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‘I need you to jump out of your seat and go plant more flowers!’ What do primary school children in Lambeth want for their local parks?

It’s a cold, rainy morning outside Hillmead Primary School, but inside their assembly hall, the Year 3/4 (8-9 year olds) pupils are happy and engaged. Some of their classmates are delivering speeches about what they want from their local parks to three Lambeth councilors:

  • Councillor Rezina Chowdhury – Deputy Leader of Lambeth Council and Cabinet Member for Sustainable Lambeth and Clean Air, Ward –
  • Councillor Donatus Anyanwu – Cabinet Member for Stronger Communities, Leisure and Sport, Ward – Brixton Windrush – Streatham Hill East
  • Councillor Scarlett O’Hara – Ward – Brixton Windrush

They’ve been assisted in researching their local park – Brockwell Park – by their teachers and Goldsmiths’ research partners and the “Soak Up Lambeth” Team at Lambeth Council. They have turned their research into powerful resources, including pictures of their perfect parks, leaflets to promote their ideas and persuasive speeches to convince their council to take action. The whole Parklife project is part of research set up by myself at Goldsmiths in 2022 from Strategic Funding from the Goldsmiths’ Research office and British Academy SHAPE funding. This academic year, 2023-2024, SHAPE funding has been used to support work in primary schools led by:

  • Laura Dempsey, founder of Volunteers for Future who deliver action-led climate programmes that equip young people with the skills, tools and confidence to build a better future for all
  • Rebecca Deegan, founder of I Have a Voice, an organisation which helps young people advocate for change.

Building on our previous Parklife project at John Donne Primary School, Laura and Rebecca have worked intensively with primary schools in Lambeth and Tower Hamlets to produce a ‘Parklife Toolkit’ which will enable primary schools and community groups working with young children to encourage them to become creative researchers into their local parks. Approximately 60 Year 3/4 pupils conducted research into Brockwell Park by visiting it, making observations about it, interviewing park users, and producing creative responses to the parks. In particular, they were encouraged to draw and label their perfect park:


The pupils also wrote speeches for their local councillors about how they would like Brockwell Park to be improved. Four key points emerged from their lively, entertaining speeches:

More wildlife areas. Many of the speeches outlined the pupils’ desire for Brockwell Park to become more of an ecological haven for animals, birds, bees, insects, and for plants and trees. One pupil memorably looked the councillors in the eye, and said, ‘I need you to jump out of your seat and go plant more flowers!’

  • Greater safety. The speeches often spoke about the pupils’ fear of dogs in the park. Many speeches asked for dog-free zones and/or designated areas for dogs.
  • Greater accessibility. Pupils wanted better access for wheelchair users in the park, and for people with mobility issues.
  • More facilities for playing. Many of the speeches spoke about the need for more sports facilities in the park, and for the existing areas of the park not to be flooded when it rains so children can play there easily.

The councillors were all very impressed with what the pupils said, and invited a group to go and speak at the full council meeting when it is in session.

Cllr Chowdhury, cabinet member for Sustainable Lambeth and Clean Air, said: “The pupils at Hill Mead Primary School have been working incredibly hard to think about how they could suggest actual improvements to Brockwell Park. “They had three clear suggestions for us: create more biodiversity and habitats for wildlife, have separate places for people to play and walk their dogs, and to introduce more drainage to stop the park getting too muddy when it rains heavily. Their work was truly impressive, and they were really interested in how Brockwell Park can be improved by introducing measures to prevent flooding or what we can do to support the wildlife who live there. We will keep the pupils’ work in mind when we consider further enhancements to Brockwell Park and we really value their contribution.”

You can read more about this event on Lambeth’s website: Hill Mead Primary students pitch their Brockwell Park improvement ideas   – Hill Mead Primary students pitch their Brockwell Park improvement ideas   – Love LambethLove Lambeth

Why I wrote ‘Arts Methods for the Self-Representation of Undergraduate Students’ by Miranda Matthews


There are gathering national and global initiatives to develop further understanding of the experiences of undergraduate students, as they transition into their studies at university. This book is the first to present research on how arts methods integrated in taught curriculum and extra-curricular arts practice assist transitions into belonging in university cultures. Underrepresented groups can have particularly difficult times and experience anxiety and culture shock that affect their levels of confidence and participation.

In 2016 I started researching how arts methods could assist transitional experiences in UK universities. I questioned how participating in arts practice could enable greater bonding with study programmes, peer groups and environments. I wanted to find out how arts practice could increase self-representation and support the wellbeing of undergraduate students.

