Monday, 26 April 2010

my approach

In the last few days I've worked with two sets of students.

The first set was a group of Year 8's in a school in Walworth Academy in South London.

The second set was a group of students at Cambridge University.

In Walworth my role was to help twelve young people be heard.

In Cambridge, my role was to help eight young people understand that dialogue can be a powerful channel for making creative decisions.

My approach to these two events was completely different.

My approach to the event in Walworth started from Waterloo. The circular gateway of Elephant and Castle reveals a London less overtly cultural than the nearby South Bank with its National Film Theatre, its Royal National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall or The Cut with its famous theatre brothers Old Vic and Young Vic, separated only by tapas bars, fish restaurants, cycling and cake shops.

By the time you're through Elephant and Castle there are no tapas bars. There are lots of places selling fried chicken though. Fried chicken and chips.

And there are blocks of flats. Some looking a little worse for wear. Some looking quite new. Quite recent. Not great to look at. Not great architecture. But probably a big improvement on what was there before.

Not much green either. Not much green at all.

Not many bikes either. But lots of cars.

Lots of cars on wide main roads.

And finally, on the final leg of my approach to the school, I see that the old school building has been demolished and a new one has been built.

A sparkling new building. Lots of glass. And lots of steel. And a courtyard of sorts. A garden almost. A few raised beds. And then, life pours out of the building. The students are unleashed onto the courtyard and there's an incredible sense of energy... huge energy. Young, young energy. Harnessed (just) by a few rules and regulations; I'm not sure what the rules are but I sense there are some. And they're just about being obeyed. Just about.

I watch as long teenage limbs effortlessly hurdle the raised beds. "Don't step on the raised beds" must be a rule. No need to. Not with those legs.

And so, my approach is over and I'm in the space. My work is about to start.

My approach to the session in Cambridge was very different. It started at the station where I noticed there was a lot of demolition going on.

But then, quite soon, as I walked towards the town, the buildings became less likely to be knocked down. Much less likely. Victorian houses. Beautiful colleges. Bridges and cobbled streets. No knocking down here. And quite right too. Plenty to be protected. No need for renewal. Restoration and care have clearly been at work here for a long time.

And then, across the green. So much green. And so many bikes. Not many cars. Not in these narrow streets.

And so to the English Faculty. A modern building. Not quite as modern as the Law Faculty. Which has lots of glass. And steel.

And the students... are slowly and deliberately moving from one place to another. But their pace is not energetic.

Some look stressed. Others look anxious. Some look really anxious.

In the library, some students are sleeping. On their books. It looks like they've been asleep for a long time. All night maybe.

Young people.

Asleep on their books.

And so... my approach is over. And my work begins.

I tell the students in Cambridge about the students in Walworth.

And this week, I might tell the students in Walworth about the students in Cambridge.

I'm not sure yet.

It depends on my approach.


  1. Great post my friend. I love your style on these blogs. It's much like yourself at times: clear, considered and with plenty of space to think and listen. Because of what it is and because I know who you are I often think/feel that I'm listening a bit better when I read here. It's an inspiration and a pleasure. I haven't posted for a while and this inspires me to do so. Thanks. All I want to say is that, really, but as well as that I want to say that even thought I understand you're not sure in some ways I really hope that you find an approach that allows you to tell them. Good luck with it, a x

  2. Oh, and the photograph, which looks like it reads "Faculty of English Faculty", or Faculty Faculty of English", reminds me a bit of a great song by the fall called "The Birmingham School of Business School"...

  3. lovely toes, dipped into water... pulled out, but then placed back into the water