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How can we harness the power of creativity? A report from the Creative Power Conference

Last Friday, December 9th 2022, the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning and the MA in Creative Writing and Education hosted a conference on ‘creative power’, which explored the value of creativity, its impact and how it might be harnessed and generated in the world. Professor Vicky Macleroy introduced the conference, and explained how it was children’s books who really inspired her to read and sent her imagination soaring. After a brief explanation of the schedule of the conference by myself, performance artist and alumni of the MA in Creative Writing and Education, Sally Horowitz, acted out a washed up writer in a bar, searching for inspiration; this writer though found inspiration in people’s suggestions for being creative which the bar tender (played by me) had collected in written form and put in one of her wine glasses. You can see the introductions by Vicky and Sally’s performance here:

 

 

This wonderful performance was followed by a keynote speech by the incredible children’s author and illustrator, Guy Parker Rees, who gave such a refreshing, light-hearted and profoundly serious talk. He said that everyone can draw in their own way and we can all use drawing to unlock our creativity. His talk can be seen here:

Guy had talked quite a bit about the therapeutic power of art to heal childhood traumas and understand them. Moreover, he had suggested that psychotherapy provides a useful framework for understanding how art works both for artists and for its receivers: its readers, its appreciators, its devotees. Dr Eric Harper and Rozina Anwar, both psychotherapists, explored these themes in even more depths. Rozina talked about the ways in which life is full of knots that can be untied and explored in part by the psychotherapeutic practice. Eric put great emphasis upon psychotherapists providing a safe space for people to speak their desires, their fantasies, their darkest and most optimistic visions. You can see their talk here:

Alumni of the course Danja Sanovic, an experienced teacher and rather wonderful writer, had us all in stitches with her fantastic impersonation of a strict, narrow-minded English teacher teaching GCSE English, and the creative writing component of the exam. Through this powerful role play, she showed how restricting the ‘recipe’ approach to teaching creative writing can be, and generated much laughter by showing her deliberately bad examples of creative writing, which illustrate many of the issues that children exhibit in their creative writing when forced to write to strict models. A current student on the course, script writer Emilia Amodio, then illustrated how collage can offer a great way of inspiring the uninspired to be creative. It was a perfect antidote to Danja’s satire; we all got cutting and sticking to produce our own collages. She generated the same spirit as Guy in encouraging playfulness within certain constraints. Here are Danja and Emilia’s talks:

There was a break for lunch, and then alumni of the MA in Creative Writing and Education, teacher & author, Seb Duncan showed us how Google’s Streetview can be used to inspire and guide writers to write meaningfully about place. Taking James Joyce’s Ulysses (the Wandering Rocks section in particular) as a starting point, he cleverly related Joyce’s writing about Dublin in this experimental novel to using Streetview. It’s an ingenious, sophisticated talk, and well worth watching carefully. Here it is:

Alumni of the MA in Creative Writing and Education, teacher & auteur, Rhys Byrom, then showed us how the classic structures of stories can be ‘hacked’ (in a techy sense) to create new forms. Drawing upon the ideas about story structure from Kurt Vonnegut, he showed how classic story structures can be used and subverted to create new enlightened, non-patriarchal, non-hegemonic narratives. Here is his talk:

A current student on the MA in Creative Writing and Education, Syeda Salmah, then showed us how certain techniques such as freewriting and ‘diagrarting’ (a mixture of using drawing, writing and dialogue) can be used to investigate your memories. Her work showed how she was able to explore her own East London, British-Bengali heritage and her parents’ experiences through the use of fiction and non-fiction. It’s another innovative, ground-breaking talk:

Much of the work of the conference delegates is in two anthologies: Diversity and Inspiration, and Creative Power. The editors of the former anthology, Deborah Friedland and Gabe Troiano, discussed the work in it, reading some moving extracts about creativity in it.

The conference closed with a fantastic spoken word performance from Christian Foley who rapped the key concepts of it in dazzling style. The cover illustrator of the aforementioned anthologies, Georgia Cowley, then showed us her illustration of the whole conference. You can see her explanations (and Christian’s rap) in this video here:

Her incredible illustration of the whole conference is here (the video contains a full explanation of what’s in it):

But even though that was the end of the official conference, the literary celebrations continued with Autumn Sharkey and Sally Horowitz hosting a fun-packed ‘Literary Cabaret’; this is a concept of their own making and is truly a marvellous creation. I attended with a number of other MA Creative Writing and Education and PGCE students; we played some brilliant games such as ‘pin the poem’ (very similar to pin the donkey); musical writing (musical chairs with creative writing thrown in); spin the bottle and read with a particular emotion (furious, angry, seductive, exhausted etc). It was such fun! Such larks! It was also really creative; it super-charged our imaginative energies, and it was lovely to share all of our writing through these crazy games. Autumn and Sally were lovely hosts, offering us both a safe and challenging space to be creative in.

So to sum up, what were the ideas, concepts, strategies and suggestions from the conference which showed us all how to harness the power of our creativity. I would suggest they were:

  1. Find your inner child; learn to play again, to set yourself free by drawing (Guy Parker Rees), collaging (Emilia Amodio) and role-playing (Sally Horowitz).
  2. Generate flow by regularly freewriting and diagrarting (Syeda)
  3. Use modern technologies such as Google streetview to stimulate and enliven (Seb)
  4. Use ancient ideas such as Aristotle story structure ideas to shape stories (Rhys)
  5. Be mindful to step out of hegemonic, colonised ways of thinking (Guy, Rhys, Syeda, Emilia)
  6. Learn about the therapeutic and healing power of art and dialogue, and create space spaces for expression of feelings and opinions to untie the knots of trauma (Eric and Rozin)

 

 

Exciting Developments with the Parklife Project: A Community Garden will be coming soon!

Yesterday, our young Parklife researchers at Deptford Green school met with Sarah Lang, who works for Lewisham Council in partnership with The Waldron, and Joyce Jacca who work as Community Link workers in the Waldron Community Hub right by New Cross Station.

Sarah and Joyce attended the Advocacy Session for the Parklife Project back in June 2022, which you can read about here. Since then, they have been using the Pledge Card made by our young researchers together with the wonderful youth advocate Laila Sumpton and our Goldsmiths postgraduate and undergraduate students. This is the pledge card:

The young Parklife researchers really helped Sarah and Joyce fire up various organisations, groups and people to get a new community garden set up in Fordham Park, which the Deptford Green pupils and other pupils (from local primary schools) could run and maintain.

