"YOU GOT TO MAKE SURE YOU'RE CONNECTED, THE WRITINGS ON THE WALL" Stereo MC's circa 1992.
When I was a kid I spent many hours in the garden of my home on my knees or lying flat on the ground face down. The reason for this odd behaviour wasn't the result of childhood narcolepsy or fainting fits it was simply that this was the best way to get close to the world of nature that was under my feet. You see I was one of those kids who noticed that the world around me was full of things that had more legs than I did or for that matter wings, jaws, stings, compound eyes, feathers, fur, scales, slime etc etc, in short I was fascinated by the natural world that surrounded me. This passion for living things started before I can remember and by the time I was 6 or 7 years old it had led to an encyclopedic knowledge of natural history . Whilst everything that walked, flew, grew and swam interested me it was invertebrates that really captured my imagination. From the earliest age perhaps 4 or 5 years old I realised that the front and back garden of my family home were as exciting and awe inspiring as the Serengeti or the Amazon basin, you just needed to get down on your hands and knees to see it, and when you did there was a wilderness laid out before you in all its glorious technicolour and high definition reality. As a child I watched Violet Ground Beetle's hunting slugs, I saw Hornets ambushing honey bees and I witnessed mesmerised male Speckled Wood Butterflies as they were entranced by the pheromones of a female Speckled Wood Butterfly...I saw these things and many many more unbelievable happenings around my home and in the first handful of years of my life.
By the time I was 8 years old my passion had developed from an interest in individual species, learning their names and observing their habits etc, in to becoming totally gripped by the astonishing relationships between them. Gradually I became absorbed by the spaces between animals and the relationships that filled these spaces, same species to same species connections, cross species relationships, symbiotic, parasitic and so on..........the sheer expanse of relationships seemed to create a seemingly endless interplay of living things, often dramatic but more often beautifully subtle. It was around this time that I realised that all of these amazing creatures I had seen in my own back yard were defined not by the way they looked but instead by their relationships to each other and their surroundings.
When eventually I was lucky enough to work in zoology in my late teens and early twenties, it was this 'connectivity' that became the driver for my family's work.....'Little Amazon' our simulated rainforest project was an attempt to show a diverse animal collection to visitors in a way that maintained their natural drive to be connected to their environment. I remember very clearly thinking that a hummingbird in a cage might as well be a frog as far as it or anybody looking at it is concerned, a hummingbird in 4000 sq ft of simulated rainforest on the other hand is definitely a hummingbird to itself and anyone who sees it. Don't get me started on hummingbirds but suffice to say I've been very lucky to to witness the most unbelievable displays of interrelationship behavior in a artificial environment, more astounding and beautiful than you can imagine.......hummingbirds are great!
To summarise then I think every living thing that calls this planet it's home, animal, plant or fungi, is what it is not because of it's type but because of it's relationship with the other things around it.
When, as I've done, you've spent far too much time gawping at the amazing connections and relationships of the natural world , it's not long before you start to look at human beings and wonder where we, so called civilised apes, fit in to all this. Of course it takes an even shorter time to figure out that as far as most of us are concerned we don't fit in at all, indeed unless you happen to be an Yanomami Indian the chances are your relationship with earwigs for example extends to one of revulsion followed up with a swift bout of annihilation executed with little or nothing in the way of consideration or apology for your deadly deed. The really sad thing is that this earwigism represents a very one sided case of disregard on our part, the ultimate unrequited relationship you could say, since the earwig believes you to be the best thing since the invention of the pliers on her bum. You see the earwig has moved in with you as a matter of choice, she wanted to be connected to you, she sought you out because you provided her with warmth, shelter and food. She gave birth right under your feet in the tiny crack in your skirting board and then nurtured her young with the nutritious crumbs you provided until they were two molts old at which point they set off to make lives of their own. She chose a relationship with you because she felt some security in your presence and saw an opportunity to survive and prosper, indeed that's how it was for her right up until you saw her for the first time, screamed a girly scream and stamped on her. This sad tale of earwig disconnection can course be seen as a metaphor for for our relationship with our home planet as a whole, clearly there has been a lot of stamping going on and along with the earwigs our planetary home has just about had enough of us.
