Here are links to two short films we’ve just made.
tinyurl.com/sdowd15 is a short (7 1/2 minutes) version of Matt Haig’s BOOKS CAN SAVE US speech given this August at The Edinburgh International Book Festival.
tinyurl.com/3projects was shown at Edinburgh before Matt’s speech to show the work we do. It features 2 projects in Northern Ireland: the school library at Fleming Fulton School for special needs pupils (we gave them a grant towards revamping their library) and the Royal Victoria Hospital School, where we’re in the third year of supporting the Readwell (who work in hospitals supplying books and storytellers in hospitals for children throughout the UK). The third project is one we organised this July, bringing 50 children in care to London for this year’s YALC.
Matt’s title was “Books Can Save Us” and he told a packed Garden Theatre in Charlotte Square a personal story about his experience his 20′s when re-reading his teenage books helped him focus and get a handle on his depression: “I wasn’t able to socialise and found going outside difficult. I was very much at risk of drowning in my own mind. So books became my life-rafts.”
He spoke about how mental health issues are rising in all age groups, but most markedly for those under 18: “The increasing personal, social, economic and technological challenges facing young people right now are immense.”
Matt said that in meeting people while talking about his book Reasons to Stay Alive, many told him how reading and writing had helped them. He outlined how books can change society, be the basis for religions and change the way we think: and what books can do for society, they can also do for individuals. “Books are one of the fundamental things that make us feel human. They are maps, helping us locate who we really are. We must never side line books, or trivialise them, or see them as a nice little middle class luxury, or GCSE the life out of them. We should not let this or any other government put any barriers between a human being and a book.”
He concluded “Books are for all of us, and for every stage of our life. We should be faithful to them. In sickness and in health, because they will always be there when we really need them. They are the still centre in the whirlwind of modern existence. They can help us and they can change us and make us better people.
They help raise us.
They sort us out.
They can become our friends.
They can be our medicine.
They might, one day, even save our lives.”
A sold out event, the speech will be available soon in full on the Edinburgh Book Festival website and as a short edit (we’re working on it now!)
For the second year, the Siobhan Dowd Trust will be offering YALC ticket and travel grants.
We will have tickets for the Saturday 18th July available, which is the day when Patrick Ness will be interviewing the legendary Judy Blume. (There will be lots of other big name authors for Young Adults there too…)
We can fund: day entry and train tickets to Olympia.
We are looking for: organisations that work with Young People who ordinarily wouldn’t go to book festivals. In the first instance, we are looking to give grants to Virtual Schools working with teens in the care system, after that we will open applications up tosecondary schools with high levels of Pupil Premium pupils- we would like the kids you bring along to be ones you think will especially benefit from the experience and deserve a day out to remember and return to school and enthuse their fellow pupils with what they have seen and heard.
A film we made about the experience of the teens who came along last year is here (You will see what a spectacular event it is as it takes place as part of the London Film and Comic Con.)
Please email Kate Powling if you would like to be considered for this: email@example.com
“It was a fantastic experience and one that the pupils who attended still talk about.” Alison Campbell, Smithies School, Bolton
We are offering schools the chance to apply for an Author visit from Candy Gourlay.
Candy is a great speaker and will talk to your students about how she grew up in the Philippines and went on to be a Journalist and later a writer.
The visit will take place on October 14th or 15th and is suitable for Years 5 and 6. Secondary schools who would like to run an Author event for feeder schools can also apply.
Candy does a presentation to a large group and then a 2 hour workshop with 30-40 Year 6′s which builds on the talk. A book sale after school can be held for parents and pupils (we will fix all of this).
If you would like to be considered, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with details of your school: we’ll need to know your location, the number of pupils that you’d like to take part (we’d like to maximise number so small rural schools might want to combine with a neighbouring school to increase your chances!) and your pupil premium or FSM figure. It would also be helpful to know if your school has experienced Author Visits before (there is no “right” answer to this question!)
DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS: June 17th
Very sorry, but fee paying schools are not eligible.
Just before Christmas the Trust sent several boxes of books to support the counselling work done in Haringey, Tower Hamlets & Hackney Primary schools by Child in Time. We have just had this email about the use they have already put the books to:
“Just wanted to update you on all those beautiful books you provided. Four primary schools have already had their mini library set up in the counselling room and all our therapists have said how incredible the resource has been and will continue to be for years ahead.
