It all started with an initial meeting at Storyhouse between Cheshire headteacher, David Wearing, and members of our Literacy Company team. All involved felt strongly about focussing on the theme of refugees to support pupils’ understanding and empathy for children who have had to resettle in a host country after fleeing a dangerous home country. Cheshire schools are passionate on developing inclusive, ‘No Outsiders’ environments for pupils so a theme of refugees was most appropriate. With the ongoing conflict between the Ukraine and Russia, schools were able to use the poetry project, texts and videos as a way of discussing the subject and helping pupils to understand what was happening to Ukranian refugees.
Our team is passionate about the arts and finding ways to weave performance, poetry and oral language alongside the high expectations of the national curriculum. We aim for children to foster a love of our language and play creatively with words so venturing on a project with a focus on performance poetry was thrilling.
“Prepare a safe haven; drizzle in photos with memories of home” The words of our very own poet @TheAcornsSchool who is very much looking forward to performing as part of the #PoetryProject2022 tomorrow @StoryhouseLive @TheLCUK @DWearing1972 @moffat_andrew pic.twitter.com/3rRz06QMAI
— The Acorns School (@TheAcornsSchool) March 31, 2022
We had the pleasure this morning of taking one of our pupils to The Storyhouse for @TheLCUK Refugee Poetry Project. What an emotive poem and excellent performance from one of our students. Thank you to @TheLCUK , @DWearing1972 and The Storyhouse for a fantastic opportunity. pic.twitter.com/KIhn6nUJXE
— St Paul’s CE Primary School – Utkinton & Cotebrook (@UtkintonPrimary) April 1, 2022
It began with research…and a lot of it! Several hours were whiled away watching clips of some of our country’s finest poets: Benjamin Zephaniah, Michael Rosen, Valerie Bloom, John Agard, Nicola Davies, Joseph Coelho, Roger McGough to name a few. It was important to research refugees in the UK; UNHCR was invaluable for this and should be a first port of call for any schools wanting to do work on this theme.
Finding the poem ‘The British’ by Benjamin Zephaniah, was the inspiration for the unit itself. How effective would a performance poem written as a recipe be? Choosing such nurturing verbs to craft a recipe for welcoming refugees seemed thoughtful and something pupils in year 5 could achieve. The unit was written to support pupils in developing vocabulary and poetry techniques and eventually providing a model for pupils to follow to craft their own poems. Sending a unit out to schools is like watching a baby bird learning to fly for the first time – you just don’t know if it will be OK! We had to just wait and see!
In the meantime, we prepared training for teachers on performance poetry, the theme of refugees and the unit of work itself. We hoped schools would sign up to take part. We needn’t have worried as the numbers crept up and before we knew, we had reached our limit and had almost 60 schools signed up to be involved.
During spring two, classes of year 5 children from all over the Northwest busily prepared their poems and the responses began to trickle in on twitter. The team were astounded! We couldn’t believe the talent and understanding of these 9 and 10 year old pupils. The poems were emotional and thought-provoking; each and every one was individual and creative. More and more poems were shared and retweeted giving pupils a wider audience…we even had poets, writers and illustrators commenting and retweeting the pupils’ work. In one tweet, Andrew Moffat from the No Outsiders charity wrote, “These poems linked to the theme of refugees and No Outsiders, written by Cheshire children, are stunning.”
The icing on the cake was the celebration of all this wonderful writing and performance at Storyhouse just before Easter. The smiles, the joy, the tears and the atmosphere will be remembered by all involved for years to come.
Now to plan for next year!
To see more images from the event you can head to twitter @TheLCUK
Our pupils did us proud @StoryhouseLive. They were an absolute credit to Willow Wood performing their poem with such enthusiasm. Year 5/6 have loved being part of this project @DWearing1972 @moffat_andrew @NoOutsidersUK pic.twitter.com/J5q7yOMifD
— Willow Wood Community Nursery & Primary School (@WillowwoodCNPS) April 2, 2022
What an amazing morning.
35 @Go_CheshireWest schools sharing their poems of welcome, love and friendship. Thanks so much to all @TheLCUK for your support and to all the schools and pupils for taking part. @moffat_andrew @CAcademiesTrust @Steveellis06 pic.twitter.com/tt0xe5zDgw
— Kelsall Primary & Nursery School (@KelsallSchool) April 1, 2022
If you would like to run a project like this in your school or cluster, download the free poetry unit here.