May 172014
 
Real geography has real purpose, real audience and real outcomes

Chris Durbin (Early geography mentor)

Every year I try to add a twist to the Year 8 local enquiry; previously we’ve identified happy places, told geo-located stories and subverted town planning. This year I focussed on the former Fox Brothers Mill at Tonedale. It’s a very imposing listed mill building and one of the most important examples of its kind in the country.

Tonedale Mill Spinning Block 2014

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Tonedale Mill has given me a lot of pleasure over the years in a semi-unauthorized sort of way while it awaits conversion into residential use. I’ve written and spoken quite extensively on various ways of incorporating dereliction into local fieldwork and this wasn’t the first time that I’ve based a study on the redevelopment of the site. Unfortunately, at some point, the enthusiasm of students usually tended to supplant economic reality and theme parks and shopping malls come to dominate their regeneration agenda.

“A Millers Tale” May 2010

Millers-Tale

This year I wanted the students to engage with a real audience in the hope that the outcomes would be a little more feasible. While mulling ideas over, I happened to find myself at the Quay Climbing centre in Exeter, and cheekily suggested to owner Paul Russell that he might like to listen to Year 8 trying to pitch an idea for a new climbing wall in our town. Paul enthusiastically agreed and the challenge was on for the students…

Never under-estimate the power of a good external speaker

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Paul came into school to give a presentation about the criteria he used to select a location for his business and stressed the over-riding importance of the financial numbers. This really helped the class to maintain a sense of proportion when it came to considering their options for converting the Mill. The first task was to fire up Digimap and identify the main buildings on the site. Then with kind permission of the current owners, the class donned hard hats and walked around the outside of the derelict buildings while making notes and taking photos.

Tonedale Mill buildings March 2014

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Back in the classroom the students annotated their digital maps of the site and designed surveys to test out the market for their ideas. Two hours of public research and data analysis followed, and the class began to put their ideas together as a PowerPoint in preparation for Paul’s return. At this point it was clear that they lacked crucial design skills and so we headed over to Simon Jones’s Slideshare account to pick up tips from the master. This had a transformative effect on the quality of everyone’s work.

Paul duly returned to the school and the students pitched their ideas. Here’s an example of the outcome…

The final presentations were a great success. Paul was so impressed with the class that he offered them a free taster climbing session at The Quay, (though some of them are already pretty good!)
cw

I have an idea that next year we’ll look at a project that will map and record the collective local memories of the Tonedale site.

Edited 18/5/14
Reason: Quoting Chris Durbin accurately. Adding extra media.

May 132012
 

The title of a short presentation for Teachmeet Clevedon featuring students looking creatively at their local area, finding creative, playful and occasionally subversive responses to their surroundings. Witness the extremely incompetent presentation here, thanks to organizer Mark Anderson.

Turning Space into Place

Links to the first and second videos that are not embedded in the presentation.
Unfortunately I ran out of time during the Teachmeet to discuss Mission Explore in the depth that I wanted. Year 7 have been extremely receptive to the initiative and 60 students are members of our group Court Fields Guerrillas. I shall be devising some homework activities for the group to complete over the next few weeks and I look forward to seeing Guerrilla Geography occupying a place in our new KS3 curriculum.
Dec 162010
 

The concept of History Pin from We Are What We Do and Google is beautifully simple. Young people spend time talking with people of an older generation about their old photographs and associated memories. The photos and stories are uploaded to the History Pin website, where they can be viewed through Google Maps and Street View. A little piece of history is created.

Here’s a short video explaining more:

It took a little while, but we finally persuaded some wonderful older people to visit a small group of Year 8 & 9  in our Student Support Centre. Over the course of two sessions, the students found themselves asking dozens of questions; in fact the original purpose of discussing photographs was quite subverted by the quality of the dialogue itself. In the end we only got to add one photo to the History Pin data base, but we’ll certainly run future sessions and try and expand the project further. History Pin is my discovery of the year!

Feb 182010
 

Developing brownfield sites is generally held to be a “good” thing (at least GCSE students are programmed to think so), however at times it’s worth considering that buildings such as power stations represent a substantial part of our industrial heritage. Hams Hall was a series of three coal-fired power stations at Lea Marston in Warwickshire, constructed between 1928 and 1968. Demolition of the last of the stations took place under cover of darkness in 1993

Hams Hall power station

photo Wikipedia transferred from Geograph. Copyright Tim Marshall

The only building that survives is the control room of Hams Hall substation. The exterior is vaguely reminiscent of a mosque, though guarded with razor wire and liberal coatings of anti-climb paint. Indeed on my first visit, late on a stormy November night, the place was less than welcoming, and I failed to get inside.

Hams Hall substation

Thanks to information from some helpful locals, I was able to return for a closer look. I knew what to expect; a circular control room with an extraordinary glass “flower” roof.

Hams Hall control room

I planned to make a 360 degree image to show the room properly. The floor is covered in glass and it’s extremely dark inside, meaning that the exposures had to be lit with a torch. Here’s the finished panorama on 360 Cities:

Hams Hall substation control room in England

I’ve published the image as a full screen, high quality panorama on a personal page as well, since 360 Cities is getting a little cluttered . Click the image below:

Hams Hall control room

Decrepit old buildings can hide all kinds of fascinating secrets. I don’t believe this building is protected in any way, although it is very well sealed up. Maybe it should be listed? Either way, it’s an important part of the local built environment, and a pretty special place. Perhaps we should get students to think more critically about the value of certain brownfield sites? The substation would make a really great local studies classroom, or some other kind of publicly-accessible building, where the unique roof and control panels could be protected from further damage.

Jan 172010
 

Since August, I’ve pushed blogging and other forms of time-wasting activities firmly to one side and dedicated myself to a series of adventures in hidden places. Every weekend has been a new experience, learning new skills and going deeper and further into the hidden parts of the built environment that surrounds us. It’s a simple, yet hugely fulfilling activity, filled with remarkable characters and stories, risks and rewards. This Flickr River stream randomly serves up a taster of some of the places I’ve been:

psychogeographer - View my 'psycho-geographical investigations: a taster' set on Flickriver

The hobby has benefited both History and Geography lessons. This weekend we visited a hidden deep shelter, built to house 2,500 people during WW2. It was a surreal time walk:

1939 returning

I made this video for a local teacher (I had the song going around my head while exploring the shelter) Others might also find it useful:

Jul 042009
 

Fox's Factory Wellington (26)

My Year 8 project Wellington Stories aims to create a series of geo-located, short stories, poems and videos; and is reaching maturity. The students have created a really interesting series of short pieces that explore their relationship with place. These have all been mapped and the real-world locations tagged with QR codes. The final stage of the project is to publish a photographic record of the QR codes, and to contact the local press with details of the project. Thanks to all those who’ve commented on the work so far.

For those who haven’t seen “Wellington Stories” yet – here’s a short sample:

GC’s poem: Upon Cloud 9
KC’s video poem: The Wellesley Cinema
JV’s story: My story of Woolworth’s
GA’s movie: Wellington Youth Centre
EB’s story and videos: Bike Jumping

google link Download all the stories as a Google Earth file

Related posts here and here.