Occasionally a book has been given to a child at the end of long-term counselling. One little boy couldn’t believe he was really allowed to take ‘The Wibbly Wobbly house’ with him on his final day - certain books or objects often become precious but they are not allowed to leave the therapy room during the process. This book had really touched him during therapy and when he did finally accept that it was his, he walked out glowing with pride and clutching onto this symbol of all that he had achieved.”
Teachers interested in the therapy work done in London schools can contact Child in Time here.
Olivier Award winning writer Mike Kenny has adapted Siobhan’s novel and it will be staged for the first time this february at Derby Theatre, directed by Sarah Brigham.
“HURRY, HURRY, HURRY HOLLY HOLGAN, BEFORE THE ROAD DISAPPEARS UNDER YOUR FEET. It’s Holly’s birthday and she’s going on a road trip to find her mum. Head-strong and street-smart, she boldly sets out as her glamourous blonde alter-ego Solace. So begins a bittersweet, and sometimes hilarious, journey as Solace swaggers and Holly tiptoes across England and through memories, discovering her true self, and unlocking the secrets of her past. Leaving her foster home behind, Solace’s sharp talk helps her navigate a host of curious characters on this road trip which turns out to be more about finding herself than looking for answers.
Alive with the passions and frustrations of growing up, this witty and touching play will inspire anyone who is, or ever has been, a teenager. There are currently 70,000 children in care in the UK and this vital new piece of work from Derby Theatre uses humour, imagination and courage to tell just one of these stories.” Derby Theatre brochure.
The run is 27th Feb – 14th March - book tickets here, and there are a couple of extra workshops which may be of interest:
COSTUME UNPICKED: SOLACE OF THE ROAD Join Derby Theatre’s Head of Wardrobe, Tim Heywood, and guest designers for this exciting series of events where they explore costume design and making the impact it has on stage, linked to some of this season’s shows:
Sat 7 March, 5pm
In Solace of the Road Holly finds a new identity, transformed into an independent young woman of the world just by putting on a blonde wig and new clothes. In this session we explore how clothes and fashion change the way we feel.
£28 for the workshop including a ticket to see the show that evening.
A debate inspired by Solace of the Road
Thursday 12th March – Post show discussion after the 7.30 performance
Solace of the Road – the novel by Siobhan about a young girl in foster care who runs away in search of her mother – is about to go on stage at Derby Theatre. The play has been adapted by Mike Kenny, and there’s an ambitious education outreach programme that is involving every Derby secondary school in both seeing the play and working on the play & novel in schools. The Derby virtual school which works with Derby foster children and kids in care are also part of the programme.
You can book tickets to see the play here: the run is 27th Feb – 14th March.
Here, Drama advisers Paul Bunyan and Ruth Moore talk about their work in schools using Solace of the Road:
‘Solace of the Road’ – Speaking to and for all young people
Paul Bunyan and Ruth Moore explore how young people’s thinking skills and educational outcomes are being enhanced through an ambitious project, developed around the publication and production of ‘Solace of the Road’.
Students in classrooms across Derbyshire watch attentively as their teachers, in role as ‘Lost Property official’ characters, remove items from first, a modern lizard skin bag and then a Victorian bundle and place them on a table. The contrast between items such as the furry pink purse, taken from the bag and a 19th Century lace shawl taken from the bundle, is both heightened, and in some strange way reduced, by the sound of the song ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This’ being played as a soundtrack, providing a backcloth to the students’ thoughts. A few minutes later, pairs of students are carefully returning one of these objects to the ‘officials’ table while saying out loud, ‘She walked away from….’ and adding their considered choice of words, such as ‘unhappiness’, ‘her past’, ‘the truth’ to complete the phrase. The soundtrack continues to add to the significance of the objects and words as the teacher in role pauses and finally removes a blonde wig from the lizard bag, looks enquiringly at it and reads out loud from the recently published script of ‘Solace of the Road’,
“How can you sail into a dream? Dreams are like mirrors. You walk towards them and a cold pane of glass stops you.”
A few miles away at Derby Theatre, Sarah Brigham, Artistic Director, is about to begin rehearsals for the UK premiere of ‘Solace of the Road’, adapted by Mike Kenny from the novel by Siobhan Dowd. Holly Hogan, the main character, fed up with living in foster care and wanting to find her Mum in Ireland, steals a blonde wig and sets off on her journey. Now with long blonde hair, Holly takes on her alter ego, the older and more confident ‘Solace’. ‘Solace’ is the kind of girl who can face anything and, therefore, so can Holly … apart from the truth about her past. Groups of young people in care, some of which have previously been involved in a weekend residential exploring the text and its themes, eagerly await the opportunity to meet the cast and contribute to the design process. Meanwhile, hundreds of students across the region continue in lessons to explore the script, provided free to schools taking part by Derbyshire County Council, in preparation for their visit to the theatre to see the play.