I think that we have to understand that the real truth of the matter is that we do fit in after all, one sided it may be but it's still a relationship for sure, our homes both inside and out are of course shared with a myriad of wild lives from fungi to mammals and everything in between. It seems to me that sooner we embrace this reality the better for everyone because until we all understand our connection with our environment, until we embrace our relationships within the natural world and until we understand the space we occupy between other lifeforms, us humans might as well be earwigs ourselves and as such prepare to be stamped on. If one thing is for certain it's not middle-aged Planet Earth that's in danger of demise it's us human beings, our home has seen it all before and has a wonderful ability to start again when things go a bit awry.......there's still plenty of time for Earth start again quite a few times over, I image next time round we might be left out of any plans for renewal!
So I'm pretty sure that it's not the things us humans have accomplished so far that will define us, it's our relationship to the rest of the natural world that holds the key to who we are and where we're going. Some people will tell you that the future for us is bleak, that may or may not be true but I suggest that, religious or not, you get down on your knees right now and say a little prayer for the well being of our kind and while you're there take a look at the creatures playing out there lives right alongside yours....look close enough and you'll be surprised at the enlightening things they have to show you.
Odd that a nineties electronic dance band from Clapham London should have seen it all coming twenty years ago don't you think!
Connections, relationships and networks are all part of the next phase of projects the Eccleston George team is currently pursuing. Using nature as inspiration and an interest in the idea of 'social capital' the EG team have started to deliver projects that take a holistic approach to making connections across local communities and their environments the idea being to make things better, healthier and more prosperous for everyone and everything. A huge challenge this might be but as the EG team say, a project that promotes a positive change is something that has to be demonstrated and shown to work for anyone to take it seriously, talking about innovative ideas just ain't enough anymore.
THE ART OF TEACHING
Pedagogy. A strange word used mostly by academics that means 'the art of teaching', this then is what Dan Roberts and I went to Sweden recently to talk about at the Centre for Flexible Learning in Söderhamn. There's a good deal of irony in the fact that we went to speak to delegates from all over Europe about the 'art of teaching' since neither Dan or myself make any claims to be teachers....still, we were asked to attend and so in the spirit of enterprise we did.
Over a period of two days we spoke about creativity and enterprise and listened to others give their ideas about the same. Perhaps not surprisingly we found the whole exercise fascinating, informative and very exciting. We were joined in Sweden by our good friend Ian Whitmore who led an art-book making session with education academics from five European countries as well as Sue Holman and Darren Price from St George's School who were all there to speak about our shared school project called Dragon.
For Dan and I our Scandinavian adventure started our on a Monday towards the end of April. We landed at Skavsta Airport which is an hour's bus journey from Stockholm. We jumped on the afore mentioned bus and headed for the Swedish capital where we were to stay with Dan's friends for a couple of days before heading north to a lovely town called Söderhamn, Dan you see is half Swedish so has many friends and family members out there. It turns out that the capital Stockholm is a beautiful and unusual city, situated on Lake Maelar at the spot where it opens into the Saltsjö, a rocky bay of the Baltic 59º 20' N. lat. The city, through which flows the short and crystal clear river the Norrström, is built partly on various islands and partly on granite cliffs on both banks of the river.
On Tuesday Dan and I spent the whole day exploring both the 'old town' parts of the city as well as the newer areas.....the whole place left me with the feeling that I'd like to go back one day perhaps later in the year when early spring has turned to summer.
Wednesday morning and the two of us headed for the main train station in Stockholm so that we could jump aboard a train and head north up the east coast to Söderhamn, it was there that the two of us had been invited to speak about the work that we (Eccleston George) do in schools. When we got off the train after two hours and 140 miles we were both surprised how much colder it was, it seemed as though winter was still doing it's best to hang on there, the snow had gone but only the earliest signs of spring were visible, I realised when I got home a few days later that here on the Isle of Wight we're at least five weeks ahead of them into spring.