Sarah Lang explains in this video how this came to be and how it will work:

Our young Parklife researchers discussed how this Community Garden might work with Sarah and Joyce, and also learnt about Sarah and Joyce’s innovative work with Lewisham; they are working tirelessly to bring a joined up approach to health and wellbeing in the borough. They travel to schools, colleges, community groups and work to do things like encourage people to use:

Social supermarkets in the area; these are supermarkets for people who are struggling with money issues, providing great food and other goods (such as school uniforms) at very low costs. More details here:

Evelyn Community Store and Feed the Hill: Community stores – Lewisham Homes  and Feed The Hill – Lewisham Local

Also here is the link to Lewisham’s information on other support available: Lewisham Council – Cost of living crisis

Mobile health clinics which travel to schools and community centres, shops etc.

Our lead teacher on the project, Alice Player, who has been indefatigable in supporting the Parklife project, said that the school would follow up on their suggestions; Deptford Green may soon see some visits from Sarah and Joyce, who may offer health, wellbeing and financial wellbeing clinics in the school. She commented: ‘The Parklife students at Deptford Green are making a real difference in our local community. They have a vision of the future that they are working hard to put into practice. They want safe spaces to relax in and green areas that are eco-friendly and sustainable. Working with staff and students from Goldsmiths University has given them the confidence to speak out about the things that they are passionate about and to challenge the adults who have the power to make change happen.’

Our Parklife researchers also made some important notes about what might be good to do in the future with regards to the Community Garden:

In other Parklife news, the parks’ management company, Glendale, have put in a water fountain in the park, and are helping us with improving the litter situation. More on this in future posts!

We have also received funding from the British Academy to make a Parklife Toolkit; a snappy, engaging leaflet and guide which will help other schools and colleges run the Parklife project themselves. Laila Sumpton, our great advocacy champion, who we have missed sorely this term, will receive some funding to spearhead this Toolkit initiative. Again more on this to come in future posts!

Sarah Lang and her colleagues will be holding a Deptford Assembly Cost of Living/Well-being event for residents and on Saturday 10th December 2.00-5.00pm at the Mulberry Centre, 15 Amersham Vale. They will have children’s crafts and a winter warming soup.

If you wish to learn more about the Parklife project, do email me, the Principal Investigator on it, Dr Francis Gilbert, f.gilbert@gold.ac.uk

Angela Kreeger: Subject of the miracle of modern medicine and psychoanalysis.

Introduction

It is a cold January Sunday afternoon in 2022, but Angela Kreeger’s living room feels gorgeous. I am surrounded by walls covered beautifully with art, and I’m eating far too many slices of a delicious almond cake Angela has made.

Angela smiles at me, her eyes and being exuding the warmth and openness that anyone who has met her will be familiar with. Although her physical health could be better, you wouldn’t know it by the vibrancy in her talk, and the intensity with which she listens to you.

Ever since I met her, several months ago now, I’ve wanted to interview her; to capture, as best I can, some of her wisdom and her experiences. I came to know her through a mutual friend, Andie Newman, who like Angela is a psychoanalyst and a member of the Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis,  which is a training organisation and a member of the Council for Psychoanalysis and Jungian Analysis College (CPJA)  of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).

Although I have links with ‘the Site’  — the name that people who are involved with the Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis give it — having spoken at one of its conferences, I met Angela informally at a dinner with Andie. It was at this relaxed occasion, I found myself sharing emotional details about my life with Angela because I felt so at ease, so listened to, so cared for. Angela has this effect upon many people because of her passion for them: her fascination for life shines out of her. Her effect upon me captivated me, and led me to want to know more. Although she talked a bit about her life and work in this first meeting, and subsequent ones, I felt I didn’t know enough. I was intrigued to find out how Angela came to be who she is. How is it that she, above so many others, has this quality of listening, of holding people’s vulnerabilities, of putting people at their ease?

The answers to these questions I found, to a certain extent, were in Angela’s training and practice as a psychoanalyst. ‘I have two things to thank for my life: the miracle of modern medicine and psychoanalysis,’ she told me during the interview.

Training and Practice

Angela became a psychoanalyst relatively late in life. After gaining a First-Class degree as a mature student in sociology at Middlesex University, she joined the Philadelphia Association (PA) in 1991. She told me: ‘I joined the PA immediately after I finished my degree, to do the introductory year, later joining the training proper and Passing (qualifying) in 1997. The Pass was a nerve-wracking experience because it involved getting the go ahead from my peers on the training and the Training Committee, then presenting a paper on a designated evening to whoever is a member or trainee at the PA, and then getting voted on live during the evening to say whether or not I had Passed.  Gulp!   A trial and a test, and it indicated how I was absorbed into the company of the PA – sort of setting a tone for how one was perceived.’

The PA was founded by R.D. Laing and his colleagues in 1965, and promoted (and still does) Laing’s distinctive approach to psychoanalysis. In books like The Divided Self (1960) and The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise as well as in his own practice as a psychoanalyst, Laing argued that we need to understand the madness of modern family structures before pathologizing patients as insane. His approach, which was controversial when he was alive, has become increasingly mainstream and has spawned many off-shoots. In the following video, Angela explains how she came to train with the PA, and how and why she left it to become a member of ‘the Site’, which was established in part by Haya Oakley and her then husband Chris Oakley, and others.

Influences

A few major thinkers have influenced Angela’s practice. They are Sigmund Freud, R.D. Laing, Jean Laplanche and the US based academic and psychoanalyst Agvi Saketopoulou, who has written and presented about Laplanche. Angela told me: ‘I started my first therapy in 1979. It helped me realise that I had agency in my life, and I know it was a successful piece of work. When I was at Middlesex I was introduced to Laing, which opened another door to me. It showed me that there was another way of doing psychoanalysis which wasn’t as conventional as I’d previously thought. My training at the PA helped me think about psychoanalysis as a philosophy rather than a ‘how to’ guide. I was encouraged to think critically about all the different theories I encountered, and come to my own conclusions.’

