'If everyone learns together, we can change London'

A New Direction CEO, Steve Moffitt, shares learnings and experiences from the London Children's Festival

23 January 2018

On 1 December 2017, the London Children’s Charter was launched at City Hall as the centre-piece of the London Children’s Festival - an initiative created by the Mayor’s Fund for London working in partnership with the BE OPEN Foundation.

A New Direction (AND) was commissioned to develop the content of the Festival, recruit a cohort of schools, and design a programme of workshops with children and young people to articulate their views on Mayoral priorities. The project engaged students from 8 London schools – 4 secondaries and 4 primaries – in developing a 'campaign pitch' on 4 themes connected to London Mayoral priorities (these were Healthy Spaces, Healthy Communities, Healthy Habits and Healthy Streets).

The young people worked with creatives from advertising agencies including Droga5, UsTwo, Linney, Kin, FCB Inferno, Blink Ink, We Are Social, alongside designers and artists from the Royal College of Art. Their work culminated in the production of a slogan, a poster and a film campaign designed by filmmakers Hannah and Martha.

Each school identified a 'Core Group' of participants. These participants engaged directly with the creative team in a series of school sessions; it was then the participants' task to a) engage other students in developing and refining their campaign idea, and b) disseminate the idea to the wider school community. On the day, 250 young people represented the eight schools, to bring their campaign ideas to life in the form of a short film and poster.

Watch a highlights film below:

The project was managed by John Riches working alongside Creative Learning Consultant Katie Russell, and December 1 was facilitated by 8 creative practitioners from Nimblefish. The Festival was hosted by TV’s Blue Peter Presenter Lindsey Russell, and the London Children’s Charter was performed by spoken-word artist Joelle Taylor before being received by Joanne McCartney, Deputy Mayor for Children and Childcare.

In total, there were 32 workshops across the 8 schools over 4 weeks, led by or involving 17 creatives/designers, assisted by 4 AND staff members. In addition, Joelle Taylor attended 4 of the sessions and made Skype/email contact with those 4 schools that she wasn't able to visit. There were also 12 other creative artists – photographers, the pitch-filmmakers, creative session leaders – working throughout the project.

A total of 519 students had direct engagement with the creatives/designers/ideas associated with the project – either in direct workshop sessions led by the creatives, or subsequent classroom sessions led by the Core Group.

Another 1,470 students heard about/engaged with the project via assemblies, school newsletters and bulletins, social media etc. Many of the schools are also still using the campaign films, posters and photographs to further promote the project within their school, mainly via whole-school or year-group assemblies; the teachers estimate that 3,942 students will be engaged in this dissemination.
Mayor_For_The_Day_087 - credit Ben Stevens and Mayors Fund for Londonjpg

The turnaround on this piece of work was fast and given the timescale and the call on the teacher's time at short notice, it was interesting to ask why they agreed to take part, and what their expectations were:

As a school we were looking to develop our citizenship and community engagement through our school council and the project worked well with these aims.
The main reason was my passion for involving children in the decision-making process, and activating their spark for agency, which is increasingly difficult to do in a school setting with the multitude of pressures on schools. In addition, the organisation the way the whole project was organised made it an easy YES to sign up for.
We had previously attended events at City Hall and always found them to be a great experience for the children and to be well organised. Our expectations were that we would take part in an exciting project that would lead to change in our school and maybe the wider community.
We are a Rights-Respecting school and value any opportunity for our children to be involved in something that promotes pupil voice, responsibility and leadership.

We also asked the teachers what they thought the benefits of the project were to:

a) their students

Building their confidence, working in a team, working with industry professionals, meeting and working with students from other schools, and planning and presenting an idea.

They now have an understanding of how the advertising, designing and making process works, as well as how they can make their world a nicer, healthier environment.

They received a memorable experience that they will never forget. They have been able to develop, and were given a space to share their views. They also used their imagination and creativity in their learning, developed teamwork and cooperation, and learned how to compromise when making final decisions.
All children within our school have been given the opportunity to share their views on the remit given to the School Council. It has made them think about living in London and ways in which they think London could be a better place. They have also come to realise that even the smallest of changes can make a huge difference to their communities and that we can all play a part in positive change.

b) their school

The school has benefited through a greater awareness of local issues, and we have developed some excellent leaders amongst the core group of students.

The whole school will benefit from the ‘Speak Up’ day that the children have planned as their project. The event will take place in January and will involve giving a voice to victims of bullying, assemblies on being confident to take action, and circle time sessions to explore the emotions behind bullying.

In general, it has helped in promoting the importance of pupil voice and democracy within our school. Also, as a result of the project, we now have healthy eating ambassadors who will monitor children’s packed lunches and advise them on healthy eating options.

We have added the project to our website, including the charter and will use this as one of the pieces of evidence in Rights-Respecting schools. We are currently working on the Rights-Respecting Schools Level one qualification so we will be creating more campaigns in our school focussing on the rights of the child. We are also looking at a Charter within the school for Anti Bullying.

One of AND's aims is to start to look at new models for School Council (or similar) roles and responsibilities, with an emphasis on them leading on creative engagement. We asked the teachers whether they think that this project contributed to that aim?

Yes, definitely. We used our School Council for the project and it has a significant impact on the students involved. It is noticeable that the School Council are really wearing their badges with pride as a result of greater responsibility and the chance to go to City Hall. I think the elections for School Council shall be far more fierce next year!

I think it is a great idea. School Councils are always looking for project to be involved with, otherwise meetings can become very repetitive and boring. Often the same issues (school dinners, play equipment and toilets) come up in a cycle. This project enabled the School Council to really think of an idea that would have a big impact across the school, on an issue that has been a problem for a while in our school. The project really gave them a focus and allowed them to be completely creative and responsible in how to create a solution.

We have a strong history of student leadership at our school, so this fitted perfectly with our values. This project enabled me to work with a new group of students - many unfamiliar to me - and I discovered new leaders. I will definitely like to do another project of this kind with this group of students especially now I know they have the bug.

Mayor_For_The_Day_007 - credit Ben Stevens and Mayors Fund for Londonjpg

Here is a selection of young peoples' responses, recorded at City Hall 1 December:

What I like most about our campaign idea is...

...that we shouldn't be afraid to change our habits

...it's about making a change in our environment and our community

...that we have a voice and we can change life in London
...it helps London to be a better place, and gives us a bit of power

...it helped me notice the problem around me

...it inspires children to do more to help London

One thing I learned is...

...that if everyone learns together, we can change London

...that I can make a difference

...that we should communicate more often

...how big a problem child obesity is

...we shouldn't just speak online

...to not be afraid to be free – and to show my real self

...how to be more confident around new people

...that when you come together with people that is where you come up with great ideas

...that because they are strangers does not mean you cannot make new friends

The one thing that would make young peoples' lives better in London would be...

...reducing knife crime

...having a voice

...more youth clubs

...having our voice heard by others, so that everyone can hear it

...more projects like this - give this opportunity to more children!

Pictures credit: Roger Brown for A New Direction