A performance piece!

The Civic Society’s Brierley Hillness poem which was forged by Brendan Hawthorne was later turned into a performance piece. Brendan worked with a group of eleven children (aged 11-12) from Holly Hall Secondary School in Dudley to create a live performance for the project finale event.

 Filmed and edited by James Reader


Working with Brendan over three half-day workshops, the children generated their own ideas about movements, gestures and costumes to bring this poem alive and present it to the audience. They were also taught some performance techniques.

 “Brendan and the project have brought living poetry into our classrooms and given the pupils a real opportunity to work with a professional in celebrating their community. It is delightful to hear young voices cataloguing the present and looking forward to the future.”

Headteacher, Holly Hall School

The poem is naturally in three parts; representing the past, present and future. An adult was selected to read the ‘past’, two children to read the ‘present’ and a chorus of children to read the ‘future’. The performance was to a simple backdrop of projected images of the town; a black and white picture of the old post office (which is referenced in the poem), a recent picture of some High Street shops and the town’s newest building – Stourbridge Art and Design College – the future.

Creative work produced with one group can then be used to inspire another. In our case a poem forged out of a creative writing workshop with the Civic Society led to working with a group of children at a school who turned it into a performance piece. They were allowed to shape their own interpretation. This piece was then filmed and shared with a wider audience to inspire others. Where will it go next? Not limiting a piece of work to its original brief can create multi-media and community wide opportunities to participate.

Paint and Postcards

Shona Rose Gilsenan ran an arts workshop with children aged 2 to 8. This was working with Homestart, Dudley.

The workshop was designed to get mums working with their children to show us through art what buildings and places they associate with Brierley Hill.

The group were shown pictures of the town to spark recognition and asked to imagine they were visiting Brierley Hill on holiday. They then had to write a postcard to someone to tell them what it was like.

Chloe wrote on her postcard:

“To Mom and Dad

We have had a great time in Brierley Hill. We have been to Barneys. I wish you was here too it is great here. I saw lots of big flats and I have been to McDonalds. I have been shopping to get some fruit. I love Brierley Hill. I have seen horses.

Lots of love from Chloe”.

The two eight year olds in the group found it easy to talk about the town, what they liked about it and went there for. This was more difficult for the under five age group.

In times when it is often easier to be negative, we found that creating postcards is a good way for people to think about positive experiences they have in a town as they associate postcards with holidays and good times.

It became apparent early on that the under fives in the group were not engaging with the postcard activity. They were producing some wonderful blocks of colour, shapes and textures – so we decided to do a group collage so their work could contribute to a piece of art.

Together the group decided what features of Brierley Hill should be in the collage – the flats, the market, the park and some shops.

Shona asked the older children and mums to draw specific things to go on the collage – people, market stalls, fruit, ducks – or cut shapes from the paintings of the younger children. We found that giving the more reluctant parents specific tasks such as drawing a shop, a person or cutting out shapes for the collage helped them to engage more in the workshop.

Arts and Crafts from Jonathan Lee on Vimeo.

Hand Print Art

Shona Rose Gilsenan ran a drop-in activity day during the school holidays. Children aged between five and fifteen were involved.

An objective of the workshop was to get children and their families talking about Brierley Hill today and what they would like for the future Brierley Hill town centre.

Children were encouraged to write words they would like to use to describe Brierley Hill in the future around their handprint pictures. In planning the workshop we were hoping that words could be written on the actual fingers so the tree collage was covered in aspirations about the town, but the paint didn’t dry quick enough and many were covered in glitter so words would be lost.

A tree collage was created using the participant’s handprints as leaves and displayed in the Artspace shop window. Participants enjoyed contributing towards a group piece of art.

One of the lessons we learnt was that because the participants did not know each, some felt uncomfortable giving their opinions in front of the group.  As one of the main outcomes of the workshop was to learn about what people think about their town, we maybe should have included individual self-completion questionnaires or additional word based activities at the same time to ensure we got lots of feedback.

Working with local schools through dance

“One Boy. One Town. One Big Idea!”

This was a Dudley Performing Arts dance and physical theatre production, involving Buzz Youth Theatre and 110 children from four local primary schools. It was performed at the Civic Hall in Brierley Hill to an audience of almost 200 people.

Featuring real life stories of local residents, this production looks back on Brierley Hill’s past and celebrates its modern changes. Throughout the play, the audience meet George at six important stages in his life.  Within each stage we meet George in different buildings in Brierley Hill.