Söderhamn is a rather lovely coastal town that has, like many places, suffered from a loss of it's main economies and all the resulting problems that occur when that happens. The town has become the focus of attention because instead of laying down and fizzling away, as a community they have tackled the problem head on and as a result in just seven years they've started to turn the town's fortunes around. We we're very interested to find out about how the town had achieved this turnaround, so after a wander around the town Dan and I made for our hotel to see if anyone could answer our questions there. That evening we chatted with our Swedish conference hosts and met up with our fellow Brits Sue, Darren, Ian and Natalie to prepared for the following day's conference activities.
Thursday was a dull day weather wise but over night the temperature had risen quite a bit, outside my ground floor bedroom window I was greeted with a lovely Scandinavian scene of coniferous trees intermingled with silver birch. Red Squirrels bounced around the conifers and a mixed flock of Brambling, Siskin and Bullfinch flitted noisily between the Silver Birches. After a hearty breakfast of meatballs, bacon and egg we all headed off to the 'Centre for Flexible Learning' to enroll and prepare for our talks.
Now that it's done I think our seminar went quite well, we got a warm round of applause afterwards which was nice. I have to say that I slightly regret asking Dan to bodily make a shape like the UK so that delegates could see where in relation to the mainland UK the Isle of Wight is. As Dan made the best he could of my request I began folding a piece of paper into a diamond shape, I realised quite early on, as I heard the words coming out of my mouth in fact, that I hadn't clearly thought this through "So, if Dan from his jumper up is the UK, then Scotland is up here, Wales is over here and the Isle of Wight.....is....erm....well...sort of.....here!" at this point I was awkwardly holding a piece of not very carefully folded paper over Dan's nether regions. Our audience seem to take my faux pas with a good sense of humour and when I explained that I'd got the scale wrong and that the piece of paper should have been much smaller the Frankie Howard style tittering increased to a quite loud gafforing.
So we came to Friday, our last full day in Sweden. Dan and I were to spend the day with our own UK group, teachers from the Czech Republic, Italy and Holland as well as the team of Swedish academics who are currently devising the handbook that will explain the findings of the associated studies relating to all the 'best practice' education projects across Europe. The handbook will focus on how to embed a culture of enterprise and creativity in to the school curriculum by using these best practice projects from around Europe as models for a new pedagogy.
The book will highlight the projects presented at various conferences over the last 18 months or so, two of these so called best practice projects are on going projects for us (Eccleston George) in the UK.
On Saturday most of us from the UK left sunny Scandinavia for dreary England, I say most of us because Dan headed south west across Sweden to spend a week with his cousins....lucky man!
In summary this was a fantastic trip for us, we met so many interesting and lovely people in Sweden. Söderhamn is a most inspiring place, the inroads they've made with turning their local economy around in a relatively short space of time should serve as a lesson to us all I think, especially as they're using a brilliantly creative and enterprising approach to solving difficult community issues.
Now, we certainly hope to maintain the links we've made with Söderhamn/Sweden and indeed with the teachers and academics we've met from Italy, Czech Republic, Holland and France. So from me and Dan to everyone we met and or looked after us, thanks for a great adventure and we hope we'll meet again some day soon.
We'd also like to say a very special thank you from all of the EG team to Senior Lecturer from Portsmouth Uni's School of Enterprise Natalie Long for inviting us to be involved with this project, her interest and belief in our ideas is just what we need....thanks Nat.
By Nigel George.
I'm often asked by people what Eccleston George is exactly? It used to be a tricky question to answer because I found it really hard to describe what we do without making us sound completely ridiculous! "Well we're working with tigers at the moment, last week we were working with turtles, next week we're working with third year architecture students at Pompey Uni and the week after we're making a record with 10 year olds" that sort of thing! Lately though I'm very glad to say that's all changed. These days, thanks to the people I work alongside, I don't worry so much about trying to verbally do Eccleston George justice simply because of the extraordinary back catalogue of successful works we have to our name.....to put it another way, our group actions speak very much louder than my own words when it comes to conveying what we do.