What began 18 months ago as a group of representatives from Derby Theatre, Oxford University Press and Derbyshire County Council, gathered round a table discussing a proposal from experienced teachers and writers Paul Bunyan and Ruth Moore, has become an ambitious and distinctive project that is now impacting on the experiences and education of young people.
Increasingly, the need to challenge misunderstandings about groups in our society and the promotion of critical thinking has risen up the government’s agenda with such initiatives as preventing extremism and promoting British Values. It is approaches, however, such as those promoted by the Solace Project that give such initiatives the educational grounding and substance they require, while also responding to the demands to raise standards and outcomes for all young people, particularly in English.
While much work has been undertaken in schools about racism, gender issues and inequality and significant amounts of policy and funding has been attributed recently to the education and life chances of the 70,000 children currently in care, little focus has been given to all students’ and teachers’ understanding of this group of young people. It could be argued that the gap in attainment and progress between all students and those in care is as much about this misunderstanding as it is about the targeted interventions and approaches that are required. As Sarah Brigham says in her introduction to the OUP text, ‘The story seems to me both personal and universal. Even if we don’t have experiences of living in care, trying to understand how our past informs our current situation is a dialogue we are all engaged with throughout our lives.’ At the heart of the success of the project lies a powerful piece of literature that can speak to, and for, all young people. At the heart of education must lie learning approaches and educational expectations that speak to and for all young people whatever ‘group’ they belong to.
Returning to the classrooms, the students create fictional environments with roles and narratives that simulate life and yet remain a construct which they are able to analyse and question. The students can inhabit this challenging fictional world through the safety of drama conventions explored in the back of the published playscript, which increase their engagement without requiring that they put their own identities at stake.
As the playscript reveals the unfolding horror of Holly’s past and the links with Jane Eyre, when Holly leaves all her possessions on a train, the teacher asks for students to be sculpted into the positions the class thinks Holly and Jane Eyre occupy at this point in the play. They hold the still picture, as the teacher asks another student to represent the ‘playwright’ Mike Kenny. She asks the students to ‘Place the Playwright’ in the scene where they think he should be. Other pupils are asked whether they agree with this positioning and then move the represented playwright to where they feel he is most appropriately placed. The students use various criteria for this, including the playwright’s distance from certain characters, the events and what empathy the playwright shows for specific characters. By physically Placing the Playwright, the students question the different roles, aims, intentions and purposes of this writer and the ways in which plays differ from novels. The students, now used to the process engendered through the Drama convention ‘Placing the Writer’, rise to the challenge of Placing the Director (Sarah Brigham) and a robust discussion follows as they debate whether the director is right to interpret the playwright’s script in this way and whether Siobhan Dowd, the original author still has a voice in the final production on the Derby Theatre stage.
Integrity is evident throughout the work, as is the sustained time needed for such work to be developed, for without these and an understanding of the drama process, the modelling and development of analytical skills would be impossible. What is important throughout the work is that the use of drama conventions and the employment of the drama discipline enable analysis of the texts and the adaptation process. The students are challenged to visualise difficult concepts and ideas. They also have to model and question the learning processes involved in developing these skills. It is this critical understanding that enables all students to transfer the learning processes and their developed thinking skills to new texts and contexts. This inevitably impacts positively on progress and attainment.
2015 is not just a time for new publications and exciting and unique projects but is the opportune moment to recognise the impact of such partnerships and approaches on students’ learning. Hundreds of students in schools and many young people in care will be engaged with the ‘Solace of the Road’ initiative before, during and after its production at Derby Theatre. The focus on pupils’ progress and the raising of standards in critical thinking and learning skills provided through this initiative model should be a core entitlement for all young people.
So where should the national debate on education, including the outcomes for Children in Care and all identified groups continue? How do we draw all the elements explored in this project together on a national scale? Not in the offices of politicians or company directors and leaders of industry, creative or commercial, nor even in the world of university campuses or in the minds of parents, but in the classroom. The debate begins with the pupils’ learning experiences and how the development of critical thinking, understanding, skills and independence empowers all young people to achieve and question.
Paul Bunyan is a Drama education consultant with many years of school and local authority experience across all phases.