She explains in the next video here how Freud’s works were useful for her, not because he provided a clear guide about how to practice as a therapist, but because the reader of his work can see his thought processes, how he figures things out as he goes along. Angela sees his thought processes as Talmudic, in that Jewish scholars of the Talmud – the Jewish commentary on the Torah (Bible) – are constantly questioning and reflecting on interpretation of the Torah.

This, it seems to me, is the key to how Angela works: she is a questioning, intuitive, ‘allowing’ person who deeply listens, giving you the space for you to be what you want to be, to discover what you want, even in casual conversations. This approach Angela perceives as fundamentally Freudian. She explains: ‘Freud feels like a living, everyday experience. I can see what Freud was saying.’

Similarly important for Angela are the ideas of Laplanche and a modern interpreter of his theories, Saketopoulou. Laplanche/Saketopoulou emphasize the ‘enigmatic’ elements of human interactions, the ways in which much of what people communicate and feel is unknown to them and to other people. Their experiences are mysterious or enigmatic. Trauma, for many people, is simply ‘noise’ – sounds, feelings, bodily sensations which are untranslated into language. The process of psychoanalysis is to translate and retranslate this noise into words, stories, discoveries, investigations and questions, which can all become different ways of understanding one’s own unconscious.

Angela discusses these ideas here:

After Angela finished her training, she spent ‘a couple of years’ in the wilderness. She struggled without the safety net of the training. Although she had practised as a psychoanalyst during her training, she was not confident in the role: she lost more patients than joined. She said, ‘I was too focused upon myself. Was I doing it right? Was I saying the right thing? I should say, reflecting back, I feel I got it right more often than I got it wrong. Now I find it easier to forget myself whilst remembering myself. I’ve got better at it!’ She explains what happened here:

Breaking the Cycle

Much of Angela’s work is about helping people understand or break out of repeated patterns of behaviour which can be destructive. This involves being with them as they come to understand the nature of their desires and difficulties. Something that Angela has done for herself.

Born in 1950, Angela grew up in London. She has faced many challenges in her life, but believes it’s important for her to keep her privacy; she is particularly mindful of her patients in this regard. She believes that the focus should be on them, not her, and therefore is reluctant to divulge much personal information publicly, although it should be noted she is very open about life to her friends.

Angela offers this eloquent explanation for her reticence about her personal life in the public realm. She says: ‘The analyst aims to be a ‘blank screen’ onto whom all manner of thoughts, ideas and fantasies can be projected – we call this transference. This mythical state is both useful and impossible. It’s useful because not only is transference a tool to understand how the patient inhabits their world with others, but also because being (aiming for) a blank screen doesn’t contaminate the ‘field’ qua the setting and parameters within which the work takes place; Laplanche calls this being ‘hollowed out’. It’s an impossible aim, particularly in the world in which we live, because no matter how much we are withheld, we leak all the time, if we know what we (analysts) are listening for. Red jumper today, blue next time. Is the room warm or cool? Have we tweeted? At the same time this quietude is both useful and busted. The analyst has a personality, has a life, and just as we know from our work with patients things may not be what they seem and there are moments when we know something (often called intuition but which is a form of gathered knowledge) though it’s unspoken – they give themselves away, similarly we give ourselves away too. Again. following Laplanche, if we remain (attempt to remain) enigmatic, this encourages the patient to think for themselves, and so the work of translation begins. Thankfully, no matter how much we leak, and I think I am probably very leaky, we always remain other.’

For many years she has had a supervisor – someone she would prefer to remain anonymous – whose ability to listen to her, to draw her out, to enable her to translate her own noise has been consistently miraculous. She told me: ‘My supervisor is now less supervisor, more analyst and through whom both my work and my life have been enhanced.   He helps me currently bear the load I carry, reminding me of my zest for life. The two aspects of me seeing him are that the balance varies between work and personal reflections, depending on how my life is going, but mostly now it’s about me.   But that enhances my work because if my head is in a good place, I’m freer to work.   Having said that however, work is so interesting and absorbing and thought-provoking that just doing it has the power to return me to myself and that leads to good work.   Me seeing him has been the most transformative experience of my life – the power of psychoanalysis and it’s sequalae. It’s been well over 20 years of conversation – back and forth, in and out.’

At the heart of Angela’s story both in doing therapy and being a therapist is the concept that psychoanalysis can help people creatively transform their difficulties.

For Angela, psychoanalysis involves people searching for better ways of living. She says: ‘Psychoanalysis can help a person live better according to what they consider, through analysis, a good life is.   I have no idea, nor do I want to have, any idea of what a good life is for them – it’s their life, not mine.’

How can primary school children improve their local parks?

I was very excited to watch the young Parklife researchers at John Donne Primary school present their research to their local councillor Jasmine Ali on Monday 18th July 2022. It was one of the hottest days of the year, but these valiant researchers, in Year 3 (aged 7–8), soldered on and produced a brilliant series of presentations to Jasmine.

As many as fifty Year 3 students had been involved in this part of the Parklife project. They had been trained as ecological researchers and activists by the marvellous Laura Dempsey, founder of Volunteers for Future who deliver free climate and conservation workshops to schools, Rebecca Deegan, founder of I Have a Voice, an organisation which helps young people advocate for change, and Kat Crisp founder of Social Innovation for all.

Working with myself as Principal Investigator of the Parklife project and funded by seed money from the Goldsmiths Strategic Research Fund, Laura, Kat and Rebecca drew up a great plan of action in collaboration with the brilliant Year 3 teachers David Ash and Kelly Wild. They used the Parklife research methodologies of using art, combined with the science curriculum, and ecological awareness training to support the young people become researchers into parks. Collectively they were tasked with:

  • Investigating the ways in which young people can become expert researchers into their local parks and seek to improve the wellbeing and environmental awareness of park users of different ages and backgrounds.
  • Demonstrating to the students a link between the study of plants in their science curriculum and the importance of plants and biodiversity in their community and for the planet.
  • Preparing and creating an opportunity for students to present to policymakers and/or other influential people who could assist in exacting purposeful environmental change, including local council representatives.