So, when I visit a new client be it a business, council or school for the first time I always start off by saying that Eccleston George is simply a name, I explain that as it stands we are neither a company nor a business but rather just a name that a group of freelance creative people use to deliver a variety interesting projects, build a reputation and hopefully offer as a quality assurance to its clients.
Simply named after myself and Chris Eccleston nearly 12 years ago, because we couldn't think of anything else to call ourselves, Eccleston George back then was far from the thing it is now....we worked sporadically and mostly in the private sector on theming and landscaping projects and struggled to eek out a living from one project to the next. The big change came in spring 2005 when we were asked to get involved with our first community project for Portsmouth City Council and then soon after came our introduction to St George's Special Needs School on the Isle of Wight. You could say that these two projects changed our lives. Nearly six years on we're still heavily involved with St George's and it is now home to perhaps our most important project to date, a project called Dragon.
So what's in a name?
Well as I say originally it was just about two blokes but now it's become something much much more! In the old days I used to be a bit unsure about our Eccleston George moniker , now though I really like the fact that our name doesn't reflect what we do.....in fact it doesn't say anything at all about us, it's just a name, a hook to hang our creative hat on. If Eccleston George is anything, then in a very real sense it's an 'creative collective' and I suppose it's quite nice that the founders are given a nod.
So why work this way?
Most of us would probably agree that when it comes to making a good plan two heads are nearly always better than one, over the years that I've been steering the good ship Eccleston George I've come to the conclusion that three, four, five or indeed six or more willing heads are better still. I'm fairly certain that on our own none of us would have tried to do the things that we find ourselves doing these days, I've discovered that there's a confidence that comes from working in a group and with that group behind you any one of us is much more likely to stick their necks out and push forward new ideas.
So for now we remain a simple collective, and as such we like nothing more than working with other creative people and groups. Call it collaborating, collective working or good old fashioned teamwork, whatever it's name is we've learnt that working within a group can expand horizons, build skills, improve problem solving capability and increase our efficiency, but perhaps most interestingly can assist in the realization of individual potential. I'd say that all of us that have worked in the Eccleston George collective had very little idea of what we might actually individually capable of until we worked together for a sustained period, only then have we started to find the confidence from within that's needed to stop stopping ourselves from accessing our potential....after all stopping ourselves is the thing that most of us seem to do when it comes to the crunch.
Group dynamics play a huge part in the efficiency of our own team and I'm pretty sure that groups in general probably have a finite lifetime or at the very least I think a 'Trigger's Broom' effect, which I think is very healthy by the way. I believe that change is essential to keeping a group running smoothly, individuals may come and go and the collective will strengthen as a result, this is part of the beauty of the collective working idea. Nowadays, as long as quality is upheld, anyone can bring ideas to us at Eccleston George.... with the collective's agreement anyone can use our name, reputation, experience and manpower to push their own ideas into reality and thus benefit the group as a result.......we're always ready to listen to good ideas. Finally, Eccleston George is a lifestyle endeavor and is not motivated by financial profit, we want to make a living whilst taking our social responsibility seriously and have a bloody good laugh while we're doing it. We want to enjoy and be stimulated by our working lives, we want seek out our own and each other's potential/s and, whenever possible, pass on our ideas and sensibilities to others.....sounds like a utopian dream doesn't it? Well we may not be completely there yet but we're getting very close and most days Eccleston George feels real enough.
'The joy of six' as a title for this thread was of course a silly attempt to grab the attention of anyone who remembers a certain hand drawn diagrammatic book about creativity first published the 70's! Although there are indeed currently six core members in the Eccleston George team at the moment, of course when it comes to collective working it doesn't have to be six, as long as it's more than one the collective creative dynamic will no doubt make interesting things happen....as far as I'm aware the original author left group stuff out of his book in the 70's, probably for the best, one can only imagine the drawings!
