I caught up with the team at Seven Stories, the national centre for children's books to find out about a brand new project they are delivering in Ashington, Northumberland.
Voice of the Creative was an extension project of Voice of the Child which started in 2017 to bring high quality artistic experiences to children and families in Central Northumberland. The project was funded by Arts Council England, Northumberland County Council, bait Museums Northumberland and Catherine Cookson Trust with support in 2019 from Northumbrian Water.
We were keen to explore a partnership and what might be possible with Seven Stories . We took families on a 'Go and See' trip to the visitor centre and had staff deliver workshops for us too.
Fast forward a year and a new partnership is in bloom. I caught up with Sarah Cotton, Creative Producer about the project and her plans.
Can you tell us a little about the project you are delivering in Ashington with Action for Children?
The project in Ashington is part of a wider project called On Board with Stories.
On Board with Stories is an exciting and imaginative programme of creative learning activities that uses books and story to help disadvantaged young children build their happiness and resilience, understand themselves and others, and make sense of the world around them.
We started in November 2020 and we’re working with children’s centres to engage families living in disadvantaged or socially isolated communities.
Our four chosen children’s centres are located in Durham; East Newcastle; Sunderland and Ashington, and all fall along the northeast mainline route (On Board with Stories is funded by LNER).
Ashington is our first stop for the project. Together with community partners, we’ll be working with new families who have toddlers and babies at home with them and delivering story times, rhyme and song, book chat, sensory play and creative activities to offer parents and children the opportunity to enjoy stories, play and sharing time together.
Many new parents have expressed feelings of isolation and loneliness throughout lockdown and we’re hoping that this project will go some way to tackle that whilst supporting families to have fun and experience joy through books.
How does it differ to your in house programmes?
Seven Stories aims to create profound and playful experiences wherever we are – whether that be through events in our visitor centre based in the Ouseburn, via our exhibitions that tour the country or through the powerful programmes we deliver directly in schools.
Our programmes delivered in-house at Seven Stories have been hugely popular and this project is probably most similar to our Bookworm Babies course which has sold-out year on year.
The aim of that course is to cultivate a love of reading from an early age by supporting parent and child to enjoy books together, using story-time, play, sensory activity and movement to help bring those experiences to life.
The intention is very much the same with our project in Ashington; to help families to enjoy books together. With this project – and with other outreach work we are doing - we are intentionally reaching out to disadvantaged communities at a time when support is needed most; bringing those joyful story experiences we are known for directly into people’s front gardens, their communities and their computer screens.
Have you pivoted any of the content or topics of delivery of your work due to the pandemic
We were very aware that some local families who would be disproportionately affected by the national lockdown so we committed to support them through the speedy provision of resources and activities.
We collaborated with community and education partners across East End Newcastle to deliver a programme that supported families to play, read and be creative together – all the while entertaining children! Together with Barnardo's Community Family Hub East, Food Nation and 'Byker Best Summer Ever' project led by Byker Community Trust, we delivered;
* 14 digital story-times
* 35 doorstep storytelling performances
* 367 books
* 345 lockdown story-packs, family activity packs
* 600 hot meals
* 225 recipe packs
to 126 families in Byker.
We also worked with two partner primary schools in Byker to provide 28 digital story-times and story-inspired activities for use with keyworker children and families schooling at home.
That community-wide effort went some way to supporting positive mental health, wellbeing and resilience during a very uncertain time and also led to Seven Stories being awarded the Best Lockdown Project at the Museums Change Lives Awards in recognition of work delivered to support disadvantaged children and families.
Elsewhere at Seven Stories, we have been busy digitalising programmes and events to reach even more people during the pandemic.
We have delivered online StoryZooms as part of our public family offer and we also launched a digital version of our popular Authors into Schools programme which has been hugely successful, having engaged 5,600 children in the first half-term alone.
What are the future plans
Following the success of our work within Byker community we are expanding this work even further to empower more children and young people.
We will be looking to develop new relationships with partners and audiences, whilst also deepening those existing relationships we already have.
Sarah Cotton at a Seven Stories event
As an organisation, we are really committed to supporting children and families in our doorstep communities and we’re looking forward to widening this area of work and having more opportunities to support children and young people to understand their world and imagine their future. If you are interested in working with us then please send me an email; email@example.com