Their combined key deliverables with John Donne Primary school included:

  • Delivering science-based lessons focusing on the life of plants, their structure, why they are important for biodiversity, nature and habitats for wildlife
  • Visiting examples of park spaces to observe, identify and discuss the various positive and negative aspects within each park
  • Creating stop motion animation films
  • Developing the lesson plan, workshops and resources to support the children to identify how best their park can be improved
  • Organising and overseeing a presentation to local policy makers
  • Developing a method to measure the quality and impact of this pilot project

In essence, they had to design, develop and deliver a Park Life pilot project in Southwark, which they managed to do triumphantly well. The pieces and presentations that the primary school students produced were really wonderful. Their focus was the school’s local park, Cossall Park; as part of Year 3’s science curriculum, they learnt about the ecological cycles in the park, and considered how the flowers in the park might attract bees.

They also thought long and hard about how they might best redesign the park to meet different users’ needs. The pupils made 3D paper sculptures of their redesigned parks, a couple of which you can see here:

 

This also made stop motion animation films which illustrate the creation of these models, which you can watch here:

They also wrote persuasive speeches which aimed to justify their suggested improvements to the park. Here’s the beginning of one:

 

Jasmine Ali was particularly impressed by one of the Year 3 pupils who talked about this very issue; the planting of more trees in the park could improve air quality and the environment more generally, and therefore help those with asthma or any breathing issues.

 

Jasmine Ali was particularly impressed by one of the Year 3 pupils who talked about this very issue; the planting of more trees in the park could improve air quality and the environment more generally, and therefore help those with asthma or any breathing issues.

The presentations also focused upon the ways in which rewilding the park could have big benefits for animals and park users, making it a much more magical place to be in.

Jasmine Ali was hugely impressed by what the young people had found out during their research and made a number of pledges: she would investigate how the park could be made more nature friendly by rewilding it more; she would see if it was possible to put in more equipment in the park (such as an outdoor gym); and she would see if more imaginative things could be done with it. One of the students suggested creating an artists’ enclave in the park, with outdoor easels and artists’ materials. Jasmine was particularly struck by this suggestion, and thought it was extremely original. There are many artists in the local area who could possibly help out to create such a space.

Jasmine promised to return in September to tell the young Parklife researchers whether the council would move ahead with any of their suggestions. All in all it was a very successful day. Hurrah for the John Donne Parklife researchers! Well done all of you!

The young Parklife researchers at John Donne Primary School with Jasmine Ali, Laura Dempsey and Rebecca Deegan

Parklife researchers spread the word the People’s Day Festival!

Note the Parklife billing at 2pm!

Last Saturday, 16th July 2022, our intrepid young Parklife researchers braved the heat and delivered a blistering performance of their work on the Climate Action stage.

It was a truly memorable experience. I arrived early at the People’s Day Festival, but it was already teeming with people. This festival, possibly the most famous ‘free’ festival in London, had not run for four years, so this year it was special. Funded in part by Lewisham Council as part of their London Borough of Culture year, it featured some of the most notable young artists of recent years: reggae star: Grammy-nominated reggae singer Tippa Irie, Hollie Cook with her own brand of ‘tropical pop’, South London’s favourite disco band, All Day Breakfast Café, Homegrown grime MC Novelist headlines, singer-songwriter Nina Ros, Lewisham-raised 1Xtra DJ Shahlaa Tahira curates a line-up of local musicians, alongside rappers Koder and Sharna Cane and CassKidd. So there was stiff competition!

Nevertheless, the young co-researchers in the Parklife Project really rose to the challenge of the heat, the crowds, the other distractions, and produced a marvellous performance which showcased the poetry which they have written as part of the project. The Parklife project has been innovative because it has used the poetry, art, pictures, photographs and films which these young people have been created as the basis for research into local parks. In this case, Fordham Park. Fresh from the success of their Advocacy Day, where these young researchers held local councillors, park management and other community organisations to account and presented their work (read this blog), the young people shared their work in a much truncated form, no less interactive. Watch performance poet, Laila Sumpton, introduce them here (please ignore my annoying whooping):

Here Laila reads the Parklife poem (again ignore my annoying contributions, apologies about that):

Here Anna Stewart explains the project in more depth:

The poems that the young people read were hard-hitting and focused upon the themes of litter, safety and youth engagement. The Parklife researchers had found out a great deal by writing their poetry, creating their art, making their films, and conducting more formal research such as surveying staff and pupils’ views about their local park, Fordham Park, at Deptford Green school. They were supervised by their teacher, Ms Alice Player, who is also a wonderful leader singer and guitarist of the Sundries.

The Goldsmiths’ students who were part of the project, and absolutely instrumental in training up the young co-researchers in various creative research techniques, as well as making the Parklife film, also presented at the festival. They explained the project’s aims and approaches, and also involved the audience in a fun ‘Parklife’ quiz, which I took part in as a contestant. I received some sweets because of my efforts!

The whole project was funded by the Goldsmiths’ Strategic Research Fund and supervised by the Head of Civic Engagement, Michael Eades, who supported us on the day too. Goldsmiths put on a great show overall: they had a tent which highlighted the incredible work they’ve been doing connected to South London history, and the Windrush generation. You can learn more about this here on the ‘living memory’ webpage they’ve set up to highlight their research.

Goldsmiths’ invitation for Londoners to share their histories highlighted in a marquee near the stage where the Parklifers performed.

Here is the whole Parklife Team assembled at the end of what was a triumphant performance:

The Parklife Research Team. I am sitting down in the silly shirt.

If you haven’t done so, watch the wonderful Parklife film which the young people and Goldsmiths’ students made:

How can we help young people improve their local environments? How can they become agents of change?

It is Monday morning, June 27th 2022, at Deptford Green school and the library is full of the great and the good, all of whom are keen to improve the parks in Lewisham: a freshly elected local councillor, Stephen Hayes; park managers, representatives from community organisations and a park user group, the Lewisham education lead for taking action against the climate emergency, as well as various academics from Goldsmiths university.

A number of Year 7-10 pupils (aged 11-14 years old) are wonderfully calm as they address this intimidating audience about their local park, Fordham Park.

Assisted by the amazing poet Laila Sumpton (a specialist in youth advocacy), Masters and Undergraduate students at Goldsmiths University, which has funded this pre-pilot for a larger project, these young people have been researching Fordham Park for months, using some cutting edge, creative research strategies. They’ve toured the park extensively, taken photographs and written poems, produced art, and collages about it.

