6th Jul, 2022

'Rivers of creativity' flowing through Coventry SEND schools' pupils as they explore the city's waterways

Tristan Harris 7th Mar, 2022 Updated: 7th Mar, 2022

PUPILS from six of Coventry’s SEND schools have been letting their creativity flow through a project which has seen them dive beneath the surface of the city’s waterways.

Midlands-based Open Theatre was commissioned by Coventry City of Culture Trust’s Education and Young People’s Programme, to create Uncover/Discover, a fun, ambitious and inclusive arts programme running over 12-months.

The participated schools included Baginton Fields School, Castle Wood School, Sherbourne Fields School, Riverbank Academy, Woodfield School and Hereward College.

The scheme is supported with funding from The Eveson Charitable Trust.

Specialist art practitioners ranging from dancers to musicians, actors, animators, film makers and artists, have been going into schools since March 2021 to work with students with learning disabilities from early years up to the age of 25.

The projects have looked closely at Coventry Canal and the River Sherbourne.

Uncover/Discover incorporates three different streams of artistic work:

Water, Water Everywhere – weekly workshops in different schools focusing on a theme of water using Open Theatre’s non-verbal physical theatre approach.

Frogs and Suchlike – a series of special creative art weeks exploring ‘what lives in water’ run by 11 local artists, so far resulting in animation and soundscapes, freshwater creatures made from clay and large underwater-themed art installations.

River City Detectives – involves bringing together a small group of young people from across schools who will create a film with professional film makers based on their own riverthemed detective story. Meeting on a weekly basis, they will explore the city’s waterways, as well as detective stories.

A trip to the city’s Canal Basin to learn about waterways from the Canal and River Trust will help aspiring young film makers form their ideas and one to see the Sluice Gate over the River Sherbourne at Charterhouse with the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust will help them uncover the area’s history.

The project will culminate with an immersive public installation this spring, showcasing the children and young people’s work.

Water, Water Everywhere takes place from April 2 to 3 at the old Ikea building, Croft Road, Coventry.

The immersive, playful experience created by young people with learning disabilities from Coventry special schools and facilitated by Open Theatre, brings together artwork, soundscapes and installations inspired by the waterways of Coventry.

Visitors to ‘Water Water Everywhere’ will be able to explore the immersive space, engage with the artwork and interact with a range of colourful creatures.

They will be able to get lost in the waterways of Coventry and experience them in a brand new way.

There will be plenty to spot in the giant fish tank and dancing frogs at the end of the river trail.

Short adventure films created by the ‘River City Detectives’ from the SEND schools and inspired by Coventry’s waterways will be shared.

The 45-minute experience is open to people of all ages and abilities and, because of its accessibility, babies in arms and pushchairs are welcome.

Admission is £3 and people can visit coventry2021.co.uk/what-s-on/water-water-everywhere/ for times, tickets and more information.

Background to the project

The Uncover/Discover programme for the City of Culture year has reached well over 80 per cent of all schools, and participation from special schools is an important part of that.

Andy Reeves, Education and Young People Programme Manager, Coventry City of Culture Trust said it was a truly ambitious year-long programme which tapped into the enormous creative potential of children and young people with a learning disability in the city’s special schools and colleges.

“Not only will they learn about the rivers and waterways of Coventry but discover new means of artistic expression through many different hands-on workshops and nonverbal physical theatre thanks to the incredible and inspirational ongoing work of the team and artists at Open Theatre.”

He added everyone was very excited to see the final 2022 event and was looking forward to future collaborations.

“The City of Culture year is about bringing remarkable creative opportunities to everyone. It is hugely important that young people with learning disabilities are not forgotten in this process.

“The Uncover/Discover project allows us to bring artists with great experience and specialism together with large numbers of children in Special Schools.”

Open Theatre, run by director Richard Hayhow since 1990, specialises in nonverbal physical theatre and ‘doing things differently’ to help develop and draw on young people’s creative talents.

The Uncover/Discover programme is managed by Open Theatre’s producer Carly Mee, a Brunel graduate and former freelance London stage manager, who has specialised in community arts and education.

Richard said: “Our roots as a company go back 30 years and our work started here in Coventry.

“Uncover/Discover has enabled us to expand our role in the city considerably and engage with many more young people with a learning disability in so many ways.”

The same young people will be worked with and supported in new creative opportunities for many years to come.

The views of the schools and participants

One of the teachers involved with the project at Castle Wood School in Wood End, Coventry, said: “The Uncover/Discover projects delivered by Open Theatre have been excellent opportunities for our pupils to work directly with professional artists, developing their creative skills and enabling them to experience a range of different mediums.

“These projects have been thoroughly enjoyed by the pupils with the work produced being enjoyed by the pupil’s parents, staff, and governing body.”

Prince Charles, when he visited Coventry last year, met 30-year-old Jack Foulks, a talented artist with Down’s Syndrome and creator of Jack’s Frogs – a new visual and digital arts project inspired by the uncovering of the River Sherbourne as part of UK City of Culture.

Jack, who has worked closely with both Open Theatre and Imagineer Productions for many years, has gone on to create a series of clever mechanical window installations including Dancing Frogs, which was unveiled in October at the former IKEA building.

Previous Open Theatre projects include the Shysters, a Coventry-based ensemble of young actors with learning disabilities to large-scale UK community productions, organising school programmes, conferences and research schemes.

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