Emma Robertson of Ullswater Community College (UCC) shares their celebration of human rights and creativity; everything from climbing the highest heights to personal messages of hope.
We should have been embarking on the final stretch of our Artsmark journey.
Meetings were scheduled, pilots planned, visits booked, and everyone excited about getting involved in new projects. Then out of what seemed like nowhere, something happened that we could never have anticipated: Covid-19.
But the human capacity to change and adapt quickly to the challenges that life throws in our path is truly amazing - in particular the ability of young people to take new ways of doing things in their stride.
Our school has a very large catchment area serving an extended rural community. We also have high numbers of students with education health care plans. As well as being a place for academic learning, school is hugely important for the health, mental well-being, expression and the social connection of our students, some of whom live miles from anywhere and from anyone else. Rural isolation also means limited access to big galleries, museums, theatres, cinemas, libraries, music venues and other diverse cultural experiences.
The goal of achieving our Artsmark has been to work more closely with our community and community partners to share skills and resources. We have also aimed to interweave arts, culture and creativity throughout the school and across all subject areas.
We want to be a school of creators and a county united by culture. We want our students to develop a greater sense of the world and of themselves.
Thrust into a period of disruption and adversity we had to find other ways to work, share and collaborate. We also wanted to be able to create time and space to reflect on what was happening around us.
This was to be the third year we would celebrate our Creative Futures Festival and, despite the problems posed by the virus, we still needed to come together to enjoy thinking, exploring and making. Our theme was ‘Celebrating Equality, Diversity and Human Rights’.
We decided to use our festival funding from local funders Westmorland Family group to support our alumni community who work in the creative industries. They have shared skills and knowledge with us about music from other cultures, and how to create our own artwork in different materials. They have taught us how to be more ethical shoppers and how to participate in volunteer work, and in doing so they have shown our students the importance of opening our minds to new ideas and the value of experiencing other ways of being and doing.
In fact, this year saw the school come together like never before, to create opportunities to freely ask questions and to stand up and express our thoughts and ideas about big issues.
Projects across all subject areas took place in virtual classrooms and on school social media. They were celebrated via Vimeo, the school television channel, school blog and our website. We have seen departments working together to encourage students to take inspiration from each other. Students and their families have had the opportunity to develop their own political campaigns, climb tall buildings (in reality and in their imaginations), dance in a new style (guided by recorded dance lessons), write poetry, make artwork, or to simply bake! There have been opportunities to learn about what impact our social spaces have on us as individuals. We have learned how we can support refugees in our community as well as how to make small steps towards becoming kinder to our environment.
We have made the most of new virtual spaces. Our Head of Arts curated three virtual exhibitions showing the work of: A Level students, ‘Lockdown Artwork’ and work from our ‘Messages of Hope’ and ‘Fly the Flag’ projects. Our Head of Music created a sensational summer concert involving students of all ages and worked with alumni musician and street band leader Josh Jackson to create UCC’s first ever virtual ensemble piece. Our Head of Media curated a programme of short films including a film made with and by students who have spent their lockdown in the UCC Hub. Our Art department kept students inspired each day with new and unusual art challenges on Instagram @uccartdept.
Our ‘non-uniform day’ this year had a different feel as most of us were still at home. We asked our school community to dress up with a rainbow theme and donate to a local charity. We were delighted to see pictures shared of students and their families having fun.
We have invested much time and energy into producing resources during this time. The results of all this will now be archived on our school website and it will become a rich source of material for the future.
We hope that our message has been clear and loud; at Ullswater Community College we promote and celebrate creativity, equality, diversity and human rights. Equality is a necessity, diversity is strength, and every human being has rights.