A painting by a Deptford Green pupil about a young man who was killed in the park recently

A 360 picture of litter picking.

An animal eye’s view of litter in the park.

A 360 photograph of the park and the park researchers.

A cut-up poem about the park.

They’ve surveyed teachers and pupils about their attitudes towards the park, and they produced this film about it:

Now, on this Monday morning they are sharing their findings, and advocating for change. They have drawn up a series of short term and long term goals that they would like the relevant people to act upon:

A poster of all the goals the students devised.

Their talk illustrates the work they’ve done, and then an intensive question and answer session happens, with the young pupils from Deptford Green really drilling down into the nitty gritty of how the park might be changed for the better.

At the end of the session, relevant members of the audience come up with pledges to change things for the better. These include:

  • The parks’ management promising to help facilitate improved litter picking in the park, and the establishment of a community garden.
  • The local councillor promised to examine how the council can help young people feel safer in the park; he will set up meetings with the relevant police and safer neighbourhood teams; he will also join the young people in litter picking around the park.
  • The park user group will involve pupils in the setting up of a water fountain and a bicycle repair station, which have been approved by the council.
  • The Lewisham community leads will help the school link up with local residents, a local community garden initiative, and other relevant local groups. They will connect them with Keep Britain Tidy, a powerful lobbying group, and will use some of the images they have produced in a poster campaign.
  • The Climate Emergency education leader will help the young people to present their findings to the Climate Emergency school activists group in Spring 2023 and will connect them with the waste recycling team and the Young Mayors’ team.
  • The charity Street Trees for Living committed to planting new trees in the park.

This is just the beginning. Deptford Green school are keen to become an eco-school and will be expanding the Parklife project next academic year in collaboration with Goldsmiths. Research shows that parks can significantly help young people’s health ( Day & Wager 2010: Steletenrich 2015: Neal et al 2015: Rigolon 2017). It’s clear that getting these young people involved in researching their local park and changing it for the better could lead to significant impacts for them and other young people, which might include:

  • Improving the vegetation in the park which can lead to improved air quality: the community garden and other possible rewilding projects could do this.
  • Offering a ‘reprieve from noise’ and new ‘blue spaces’ such as bodies of water
  • Cognitive benefits which come from being regularly in green spaces
  • Improving vision which comes from spending more time outdoors
  • Improved socialization which comes from socializing in the park
  • Improved physical activity

(Summary of Steletenrich 2015: 256)

References

Day, R., & Wager, F. (2010). Parks, streets and “just empty space”: The local environmental experiences of children and young people in a Scottish study. Local Environment, 15(6), 509-523.

Neal, S., Bennett, K., Jones, H., Cochrane, A., & Mohan, G. (2015). Multiculture and Public Parks: Researching Super-diversity and Attachment in Public Green Space. Population Space and Place, 21(5), 463-475.

Rigolon, A. (2017). Parks and young people: An environmental justice study of park proximity, acreage, and quality in Denver, Colorado. Landscape and Urban Planning, 165, 73-83.

Seltenrich, N. (2015). Just What the Doctor Ordered: Using Parks to Improve Children’s Health. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(10), A254-A259.

 

A Goldsmiths’ student writes about she and other students helped pupils improve their local park

Goldsmiths’ student (Fine Arts 2021-22) Cherelle Angeline writes:

I was starting my foundation year of Fine Arts at Goldsmiths when I received an exciting newsletter announcing the SHAPE Park Life Project, and I thought of being involved in engaging with local issues outside of my studies. I was immediately interested because it bridges my interest of education in raising the awareness of environmental and social sustainability through creative engagement, where I can connect with my local community to talk about important issues around us, bridging the social gap between university and junior school students. It is difficult to get into schools and work with them, but our group leader, Dr Francis Gilbert, had strong links with Deptford Green, where he supervises PGCE students for his PGCE course, and he put us in touch with a Secondary teacher at the school.

Picture 1 The video team experimenting with the devices (iPad and 360 camera) for the first time

We started with a goal to develop innovative creative research methodologies with young people to raise voices about local environmental and social issues. Our research questions that we are exploring are: How do students at Deptford Green School engage with their local park (Fordham Park)? How would students/teachers/parents like to improve Fordham Park?

On the initial stage of the project at Deptford Green, our decision to recruit secondary students from the school as co-researchers led us to be invited to school to host creative workshops with 12 students (ages 11-15) running over 7 weeks.

We have undertaken survey by collecting discarded trash on the corners, recording the point of view of animals underneath the trunks, overlooking the piled trash. In this process, conversations were built with the students as co-researchers, giving them space to explore their voice and creativity through direct research in the park.

We carried the wooden sticks from the park back to the school, then we drew our ideas for construction of the wooden sticks into sign “Save the Planet”. It was very alarming and ambitious in which throughout the project, we disseminate the big concept of sustainability by implementing it in the lives of the children which begins to appear actionable and closer to reach for all of us. We started discovering sustainability in daily life and how it can be learnt and talked about between peers.

Picture 2: Initial presentation of the visual arts team

 

Picture 3: Visual arts station doing painting

Picture 4: Visual arts station doing collaging activity

Picture 5: Paining and collage

Towards the mid-point of our workshop sessions, we have initially planned to respond to the poem the other group wrote. However, Katherine, insisted that she wanted to paint something that is not about the park. They opened up with their emotions more on this session. Katherine has painted a portrait of a non-identified person with a dark background, showing the struggle of mental health and anxiety. She opened about her experience in being self-consciousness in the park, of being seen by people and questioning. They were very honest in their personal emotions which is one of our goals. Saraiah painted a phrase “Boring in the park” with a sad face, and dull colors smashed around the paper. Reglina painted a bright orange and yellow sunset with dark hills. She drew hills continuously on the daily basis which to me sounds like her imaginary safe space and hope to dawn of the day. We were bonding through conversations and as we were painting abstractly. It has brought a realization that a less structured class affects the kids’ decision on mixing paint more loosely. They have shared about their dreams. It is a precious gift to facilitate the children’s personal development while also realising their dreams. Katherine wants to be a psychologist to talk to people about mental health and help them. Reglina wants to be an artist to paint and draw.