The production ends with a plea, the central theme of the narrative; that celebrating and cataloguing the past is important, but you must also be an active part of the town’s future.  This is the big idea alluded to in the title – becoming an active planner of the future for your town.

Click here to watch the hour-long performance

Dudley Performing Arts devised and managed a programme of work with four local primary schools. The schools bought in the services of the dance tutors, and the Brierley Hillness project funded the script writing, staging and production management of the performance at the Civic Hall.

Two dance artists from DPA worked with two schools each over two whole days. There was a further rehearsal morning the day of the performance.

Participants and staff discuss the project during the final rehearsals.

Dance & Drama performers & staff interviews from Jonathan Lee on Vimeo.

Workshops on the first day concentrated on focused performance techniques, increasing confidence and talking about the history of the town.  Schools were encouraged to discuss the project with their pupils and some local history before the workshops began.

The children were involved in the research process of the project. At the end of the first day they were asked to find out more about their local area. They were set a challenge to actively go out and find certain buildings in Brierley Hill, and given a word search about the town.

They completed questionnaires at home with their parents. This enabled us to maximise the number of people we consulted with during the project. Many of the parent’s voices come through in the responses. See some comments from parents.

See the Pupil’s questionnaire and activity pack sent home with children and some statistical analysis of these completed questionnaires.

The dance artists shared with the children the initial research by Scriptwriter and Director Rachel Sharpe and built on this, feeding the children’s own research into their five-minute dance piece.

Both pieces had pre-planned movement ideas and imagery, some included props. Each piece also had creative aspects where the children devised movement themselves.

100% of children who responded to the post-performance evaluation said that taking part in the project has helped them learn about the history and heritage of Brierley Hill.

Source: 17 self-completion questionnaires


African Drumming Workshop

The first of two workshops, led by Mike Tinsley, was run with members of The Brierley Hill Project’s after-school club, involving children whose ages ranged from seven to twelve.

The participants had fun learning rhythms and songs using West African djembe drums. However, as this was the first time that the children had been to Artspace and it was at the end of the school day, it was not the right opportunity to engage the group in talking about the town. So we tested the approach with a different group of slightly older children, and in a different environment.


The second workshop involved a group of ten to fourteen year olds from Hawbush. It was run outside on a sunny day at Hawbush Community Gardens.

The main focus of the workshop, and the ‘hook’ to involvement, was experiencing the African drums and learning some drumming techniques. The first hour concentrated entirely on this. In the second hour we started discussions about Brierley Hill.

First, we asked the children to think about words that they would use to describe Brierley Hill. There was a mixture of positive and negative comments.

Words chosen to describe the town today

  • Awful
  • Dirty
  • Beautiful
  • Busy
  • Rubbish
  • Not bad
  • A death trap
  • Crime
  • Cigarettes
  • Drunken people
  • Fantastic
  • Messy

They then took turns drumming a rhythm, saying their word and explaining their reasons for choosing it.  The children’s responses were mainly about their own immediate area and experiences; Negative comments focused on the lack of playground facilities, vandalism and litter. Positive comments were related to family and friends.

The children had to be prompted to consider buildings and the contribution they make to the area. The children naturally considered the use of buildings, rather than the way they look, when talking about the High Street and Merry Hill.

Some pre-workshop preparation would have added more focus to the discussions and helped the children to think about the buildings of Brierley Hill before they came. The children would have felt more equipped to articulate what they think about their town and ways it could be improved.

After a brief return to drumming, and learning an African song, the children were then asked to think about the future, in context with regeneration; new buildings, jobs, places to meet. In ten years time when you are in your twenties, how would you like Brierley Hill to look? What would you like to be able to say about your town?

The children were asked to write a word or sentence on a post-it note and stick it on their drum.  Most children used adjectives to describe feelings – happy, cheerful, hopeful – in relation to their friends and family. A few thought about change, about playground facilities and the town being cleaner. One boy said he wanted to feel ‘proud’ of his town.

Mike then walked around the group, singing the tune to the African song they had just learnt, but with the words changed to “Ten years time, Brierley Hill, Brierley Hill…” ). The children took turns to speak or sing back their word or sentence and explain why they had chosen it.  We were aiming to produce a group song in which they expressed their aspirations for the future to a steady drum beat.


Download Approaches to Community Engagement and Lessons Learnt for a slightly extended and print ready version (PDF). Download a TEXT ONLY VERSION Approaches to Community Engagement and Lessons Learnt (Word).


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