The Turnpike and Westleigh Methodist Primary School selected creative writer Elmi Ali to develop a project for young people in response to the brutalist architecture of The Turnpike Centre with its concrete façade by artist William Mitchell.
The aim of the project was to support young people to develop their creative writing skills and build their confidence.
Working with the two settings, the writer developed six 2-hour sessions which took place in July at The Turnpike Centre over the school term. The sessions were designed to build the creative writing skills and confidence of the young people and to support them in making writing that linked to the architecture of The Turnpike.
Fifteen year 5 and 6 pupils were selected who were identified as likely to benefit from the activities.
Delivered during the global Covid-19 pandemic the project took place shortly after lockdown restrictions had lifted in Greater Manchester which made it possible for the young people to visit the Turnpike building in person.
To conclude the workshops, The Turnpike collated the young people’s poems in a small poetry pamphlet and presented pupils with certificates of achievement with the Deputy Head teacher.
Over the summer, The Turnpike commissioned Manchester based visual artist Luca Shaw to collaborate with Elmi Ali to bring together the children’s drawings and audio recordings into an animated artwork.
To view the animation, follow the link here: https://youtu.be/1DYOWbZnO7c
The sessions delivered by the artist focussed on developing poetry in response to the architecture of the Turnpike building. The writer did this through a gradual process which allowed the young people to build their skills, confidence and trust in the creative writing process before directly connecting their work to the Frieze at the front of the building.
From the outset, students were excited about visiting the Turnpike and taking part in the activities. Students were taken to the venue by minibus and read poetry books which had been selected by their teacher while they were waiting to be picked up. The project allowed the young people time to familiarise themselves with the venue and to inhabit the space.
The sessions were fun and playful and helped young people to dispel any notions of good and bad writing, and what was right or wrong. The writer created a positive environment in which students could dispense with the rules and conventions that they were used to and instead explore language, meaning and creative writing in new ways, like writing on the ground outside of the building. The writer also explored with the children what a writer does, and talked about the qualities, skills and tools that a writer needs.
Each of the sessions and activities delivered by the writer built on the work of previous sessions. Some activities were a regular feature, for example using similes and metaphors to describe things. The sequencing of the sessions allowed the children to build confidence in being creative and helped them to build a new way of describing and communicating ideas, so that by the time they were asked to write about the building toward the end of the project they had the skills and the resources to be able to do this with imagination and without anxiety.
Over the sessions the writer offered a range of exciting activities for the young people that they had not previously experienced – this included using drama techniques to help them understand how performance can embody poetry. Over time this allowed young people to build their confidence and understanding. Dedicated resources (notebooks, pens) for the students became important and helped instil a sense of ownership and belonging (becoming creative writers).
Engagement overall was very high during the project, to the extent that some of the young people began to work outside of the sessions continuing their work at home and sharing it with their families, some of them even began to research areas like modernism and its links to the Turnpike building.
The activities and the overall project have supported many areas of wellbeing for the young people through an exploration of new ways of working with their own emotions and physical sensations. The activities have given them a vocabulary to explore this and the skills to connect them to a creative process.
The project has offered many opportunities for shared learning and transference of skills for the professionals involved.
The Turnpike found that many of the approaches used by the writer could be applied to future work, for example the way that the writer had gradually introduced the young people to writing about the building. The Turnpike felt that had they delivered the sessions themselves, they would have probably tried writing about architecture at a much earlier stage with less effect. Having watched the process of the artist they now feel more inclined to explore activities that build confidence and language before moving toward a final outcome.
Education staff found that whilst they had previously used drama techniques such as hot seating to develop creative writing, they had not experienced some of the techniques used by the writer such as asking children to imagine how words tasted, using physical activities to interpret a word with their body, and using drama techniques such as freeze framing and improvisation. Having seen the positive impacts of these activities, the education setting now plans to embed more of these techniques across the English curriculum. All the partners had found that the process of having a celebration event and something tangible as an output for the project had been important in supporting the exit point for the young people and giving a focus to the work. The Deputy Head made a speech for the young people which made them feel quite special, and again this had been a significant part of the process as it had provided approval from the school management and linked the project back into the education setting.
The Concrete Poems resource is designed to support Key Stage 2 teachers delivering an architecture themed literacy project in the classroom.
The resource draws on the ‘best bits’ of the project, and offers suggestions as to how this can be achieved. Included activities are:
- Doodling with words – using drawing to open up playful creativity without rules or boundaries, creating a free-write.
- Sensing spaces – using mindful practices to explore written responses to the built environment, creating a haiku poem.
- Modern Mouthful – using a mosaic poem technique to play with words and sentence structures, creating a monostich poem.
- Picturing Poems – using photography to explore the local area/a building and creating a descriptive paragraph in response.
- A bonus activity creating a ‘gif’ poem using free online software to animate words and images.
- The resource was created to be classroom ready, taking the form of a PowerPoint presentation with accompanying teachers notes.
To view the publication click the link shown in the Resource produced panel.