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
“A Millers Tale” May 2010
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.
Never under-estimate the power of a good external speaker
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…
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
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!)
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.
Reason: Quoting Chris Durbin accurately. Adding extra media.