Scuzi, I’o non parlo Italiano!
It's true I can't speak Italian! However I bet if I'd spent a couple of weeks or so in Milan I'd now be able to have some kind of conversation with the people who live there in their own language, as they say, the best way to learn a language is to spend some time in a foreign country and learn by mixing with the locals. The funny thing is that this is precisely the way we at Eccleston George deliver our education projects.....we call it 'experience led learning'.
This is what I went to Milan to talk about, whether or not I got my point across I'm too not sure but hopefully something of the passion I feel for the subject came across to the delegation at least.
People have been asking me what I made of the conference, well, now that I've had time to digest what I saw and heard, I think I'm beginning to understand one or two things about where the idea of creative education is up to on a European scale.
The conference, and it's associated study, is looking at the idea of embedding a culture of creativity and enterprise in to the education system European wide, no mean feat given the way things are at moment! Held in Milan, the conference saw the meeting of the four countries that are taking part in the academic study and gave an opportunity to representatives from schools from those countries to talk about their best practice projects and discuss ideas. I was invited as a so called 'creative practitioner', from what I could tell I seemed to be the only non-teacher/non-academic invited to speak. The member countries are Italy, Sweden, Check Republic and the UK, Estonia was taking part but I believe has since dropped out.
What's interesting for me is that before the conference I assumed that creativity and enterprise went hand in hand with each other, now though I’m not so sure. I'm still as certain as ever that an enterprising person must first be a creative individual capable of thinking up novel ideas with value, but I suspect that to become an enterprising entrepreneur, a creative individual must have an overwhelming desire to pursue the potential of their idea.......this, I think, is what sets the enterprising entrepreneur apart from a someone who is just naturally creative. Also I’ve found myself reassessing my understanding of the words enterprise & entrepreneur, like me you might associate them with someone who is successful in business and is therefore good at making money, this I now realise is a very narrow view of what is most important and effective with enterprising or entrepreneurial thinking. I'm sure many a rich person who calls himself an entrepreneur is no more entrepreneurial than the next man and many a creative person who struggles to pay the bills is entrepreneurial both in thought and deed.
I think the pursuit of 'potential' is key to all this, to properly pursue or explore the potential of an idea one must be vigilant, always aware of, and looking for, possible connections that might enhance or further your original idea. One must understand that possibilities may come from anywhere and anyone and that they’re often found in unlikely places....rarely, at first anyway, does a potential connection present itself right in front of you. Clearly the driver for this process doesn't have to be about money or profit, just passion for your original idea will do I think.
In school, children are generally taught that answers to problems are usually right or wrong or black or white. I think in many cases and in all sorts of ways this can be far from the truth, I would argue that it's just as important to teach children about the wondrous shades of grey that make up the beautifully nuanced world we inhabit. I'm pretty sure that if we fail to do this then our young people will inevitably miss out on a lot of knoweldge and opportunities that would otherwise help them to reach their own potential. I'm not suggesting that one plus one doesn't always equal two but rather there might be more than one correct way to work it out!
In Milan I met a couple of inspiring teachers who, out of desperation, had used their creative initiative to resolve problems with teaching underachieving children . One Swedish teacher noted that her primary students found it hard to concentrate in her English lessons, yet, their English was already pretty good when they came to her. She asked them how they had learned to understand and speak English and they told her that they watched English and American films and listen to music with English lyrics…..so she now uses popular culture to teach English to her class, her students are engaged and levels are going up as a result. Another teacher, this time from Italy, told me that she had found it almost impossible to teach anything much at all to the underachieving children in her class. So difficult was the class that the teacher almost gave up teaching as a result, however instead of giving up she used her initiative and knowledge as a trained art teacher to engage her students in learning in a completely different way. By using Microsoft Excel in an astonishingly creative way students became interested in all sorts of subjects and once again as a result attainment levels and results went up. Whilst it's wonderful to hear these stories and we know and work with other teachers that are doing amazing creative stuff in their classes they do seem to me to be in the minority, most teachers are too bogged down with directives and paperwork to take matters in to their own hands in the way I’ve just described. Teachers need support and to be given flexibilty to deliver the curriculum creatively....in most cases that support and flexibility just isn't there I think.