In Arts Methods for the Self-Representation of Undergraduate Students, a central argument is that all transitions into university cultures are sensory transitions, that involve adjustments to the types of sounds, accents, visual discourses, aesthetics and tastes and material presences of what it is like to be at university. When acknowledging the significance of sensory responses, university faculty need to consider whether learning and social spaces can offer welcoming, homing experiences. The architectural grandeur that celebrates traditions of knowledge, often has cultural subtexts of oppression that may be materially present in stone effigies. This cold, stone presence can impact the present day experiences of underrepresented students.

When talking about underrepresented groups, there is a focus on groups who are in minorities in higher education. However it must be remembered that students in racialised minorities and first-generation students are actually in global majorities. Mature students, parents, carers, and care-leavers, students with disabilities and non-binary students are also in minorities at university. The combined social oppressions associated with each of these identifications can add to the difficulties experienced when starting out in university cultures. This is where theories of intersectionality, that centralise the marginalised experiences of women of colour are particularly significant, and need to be centralised in our discussions of students’ experiences.

The feminist theories of Kimberlé Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Jennifer Nash and Gloria Ladson-Billings are centralised in my book. This book also connects with the diasporic cultural theory of Stuart Hall, and Paul Dash – for a relation to learning about the lived experiences of black people and people of colour. The multi-modal approach of this research approaches each university as a ‘pluriversity’ in which, as one of the participants says, ‘Every minority experience is probably different.’

Posthumanist theories of assemblage and affect are currently very significant for reflections on how university environments can become more responsive to the different needs of students, and more conscious of their impacts upon the environment. Universities assemble a vast range of diverse interests and specialist knowledges. They can also form caring and inclusive networks that respond to the sometimes preconscious ‘affective’ reactions of students who are affected by their feelings of difference.

In my book I present a reflexive accountability for my own whiteness as a researcher, with an inter-racial family. My parents did go to university, however they separated and my mother chose to work in the community, to be among the political grass-roots initiatives that were very important to her. As a young person I was therefore in close proximity to the experiences of people in racialised minorities and working-class people. My family has included black people and people of colour since I was a teenager.  My mixed-race niece who was born in 1990, was the first in her African-Caribbean family to go to university, and is now a thriving, professional woman.

In addition to centralising the experiences of people of colour,  UK HEIs are also called upon to address the experiences of mixed and white first-generation students, some of whom are more comfortable in urban and working-class communities, and are commuting into campus.

When exploring how arts methods can assist sensory transitions the historical contexts and cultural differences of the four nations of the UK need to be included in the discussion. There is an economic North-South divide in England, in Wales the rural white working-classes often have Welsh as their first language, in Scotland there is a significant class divide between students who take the Scottish Higher qualifications and those who can only take the Standards; this divide relates to the academic-vocational divide in England where A Levels are the traditional route to university. In Northern Ireland the legacy of ‘The Troubles’ still affects first-generation students.

These are some of the issues that lecturers working with arts methods are aware of and attempting to address. To justify the inclusion of arts methods, lecturers in subjects such as education, human geography, anthropology, psychology, sociology and English literature have had to argue for the inclusion of arts methods as they help students to achieve well in assessment.

Yet, the presence of arts practice has a far more extensive significance. My book documents how experiences of arts practice are enabling inclusivity, lateral social connectivity, collaboration, creative action and student leadership. There are significant differences of value for arts practice in UK HEIs; this book shows how an active value for arts practice can support flourishing inclusive university cultures that encompass many worlds of familiarity and difference.

Arts Methods for the Self-Representation of Undergraduate Students was published by Routledge in April 2023. You can find out more about this book here. 


Dr. Miranda Matthews is an artist, writer, arts educator and researcher. Miranda researches issues of self-representation, agency and inclusivity for students and practitioners. She also researches inclusive voice in ecological practice research. Miranda worked as an artist and then as a teacher of art, working in schools and colleges for ten years (2004-14). Miranda has a PhD in Educational Studies (2012, Goldsmiths, University of London). She has taught in Higher Education in the UK since 2011, and became a member of Goldsmiths Educational Studies Faculty in 2016. Miranda Matthews is currently Head of the Centre for Arts and Learning at Goldsmiths, University of London (2019- ); she is also Associate Head of School for Student Experience in Professional Studies, Science and Technology (2023-2025).





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,

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


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.


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)


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:

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:

Heras, M. (2021) ‘Realising potentials for arts-based sustainability science’, Sustainability Science, Vol. 16 (6), 1875-1889. Available at:


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