Through collaboration with young students, there is hope in creating a safe creative space within and outside the classroom and larger Deptford Green community for conversations about what matters to them through artistic expressions. This way, field research is more than gathering data and academic outputs, but it is about engagement and growing relationships between generations of different backgrounds that will last in the children’s minds and whole community. I hope that the children have felt that they have been listened to and given the platform to make real changes in their school community.

Looking to work in community arts and education, this experience has inspired me to use the creativity of the hands to engage with young people, echoing their joys, fears, hopes, and dreams for a better world. It has fueled my motivation and determination in creating a difference that lasts.

Resources for further reading

Jónsdóttir, Á. (2017) Artistic Actions for Sustainability: Potential of art in education for sustainability. Ph.D. degree and a Doctor of Art degree in the School of Education and Faculty of Art and Design. The University of Lapland. Available at: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/132157571.pdf

Desai, D. (2020) ‘Educating for Social Change Through Art: A Personal Reckoning’, A Journal of Issues and Research 2020, 61(1), 10-23. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00393541.2019.1699366

Heras, M. (2021) ‘Realising potentials for arts-based sustainability science’, Sustainability Science, Vol. 16 (6), 1875-1889. Available at: https://link-springer-com.gold.idm.oclc.org/article/10.1007/s11625-021-01002-0.

 

Unlocking Identity for the 21st Century – Building Identity Literacy with Children

Mass displacement and migration due to climate change, resource wars and sea-level rise are now near certainty, meaning that many communities will likely experience a greater influx of ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity.

Political polarization, racial, ethnic and religious disharmony and conflict already characterise the nature of community life for increasing numbers of people around the world. The potential for the problems in the global economy to exacerbate the large-scale migration we have seen over the last decade seems higher than ever.

How, then, can we prepare our communities and our children for an increasingly complex future? Can we resist and counteract division as fear is used to turn ordinary men and women against those that are seen as different? Can we equip children with the ability to resist propaganda disseminated through social media and the pressures of their peers, parents and manipulative influencers?

Can we give them the resilience needed to fulfil their potential and maximise their development? What can we do now to better prepare the next generation to cooperate and thrive in the rapidly changing world that is unfolding?

The Potential Power of Identity

 One path forward is harnessing the latest understanding of how identities work – as a psychological and social system that helps to fulfil universal human needs and solve everyday problems. With increased identity literacy we can empower ourselves to self-actualise, build resilience and find freedom from self-concepts which lead to division.

Nobel Prize Laureate Amartya Sen, states that the richness of identity comes from the fact that “…the same person can be, without any contradiction, a Norwegian citizen, of Asian origin, with Bangladeshi ancestry, a Muslim, a socialist, a woman, a vegetarian, a jazz musician, a doctor, a poet, a feminist, a heterosexual, a believer in gay and lesbian rights”. This plurality means that identities can and should be entities that empower and liberate us to fulfil our potential and stimulate us to grow.

However, when this ‘state of plurality, of multiplicity and choice’ is diminished and restricted, we are only able to see ourselves in singular ways such as members of only one ethnic, religious or political group, diminishing the ability to meet our core human needs through many different expressions of identity.

For example, during terrorist or gang recruitment or in preparation for genocide, an individual’s identity options are gradually stripped away. The subject’s sense of who they are, where they come from, and who their enemy is is rewritten. A “depluralised” identity can convince people that they are divided from one another, severing their ability to feel an affinity with manufactured enemies and potentially turning these targets of manipulation into weapons capable of orchestrating terrible acts of violence.

With the ever-expanding reach of the internet and social media, these manipulations of identities are now easier and more scalable than ever before in human history. When compounded with the disruptive climatic and demographic trends we face, these technological vulnerabilities represent an existential threat to humanity as we know it.

Identity Literacy in Education

But there is hope. Schools and educators are in a powerful position to recognise and help solve this urgent problem. By identifying the risk of ‘identity depluralisation’ in each child as well as in the community in which the school serves, we can intervene effectively in the early stages. And we can do more than just safeguard and protect. All those involved with children can learn to empower them with the understanding and mastery of how their own identities function, in turn helping them to recognise and maintain flexible and diverse identities.

Helping children to build “Identity literacy” will allow children to better understand the deeper roots of their own and others’ behaviours, build empathy, and hone their skills to effectively resolve issues at their root. As a consequence, mastering identity not only allows more effective learning experiences to take place within and beyond the classroom, but also increases the resilience and actualisation of the child and, eventually, the wider community.

We believe that identity literacy must be integrated into our education as it is the foundation of our lived experience and a critical component in how we prepare for and thrive within the increasingly complex and diverse world of the 21st Century.

The Organisation for Identity and Cultural Development (OICD) has developed a program to help educators and schools incorporate identity literacy into their classrooms, policies and communities. The organisation offers schools the ability to conduct an ‘identity audit’, as well as train staff with a CPD course ‘Helping Children to be Identity Literate’ available through Goldsmiths University’s Teaching Hub.

For more information on the OICD’s work on Identity Literacy in Education and how it might be useful to your institution, contact Chikara Shimasaki at cshimasaki@oicd.net

 

 

Helen Moore on Wild Writing

Helen Moore reflects upon her workshop on Wild Writing at the Inspire Conference (details below):

It’s a truism that teaching and learning go hand-in-hand. And yet participating in the conference and contributing my insights to an audience of writers and teachers was far richer than I’d anticipated, particularly given its virtual nature. And although I’d always prefer an onsite setting to explore ‘wild writing’, I was delighted to sense that my attempts to convey it online were successful, both in describing it and through a short workshop, with participants sharing what I sensed to be deeply felt experience of wildish places.

But to start at the beginning, what is ‘wild writing’ and how is it ‘co-creative’?

Acknowledging that there are doubtless many definitions, I understand ‘wild writing’ as part of my own ecopoetic practice, stemming primarily from a desire to respond to the social and ecological crises that we collectively face. I believe wild writing encourages an ‘untaming’ of its practitioners, and builds resilience and wellbeing, allowing us to get in touch with our ‘humanimal’ nature and offering us the opportunity to progress the development of the ‘deep ecological self’ advocated by the ecophilospher Arne Naess.

At this point I shared some examples of my own ‘wild writing’, and I’ll include a poem here – ‘Green Drift’, from my debut ecopoetry collection, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins, (Shearsman Books, 2012).