Very much more often, I’ve noticed, it’s the support staff who take the initiative with some alternative teaching ideas, uncluttered by directives and paperwork they seem willing and able to use their own ideas to instigate some creative teaching. Over and over I’ve seen this in lots of schools, in one such case that I’ve personally witnessed, so effective was the teaching assistant’s interventions at a preschool that she was eventually given the coordinators roll, within a few months she had turned the Early Years unit around, her classroom was held up as an exemplary case and other EY units came to learn from her, sadly her efforts we’re eventually thwarted as 12 months later the school was told it had broken the rules by giving her the position as she was not a qualified teacher….the roll was subsequently given to a teacher and all the headway made with the children was slowly but surely undone. Don’t get me wrong I don’t blame teachers in anyway for the lack of creativity in schools, I put the blame squarely with the system, a system that bogs teachers down so much that they have to rely on support staff to come up with the good ideas……that can’t be right can it?
So the question we’ve been asking ourselves and the one being asked in Milan seems to be, is it possible to teach 'enterprise' to children and young adults in school? For what it's worth my answer is this, I've seen with my own eyes that we can use creative teaching techniques to engage students so that they can learn in a creative way, and I think that as part of the school day this style of learning gives the learner a much more rounded (dare I say holistic) education as a result.....as for teaching enterprising or entrepreneurial thinking, I personally think it can be done and in fact I think we (EG) and other creative practitioners working in schools are probably already doing it, the problem is I'm not sure how one would prove it or measure the effects in terms of grades and levels, we have tons of anecdotal evidence but outside of the Creative Partnerships program evaluations we can’t really provide the kind of proof the people in charge of our education systems want to see, I guess the effects we're having will be much more long term and if and when they happen will be much more to do with a future effect on economies, productivity and possibly even local culture, all of which is big stuff and guaranteed to make most people in influential positions run for the hills!
Finally, with the Comenius study and it's linking conferences in Prauge, Italy and Sweden in mind, I think it's fantastic that all this stuff about embedding enterprise and creativity in the curriculum is being properly studied by people much smarter than me, and for an education system underachiever like me, playing even a small part in that study is hugely exciting, if a little ironic! I really hope the study continues and that efforts are made to integrate it's findings in to the various education systems across the EU. Of course funding is crucial if we are serious about embedding enterprise and creativity in to any curriculum and there, I'm afraid, is the rub. In the UK we have just lost our only official facilitator and funder of creative education projects because of the dreaded spending cuts. The loss of Creative Partnerships will hit our cause very hard indeed. Those of us who are passionate about the subject will try hard to carry on our work in the education system, but the truth is we know we are up against it. We at EG will help schools however we can to embed creativity in their own curriculum, we have some ideas about how to do this and are currently making connections with like minded individuals and organisations who wish to do the same but it ain't gonna be easy!
For your interest here are some of the Creative Partnerships facts and figures that seem to have been overlooked by the people that matter where education policy is concerned -
The Creative Partnerships programme is expected to generate nearly £4 billion net positive benefit for the UK economy, the equivalent of £15.30 of economic benefits for every £1 of investment in the programme – Price Waterhouse Cooper.
Creative Partnerships has worked with over 1 million young people and engaged over 90,000 teachers in local projects. Research highlights include:
Young people who have attended Creative Partnerships activities made, on average the equivalent of 2.5 grades better progress in GCSE (NFER)
Creative Partnerships was shown to be associated with an educationally significant reduction in total absence rates in primary schools (NFER)
Around 70% of the programme’s funding goes directly to the practitioners and over half of those working with Creative Partnerships have developed other work and employed other professionals as a result. Thus having a positive impact on the economy (Burns Owen Partnership).
Even if you are a total cynic were a creative curriculum is concerned, how can you argue with that?
Grazie per questa lettura e arrivederci!