Background and aims of the project

At a time when internationally young people are reporting a sense of disconnect with their place in the world, when nationally there are concerns about the reduced opportunities within the curriculum for arts and creative activities, and within a local context where cultural organisations in the city are seeking ways of engaging young people, this project drew on the opportunities offered by the City of Literature designation to help teachers work with creative practitioners to engage pupils in arts-based place-specific activities to enable a meaningful connection with their local community and its history, and with their city as a cultural resource.

The Building a City of Literature project involved researching, reading, performing and writing plays about local communities. It drew on over a decade of educational research at CRACL <link: https://cracl.net> on the most effective ways of developing young people’s engagement in the arts. We piloted new ways of developing sustainable partnerships between schools and local cultural organisations with the aim of contributing to local knowledge, supporting Nottingham’s City of Literature and Cultural Education Partnerships, and deepening all participants’ understandings of the processes of learning about and valuing where they live.

Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity, Literacies and Learning [CRACL].

Two significant questions underpin CRACL’s research:

  • how can schools and cultural organisations work together to support pupils’ learning in and through the arts?
  • how can the arts in schools be developed to foster community cohesion and a sense of value about place?

Prior to this project, these questions have been addressed through projects funded by, amongst others, the ESRC, AHRC, British Academy, Arts Council, Tate, Royal Shakespeare Company leading to produce a substantial body of publications <link to cracl list: https://cracl.net/publications/>. This work has been well received internationally, particularly in Europe and Scandinavia, where the organisation Culture Creativity and Education draws on it explicitly in their work with state and regional educational administrations (eg Lithuania, Wales) keen to develop creativity in their schools.

The Building a City of Literature project aimed to further develop work that arose from this primary research, to maximise the impact of existing resources, promote community engagement and develop local knowledge amongst pupils and teachers. Because we are committed to education locally and to taking a place-based approach, we have also worked closely with schools and cultural organisations in the East Midlands to translate our research into practice. In so doing it extended our work on the signature pedagogies of creative practitioners and employed arts models developed through CRACL research. The project was offered in extracurricular sessions to respond to the changed situation in schools, where arts and cultural education are being systematically marginalised.

Starting points

 The teachers and pupils involved in the Building a City of Literature project began by exploring some of the resources which have been developed as part of CRACL’s long-standing research partnership with community arts company Excavate. These include the scripts of two community plays, written by local playwright Andy Barrett.

The first play, A Road to Billborough, is a spy story about the friends and neighbours who migrated into a local council estate in the 1950s.

The second, A Lifetime Gaurantee, was a play which resulted from a project which examined the history of the site of Nottingham’s former Raleigh factory (now the University of Nottingham Jubilee Campus).

Performed by a community cast, both plays toured local venues to sell-out audiences. Both were based on the oral histories of those who lived and worked in the places they are about. The oral histories generated as part of the Raleigh project have been archived on the I Worked at Raleigh website, which offers further material for pupils and teachers to explore.

If this has encouraged you to have a go at a place-based project in your own schools and communities, you can find support and advice from our teachers and pupils here too.