Green Drift: a poem

“There is no force in the world but love.” – Rilke

 

Crawling into bed like a peasant,

with mud-grained feet, soil under the nails

of my toes – but too tired to care –

the heaviness of the day’s exertions draws

 

my body downward – each muscle and bone

finding its bliss – and I close my eyes

on a green panorama, shades of every

nuance, the contours of leaves in high

 

definition.  A film encoded on the visual cortex,

I observe again those lanceolate shapes, the forage silk

which slipped between our fingers and thumbs

(still redolent with that Ramson scent),

 

the mounding herbage that we plucked,

backs bent as in a Van Gogh study.

Behind my eyelids, vernal waves rise and fall,

hymn of this community to which my senses flock –

 

ancient rite of magnetic birds, Dionysus riding me,

greens rushing on the inside of my eyelids,

mosaics of foliage, fingers ablaze with Nettle stings,

soles still alive to the narrow woodland path,

 

its vertebrae of roots, pad of compressed earth.

High on Spring, I’m a biophile

and incurable; nor would I care for any cure –

would only be a node in Great Mother’s body

 

where, drifting into the canopy of sleep, I see foliar veins

close-up – illumined as if by angels –

feel the breathing of stomata.  Then, like a drunken Bee,

I surrender to this divine inebriation.

So how does wild writing happen?

Given that it’s a practice emerging from the wilder aspects of our consciousness, there is a strong need to carve out space in our busy schedules/timetables to get away from the digital world to nourish our creativity and deepen our connection with the other-than-human natural world. But we don’t need to seek out places that might typically be defined as ‘wild’. The wild is everywhere, even in our local park/garden/school playing fields.

It’s also about holding an intention, what does life want to show me today? In approaching it this way, we can experience magical encounters that lift our spirits/bring joy/inspire. It’s important to see the time we give it as ‘sacred’; time for nurturing soul and the ensouled world, and ideally we cross a threshold (which might be a garden or park gate, a path to a beach or forest) in order to mark the transition into it. Whilst in this space, we avoid conversations with other humans and open ourselves to the other-than-human world.

We begin by walking, slowing our pace, letting our mental chatter subside in order to open ourselves. We let our bodies soften, our senses receive information such as the breeze on our skin, scents in the air, taste, sounds near and far, and visual aspects such as colours, shapes, patterns. At the same time, we watch what is at the edge of our consciousness, breathing it in and out, honouring any uncomfortable feelings, breathing them in and out. We avoid getting attached to any of those thoughts, or letting ourselves build them into narratives, and instead keep returning our attention to the present moment.

We also practise the Five Ways of Knowing, which Bill Plotkin advocates. These are sensing (with all five senses), feeling, intuiting, imagining and thinking. Practising and valuing these additional ways of knowing helps to balance out the dominant rational mind and allows us to become more receptive to the multiple wild voices and natural sign languages that are usually so ignored in our culture – in fact, the American ecopsychologist, Theodore Roszak, talks about us having become deaf and mute towards the other-than-human world.

We also connect with the elements, the weather, darkness/light, rhythms of growth, abundance and decay, and notice what these may mirror within us. Observing dead wood riddled with insect holes and fungus, we may see what needs to fall from our own lives, what needs to be composted, as we embrace a deeper understanding of impermanence.

Through these acts of paying deep attention, and then finding language, imagery and form to reflect our experiences, we are engaging in wild writing. However, often that process of finding language is tentative, provisional. Our experiences may be difficult to communicate, and so we simply ‘splurge’, forgetting grammar, spelling, punctuation. Sometimes the seed of a poem or story is found later in just a few words of that splurge, a phrase that has a certain ‘energy’ that we want to explore further.

Wild writing fundamentally requires us to practise non-judgement – at least in the initial phase, when we allow everything in. Later we can practise the discernment of the editorial eye, but for now we are open to including all of our experience. Which connects with the co-creative aspect of this methodology.

What is co-creation?

In our culture we’re conditioned to think of the act of creation as happening almost in a vacuum. We’ve come to think of the creative ‘genius’ working in isolation. Often it’s a white, male figure, possibly inspired by a female muse. However, everything happens as a co-creation in Nature. A tree does not grow on its own, but responds to light, soil, water, weather, insects. It interacts with other trees through mycorrhizal relationships. Trees are also home to birds, creatures, insects, all of whom may have a symbiotic relationship with the tree. A bird might find its home in the tree’s branches, eat its berries, benefitting from this food source, and then pooping out the seeds, thereby disseminating them.

This shows that co-creation is at the heart of all experience. All beings are infinitely connected through the web of life, the ecosystems and communities we inhabit. Our co-creation as humans is with other writers and teachers who inspire us, and with the other-than-human as an interspecies experience. It may also involve consciously working with the Universe, the Divine, Spirit, Oneness, however we may call it.

This co-creation can come about through inspiration, and of course the word ‘inspire’ was key in the context of the conference. ‘Inspire’ connects us with the breath, the air we share with all beings. It is the insights, ideas, sudden intuitions which we ‘breathe in’. And as educators then ‘breathe into’ others when we inspire them.

At this point I invited people to prepare for the wild writing workshop section of my contribution to the conference, with an attunement to our wilder selves through the body and breath. I’m sharing my notes here in case they may be useful for others to adapt for their own purposes:

FOCUS ON BREATH

o Getting comfortable, close eyes, feet on floor, align spine etc

o Noticing breath’s journey in & out of body

o Breath can be shallow, deep, irregular

o What does it mean to be at home with our breathing/to inhabit our breath?

o Air penetrates deep into our lungs through this act of respiration, reaching the minute balloon-shaped air sacs that could be leaves at the end of the respiratory tree’s branches.

o Their function is to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules to and from the bloodstream.

o Of all the elements we’re able to survive the least amount of time without it

o We share the air, as we do water, with all human and other-than-human beings. Here we are inescapably experiencing this miraculous existence together inside a delicate pocket – Earth’s atmosphere, a phenomenon I explore in this section of my poem:

READ EXTRACT: ‘From the Pocket’s Circumference’ (ECOZOA, Permanent Publications, 2015)

“… here’s the rub – don’t we all live together in the same pocket? From outer space we see the pale cloud, and here and there the holes. If Earth were a fist balled up and thrust in a pocket, the atmosphere would be as thin as that cotton fabric. Our lungs know this. Drawing 20,000 breaths per day, these twin inflatable pockets point up towards the element on which they depend.”

