Children often experience stories written and performed by adults for them - they experience an adult perception of their reality. This means that they often do not ‘see themselves’ in the stories that they encounter. A recent research report Reflecting Realities by CLPE in 2017 also highlighted the absence of representation of diverse characters in stories. I clearly remember my own son asking me why all the super heroes had blonde hair, fair skin and looked different to him! We know from research with schools by Tom Dobson and Lisa Stephenson, 2017, that the imaginative experience of exploring stories through drama, theatre and creative writing can bring a story alive and develop active opportunities for children to explore characters and motives. Children can also bring their own voices to the story, the ideas that matter to them. This kind of learning can offer opportunities for developing empathy, compassion and celebrating difference. It is highly motivational for young people because they feel valued. Immersion in story worlds can also offer the opportunity to tackle some of the challenging social and mental health issues facing young people today, safely, with others in the story group.
Paradoxically, we know that opportunities for these experiences in many schools are often squeezed due to a curriculum focussed on accountability and testing. Darren Henley, Chief Executive of the Arts Council, wrote in August 2018 in the TES that “a creative education is the best education we can give.” He linked the arts and creative learning to future job markets and promoted arts for all. The value of creative learning has always been an educational hot topic, but the current reality is that with cuts in programmes, such as Creative Partnerships in 2011, schools lack funding to bring artist educators into schools and not all teachers are artist educators. Both jobs require a complex set of skills and expertise. Furthermore, the 2016 report by The Arts Council into ‘Equality and diversity with and by young people,’ showed that children from our poorest communities were significantly less likely to access to these experiences outside school than those from higher socio-economic backgrounds.
Where do children find spaces to experience making and sharing the stories that matter to them?
The Story Makers Company was established in 2017 at the Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett University by academics, teachers and artist educators concerned with the marginalisation of creative opportunities for young people to make and share their stories. Our aim is to nurture the spaces for children’s voices in stories through our research-based work with schools, communities and artist educators. We are partnered with over 13 local Theatre Companies, drama specialists and creative writing organisations and meet regularly to develop collaborative work. We also have a commitment to developing opportunities for all children to engage in arts and we develop specialist programmes for local children to work with artists at the University. Our Youth Group brings diverse and marginalised young people from across the city to make stories together through spoken word, film and performance. We support artist educators to develop and articulate their practice.
Our latest project, Story Makers Press, publishes stories which capture children’s underrepresented narratives. We use drama and storytelling to allow children to explore stories, which we transform into engaging fiction books. Our first story ‘The Nightmare Catcher’ explores gaming through the eyes of a child whose mum struggles with mental health and our second story is currently being co-created with girls from Bradford and is the rewriting of a South Asian fairy story. Our books draw from research from the Carnegie School of Education and are accompanied by helpful guides to teachers and parents on how to explore creatively these stories further with their students and children, developing emotional literacy and wellbeing.
We are delighted to announce that our patron is rap teacher, author and children’s philosophy enthusiast Darren Chetty!
Reclaiming spaces for all story heroes!
We have recently won funding from the Arts Council to share the ideas of all the young people who work with us and create new ideas together at a special event. “Story Rebels: A new type of hero” is our Children’s Festival on June 8th at Leeds Beckett University which brings together story makers from across the region: young people, parents, grandparents, educators, artists, mental health experts, museums, drama, theatre artists and authors. This Festival will have a range of story opportunities for all as well as discussions for artist educators to reflect on the best ways in which to incorporate creativity and storying into their work. It will also bring the community together to explore the potential of stories to develop our capacity for kindness, empathy and compassion. The Festival celebrates diversity through story with a focus on creative writing and drama and asks children questions about the heroes which they feel are missing from their stories.
It is also the launch of our first Story Makers Press book, 'The Nightmare Catcher.' The Festival is free for families and children, with a focus on ages 7-13years. What can we learn children and each other about the stories that matter to each of us?
Meet the team
Lisa Stephenson is Director of Story Makers Company and Story Makers Press. Her research and practice explore the way in which drama processes can activate children's learning, social and emotional development. Lisa also works with a wide range of Artist Educators, schools and communities, developing research opportunities in areas such as Social Change and Mental Wellbeing. She is Course Leader for the MA Drama and Creative Writing in Education at Leeds Beckett University.
Tom Dobson is the Deputy Director of Story Makers Press. Tom’s research explores the ways in which children can become motivated and actively involved in the processes of creative writing. He has published several short stories and he leads the Master’s courses in the Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett University.
Ana Arêde is the Publisher for the Story Makers Press. She comes from a publishing background and is passionate about children's voice and literature.
Dr Lisa Stephenson is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education. Her teaching and research specialism is creative (drama) learning. She is founder and director of Story Makers Company, a practice-based research centre which champions creative pedagogies and relational learning.