Constructive demolition

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Dramatic urban changes were used by Deansfield Comprehensive School to develop a curriculum around design and regeneration that inspired and empowered students.

The demolition of nine blocks of sixties flats close to the school was seen as a significant opportunity to explore how the built environment is changing and the impact of choices on all members of the community. Pupils were intrigued about how the 12 acre site would be developed and this became a focal point for creative coursework involving around 400 young people and their families..

Through discussions with staff and pupils, the theme of regeneration was chosen as a cross curricular context for Creative Partnerships’ work, using the nearby brown-field site to explore how the school community could become involved in planning issues and influence real change in the built environment.

Teachers and pupils, having met with regeneration officers and the borough architect, invited them to visit the school and work in agreed subject areas. Initially this was to explore ‘settlement’ in geography and allow the art department to use drawings and plans. At the same time the Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation (NIF), the Telford based charity which specialises in techniques for community consultation, agreed to use Deansfield and the project to pilot new ideas for Citizenship using their acclaimed ‘Planning for Real’.

Neighbourhood Renewal Officer John Brothers was quick to see the benefits of using a school as a sounding board for ideas: “I learnt more about the regeneration issues facing the community during an hour’s session with the pupils than in a week of reading reports.

“Regeneration discussions are often professionals talking to professionals, children rarely play a part, although arguably their views are the most important. They are the people destined to inherit these neighbourhoods”.

Site visits were arranged and pupils worked with NIF staff to create a scale model of the site and to develop a range of participatory activities which allowed young people and families to contribute to public consultation events and prioritise agreed issues.

A string of visitors to school generated significant interest amongst staff and pupils and soon work was underway in almost all subject areas. Creative Partnerships funding was used to engage a range of artists and creative professionals to work in school, including designers, writers, landscape architects and a sculptor.

Course work in Art and Design and Art Textiles was structured to include evidence of the project work; this contributed to GCSE and GNVQ assessments. This gave the work relevance at KS4 and has since been recognised as significant both in motivating pupils and raising attainment. (In three years the number of pupils attaining five GCSEs at grades A-C has risen from 19% to 52%)

The site is just a five minute walk from school and this has allowed for regular visits which can easily ft into a standard time-tabled lesson. As the project gained momentum pupils expressed interest in visiting a neighbouring development to see a completed show home. This was a Persimmon Homes site and was to prove the start of a ground breaking longer term partnership. As major developers in the West Midlands, Persimmon were preparing plans for the larger Mayfield site and when they were awarded the contract the school were seen as significant partners in the project.

The Council and Focus Housing had completed the first phase of work on the site and opened a stylish complex of sheltered accommodation to house older local people, some of whom had previously lived on or close to the site. Researching local history and change provided an ideal opportunity for inter-generational discussion work between the tenants at St Matthew’s Place and school pupils, and again served to promote really positive long term community relations.

More recently pupils have worked on a history and drama project to commemorate VE day through reminiscence work with around 30 of the tenants to explore first hand experiences of World War Two. There is a thriving partnership established, and current work includes ‘Cooking with Granny’, a project aimed at pupils who need to learn about healthy eating.

This work had curricular value but has also been seen as important for other reasons: “It’s not only broken down barriers between generations, but has given the pupils pride and perspective in their community”, explains Rachel Dickins, Creative Partnerships co-ordinator and assistant head teacher. These improved community relations have been endorsed by the Police and local community safety officers.

Year 7 led consultation events using ‘Planning for Real’ with over 300 local people to discuss ideas for mixed ownership housing, sustainability and to develop proposals for the public amenity space on the site. The evidence of this research was collated into a Power Point presentation and a group of 20 pupils was invited to the Civic Centre to present their findings to the leader of the council and several officers from planning and regeneration.

The project work has also encouraged collaboration between different departments in school, linking geography and design, history and drama, English and ICT and has provided new opportunities for professional development. These links have evolved and have allowed new and original ways of working to develop. This has also challenged creative professionals and given them the chance to work in new disciplines.

Work with Persimmon has extended to embrace several other themes: home security and safety, sales and marketing with placements, training and work experience and the opportunity for pupils to work alongside the interior design company responsible for the show home on the site. This features fabrics, canvasses and cushion covers designed and made by year 11 pupils as part of their Design Textile GCSE.
Year 8 pupils named the site and signage reflected partnership working with the school.

In response to interest from pupils and families, the school has recently established a new Level 2 Btec in Construction with local training providers and the city council, and will use links with developers to find placements on local sites. The work has impacted on pupil retention post 16 and informed destinations for recent school leavers.

The work at Deansfield is featured in the Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation’s ‘Planning for Real in the 21st Century – A local Citizenship Study Pack for Secondary Schools’ as a video case study. The pack was launched in May 2004 and the school’s work was subsequently endorsed by the Arts Council, Home Office, DCSF and ODPM. The pack attracted extensive press coverage and in December 2004 the school was awarded the RegenWM award for the Most Transferable Project. The project was referred to by Lord David Puttnam in the House of Lords as an outstanding example of Creative Partnerships working and was also highlighted in a recent Ofsted inspection at Deansfield.

Jeremy Brown is Creative Agent for Deansfield Comprehensive School in Wolverhampton.

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