Ruth Moore is a Deputy Headteacher with many years of Leadership and English and Drama teaching experience.
The play ‘Solace of the Road, adapted by Mike Kenny from the novel by Siobhan Dowd, and directed by Sarah Brigham will be performed between February 27th and March 14th 2015 at Derby Theatre.
The script, which includes the full text and teaching materials, is published by Oxford University Press
At the January Trustee meeting, it was decided to fund two projects:
A family reading day project run by the Prisons Reading Group and Roehampton University. (We’ve funded work in prisons before and are very committed to projects like this which help the children of prisoners through books).
A teen parent / baby reading group in Leeds, run by Reading Matters – this will be a pilot project where young parents will read a YA title as well as picture books for their children.
Our 2015 project will be building and supplying simple book exchanges to communities in the UK. The very first have already been delivered in the first week of the school term. They will be hosted by Bearwood Primary School and will be available to the community as they will be sited in open to the public areas of the school playground. One of the boxes will be at a local cafe, Coffee Junction. Those at Bearwood Primary were made by the UK based charity, LFL Project. Click here for the blog by LFL Project’s Nick Cheshire.
Each box will contain information on where to find the local public library.
We asked the teacher behind the school application to the Siobhan Dowd Trust to write up why the school is doing this:
With so many other distractions, how do you get children to fall in love with books?
As teachers we know how important it is to get them reading for pleasure as early as possible, but without a dedicated library space in school, we needed something different. We also wanted to surround our children with as many opportunities to read as possible. We decided to create an outdoor library; to combat indoor space limitations, and give children access to books and comics at free time such as playtime, lunchtime and home time. We also wanted to target parents who might be reluctant to take their offspring to an established library.
We discovered Little Free Libraries on an American website, and were soon thinking of ways we could adapt them to meet our needs within school and the local community. We contacted the Siobhan Dowd Trust to discuss the idea and they helped us source, fund and design the boxes. Ours are colourful, eye-catching and weatherproof, like little homes for Mary Norton’s Borrowers.
Filling the boxes was easy. Ours are filled with a range of books, some supplied by school, some donated by staff, children and parents, and a monthly subscription to a series of comics ensures a regularly updated range of reading material. Boys particularly enjoy a dip into the comics at playtimes.
We did need to think carefully about the positioning of our little swap-boxes to maximise their impact. As our playground is open to the public at weekends as a car park, we knew the boxes positioned there could be accessed by families in their free time. But we also wanted to extend the scheme within the community, to build reading behaviours and a love of books beyond our immediate environment. A local charity run café, which is a real hub for the local community, agreed to host one for us and the scheme is going from strength to strength.
We are hoping to site another box within the community soon, when we can find a suitable host. We are really excited by our Book exchanges and hope more will spring up across the area. Watch this space….
Bearwood Primary School, Smethwick
Our Trustees met last week and have agreed to fund the following projects:
The Clearvision project - ClearVision is a UK postal lending library of mainstream children’s books with added braille. Their books all have braille (or Moon), print and pictures, making them suitable for visually-impaired and sighted children and adults to share. There are over 13,000 books in the collection, including tactile board books, simple stories for young children and stimulating books for newly fluent readers. We will be funding a project My Home Library making it easier for blind children to have books of their own.
Seven Stories – The Trust will be contributing towards the costs of an ambitious outreach programme run by Seven Stories and Action for Children. It’s in conjunction with the 2015 exhibition “Rhyme around the World” which will celebrate classic nursery rhymes and explore new interpretations in diverse cultural traditions. We are funding Seven Stories to work in 4 community groups in Newcastle and Northumberland promoting reading for pleasure and encouraging families to discover new rhymes. Staff from Action for Children centres will take part in the programme and share what works best nationally.
AND OUR FIRST PROJECTS FOR NEXT YEAR WILL BE:
Book exchanges – A simple box with books that can be swapped from which children can access books freely and easily. Not meant in any way as a substitute for Libraries but as a way of encouraging reading, books and discovering the local library (all the boxes we will supply will contain information on where to find the local public library). Our first site will be at Bearwood Primary School in the West Midlands and in Preston (to accompany an exciting book bench project in conjunction with Wild in Art, the National Literacy Trust and Lancashire Museums). I
We are also planning to organise another group of Young Adult Readers to attend next year’s YALC (hoping this happens…) – we will be looking for an area (outside of London) and cluster of schools who would like help with their travel & admission costs. If you are a school librarian interested in bringing some students and possibly organising other schools local to you to join you, please get in touch.