VISUALISATION

Walking into a forest/woodland you know. Air filled with sounds of birds. The Spring sunshine is gently warming the air and your face. Sap is rising. Season when our ancestors would have celebrated the Earth’s awakening. Birth. Regeneration. As you walk, perhaps you’re starting to breathe in the scents of blossom, new leaves, Wild Garlic?

Talk about Japanese Forest Bathing – Shin-rin-yoku. As we walk in woodland, we’re breathing more oxygen-rich air. Also we’re benefitting from the forest’s natural aromatherapy. Inhaling the aromatic compounds released by trees and plants, called phytoncides. These have natural antibacterial and antifungal properties, and studies show that they support the white blood cells in our immune systems. Take time to be in this space etc.

Finally, I invited people to plunge into some splurging, and gave them five minutes. After that, I asked them to look at their writing and circle any parts that had interest/energy, which might serve for further development.

In the final minutes of the session, people typed into the chat some wonderfully rich snippets, read out some sections of their writings and asked questions. I’m hugely grateful for everyone’s engagement, and I’m open to ongoing dialogue with anyone who may want to know more.

 Biography

Helen Moore is a British ecopoet, socially engaged artist, writer and Nature educator. She has published three ecopoetry collections, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins (Shearsman Books, 2012), ECOZOA (Permanent Publications, 2015), acclaimed by John Kinsella as ‘a milestone in the journey of ecopoetics’, and The Mother Country (Awen Publications, 2019) exploring aspects of British colonial history. Helen offers an online mentoring programme, Wild Ways to Writing, and works with students internationally. In 2020 her work was nominated for the Forward and Pushcart Prizes and received grants from the Royal Literary Fund and Arts Council England. She’s currently collaborating with Cape Farewell in Dorset on RiverRun, a project working with scientists and farmers in Dorset to examine pollution in Poole Bay and its river-systems. www.helenmoorepoet.com

Note about the Inspire conference and anthology

‘Inspire: Exciting Ways of Being Creative’ was a conference hosted online by Goldsmiths’ Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, on 15th and 16th April 2021, 9.30am-4.15pm.

The conference explored through a series of dynamic online workshops and lectures how we can inspire people of all generations to be creative. It was in part a celebration of the publication of Inspire: Exciting Ways of Teaching Creative Writing (ed. Brankin, Gilbert & Sharples: 2020). You can access a free copy of this wonderful book here: https://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/29515/

 

How to teach creative writing: Niall Bourke’s key note address at the Inspire Conference

Niall addressed these key questions: What does it mean to write creatively? What are the barriers to facilitating creative writing practices in the current educational landscape? How might we overcome them? Why should we bother? Can writing creatively be means to a wider academic end? Does this matter? Should we, as educators, try to justify creative writing as having tangible benefits for students? Can we afford not to? Is it important that educators make time to be creative themselves?

His keynote address sought to answer these questions and more, while also providing practical ideas, exemplars and resources to help educators of all persuasions facilitate creative writing exercises with their students.

You can find his PowerPoint here and his notes here. Please note you will need a OneDrive account to open these documents.

Niall’s reflections

It wasn’t long ago that I was a Goldsmith MA student myself, so it was a great pleasure and a privilege for me to deliver this keynote speech for the Inspire Creativity conference.

My focus was to look at some of the barriers to fostering creativity (and particularly in the domain of creative writing) in the current educational landscape, and then offer ideas, resources and suggestions as to how educators can foster creativity in students. Although I stressed that, in general, educators should resist pseudo-justifications encouraging creativity (i.e. – being creative is almost always a valuable process in and of itself and regardless of outcome), being the Head of an English department myself I was particularly keen to be pragmatic when acknowledging the pressures teachers are under. Therefore, I sought to suggest creative exercises which, while excellent in their own right, can also be used to develop understanding of some of the core threshold concepts of English Literature and Language curriculums. Through a series of short activities, I looked at how educators can encourage ‘low-stakes’ creative exercises, and then go on to foster creative response from students by using high quality style-models. The extracts used on the day included the Lyrics of Barrie Louis Polisar’s ‘All I Want Is You’, Leone Ross’s ‘The Woman Who Lived in A Restaurant’ (from her collection ‘Come Let Us Sing Anyway’ – Peepal Tree Press, 2017), John McGregor’s ‘The First Punch’ (first published in Granta Magazine) and ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’, by William Carlos Williams. It was a lot of fun!

Biography

Niall has taught English for sixteen years (in Ireland, New Zealand and the UK) and is currently Head of English at St Michael’s College, in Bermondsey. He completed the Teacher/Writer MA (as it was called then) at Goldsmiths in 2015. His writing has been published widely in magazines and journals, in both the UK and Ireland, and his poems and short stories have been listed for numerous awards, including twice for the The Costa Short Story Award, The ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, The Mairtín Crawford Short Story Prize, The Hennesy New Irish Writing Award and the Fitzcarraldo Novel Prize. In 2017 he was selected for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series. His debut poetry collection Did You Put The Weasels Out? was published in April 2018 and was longlisted as one of The Poetry Schools’ books of the year. In April 2021 Tramp Press  publishied his debut novel, Line. In 2020, The Arts Council Awarded him a grant to develop a ‘Choose Your Own Poetry Adventure’ collection called The Erection Specialists, which will be published by Broken Sleep Books in 2022. He is represented by Brian Langan at Storyline Literary Agency. He blogs on his website about both creative writing and education.

www.niallbourke.com

Twitter: @supersplurk

Note about the Inspire conference and anthology

‘Inspire: Exciting Ways of Being Creative’ was a conference hosted online by Goldsmiths’ Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, on 15th and 16th April 2021, 9.30am-4.15pm.

The conference explored through a series of dynamic online workshops and lectures how we can inspire people of all generations to be creative. It was in part a celebration of the publication of Inspire: Exciting Ways of Teaching Creative Writing (ed. Brankin, Gilbert & Sharples: 2020). You can access a free copy of this wonderful book here: https://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/29515/