have opened up doors for artists to work remotely with children and young people, however this method of working brings with it a lot of challenges. Angie described working with young people who didn’t feel comfortable switching their cameras on at Becton Children's Hospital, and so she had to try her best to deliver her hands-on workshops to a black screen.

Forced Entertainment

From Complete Works - Table Top Shakespeare

Forced Entertainment have been engaging audiences and participants in compelling, inventive and provocative new theatre for over 35 years. Participation Producer Imogen described their reluctance to work online, driven by their desire to meet young people face to face in the community and working with those that don't have access to technology. 

With creative and community spaces closed, Forced Entertainment had to work differently, and so provided an offer to teachers and schools which responded to what they felt would support teachers and students during the current crises. Complete Works Table Top Shakespeare: At Home, retells all 36 of Shakespeare’s plays using everyday items on a table top, alongside activities which engage students in storytelling and workshops to support teachers deliver the sessions. Imogen was struck by how incredible the feedback had been and how starved young people are of creative activities. 

Whitworks Adventures in Theatre

Gertie, from Whitworks Adventures in Theatre (WAT), works with children, young people and community groups to bring history and heritage to life. Over the past few months WAT have been involved in a number of projects that offer creative support for teachers and schools. Dressed-up in full World War I attire (wearing a visor), Gertie has been invited into classrooms, offering a creative alternative to their usual lessons. WW2 and WW1 days have been adapted to fit the conditions in each school.

WAT have also received support from the Centre of Hidden Histories at the University of Nottingham, to develop primary and secondary resources based on a World War I play. The play explores remembrance, trauma and resilience in a positive way. It examines how its characters come to terms with surviving loss. The resource also introduces the experience of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 /19 and is uniquely placed to enable children and young people to explore their recent experiences safely through the distance of history

Tell Tale Hearts

The Blue Bird project at Millhouse Primary School

Tell Tale Hearts are professional storytellers, making work for and with early years and primary aged children, uniquely, involving them in the research for their shows and work. Natasha shared her experience of delivering The Blue Bird - A Quest for Happiness in Millhouse Primary School. Funded by Arts Council England project grants, Tell Tale Hearts wanted to reimagine The Blue Bird story and were delighted that Millhouse Primary School was still eager to be involved. In preparation for the project delivery, Millhouse invested in webcams and other technology over the summer, and teachers were involved in training sessions. 

In the planning and conversions with teachers, the smallest details were considered, this included seating plans and even web-cam placement. Materials were dropped off a week before the workshops and quarantined to ensure that they were safe for the children to use.  The 4 artists involved in the project were able to work with the children through the whiteboard in the classroom.

The Blue Bird, part-performance, part design activity, part creative writing exercise, was a wonderful success. Natasha shared how the work was able to draw out the rich expressions of how the children have been feeling over lockdown, and was surprised by the emotional connection and dynamism that was established through the ‘ethereal cyberspace.’ The mix of the zoom delivery, alongside Tell Tell Hearts providing the school with the creative art materials and also importantly, preparing and working alongside teachers, has shown to be a strong successful model of how practitioners might get around the restrictions that currently stop them getting into schools.

Seven Hills Special School

Claire from Seven Hills Special School does fantastic creative work with her students, all of which have very diverse needs. Passionate about her work at Seven Hills, Claire shared her ambitions to find ways for the students to be creative and imaginative on their own. 

Our hedgehog from the story 'One Winter's Day' - Seven Hills

Aside from the many challenges these past months have brought, lockdown has also given Claire the time to develop the creative curriculum at Seven Hills, aligning with national targets whilst also drawing on her research of transient art, process art and sensory exploration. Whilst Claire would normally deliver this creative art work herself across the school, the challenge has been for non specialist teachers to deliver it.  Clare is interested in seeing how teachers, sometimes with no art background, respond to the curriculum that she has developed, and is hoping they feel confident in its delivery. 

Create Sheffield has created a Special School Creativity Network, which offers space for teachers to share experiences and will also offer opportunities for Create Sheffield arts and cultural Partners who work with children with Special Needs to support the work they are doing. 

You can follow the work Claire and the Seven Hills pupils are doing on their Twitter and Instagram pages. It's fab!

Sheffield College

James from Sheffield College talked passionately about how the College is supporting their students the best ways they can - with mental health and wellbeing as top priorities alongside working to ensure their students still get the same quality experience they are used to, whilst keeping everyone safe.

James shared that a lot of the College’s work has been delivered online, which some students, who might normally shy away from campus activity, have preferred. However, some programmes are inevitably less interactive, so staff are having to develop innovative ways to support students differently where they are currently missing out on visits, trips, guest speakers and visitors. 

Working to ensure that the digital divide doesn't prevent young people learning, Sheffield College has contributed to the city-wide initiative to provide laptops to disadvantaged students. Working with WANdisco, City Taxis, Learn Sheffield and other partners on this brilliant project, ‘Laptop for Kids’ has been a great success story for the city. Sheffield College have recently received 1400 laptops, which their students are working hard to wipe and get them ready to be shipped out across Sheffield. 

Final thoughts

Our schools and educational settings are doing the very best they can in the face of the insurmountable challenges arising from this pandemic. A recent Ofsted report reveals the extent of the challenges faced by the sector, in keeping their schools safe and open, and about the changes they had seen in some pupils, including poorer physical and mental health.

It is promising to hear so many wonderful stories of the brilliant creative work the arts and cultural practitioners are still able to deliver in schools. We hope the sector can build on these examples of good practice so that more and more schools will have the capacity to and confidence to invite them into their classrooms, in person or virtually.

About us

We are Create Sheffield, Sheffield's Cultural Education Partnership. We are a charitable organisation set up to take the young people of Sheffield on a journey into the arts, culture and heritage sectors. From creative learning opportunities to fun things to do – we’re here to benefit the lives of all those aged 0-24. 

Create Sheffield is supported by IVE, the Arts Council England Bridge Organisations for the Yorkshire and Humber.