Last Summer I attended Taunton Flower show to view the work created during a pilot project entitled Young ProspectUS. Facilitated by SAW, the initial funding enabled Beccy Swaine to organise creative workshops for pupils attending Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) in Taunton. The results and achievements were just wonderful, and the feedback from both staff and students incredibly positive. This affirming outcome enabled SAW to secure future funding to expand the link with the PRUs and plan a much needed future programme of workshops.

Following consultations with the PRU staff, discovering their specific requirements and current curriculum criteria, Beccy selects artists whose style and work suits their needs most. Bridgwater and Taunton College provided fantastic workshop space and support for the 2018 artist residency with sculpture artist Fiona Campbell. Fiona is known for her curious creations working predominantly with discarded, found and reclaimed materials, from bottle tops and drink cans to buttons and copper wire. It seemed only fitting that she was commissioned to create with the students a dystopian coral reef, damaged by mans’ waste to be inhabited by creatures morphed from the discarded plastics and detritus dumped into our oceans.

When I joined a recent workshop the workbenches in the studio were ‘littered’ with a sea of buttons, beads, unwanted plastic toys, drink bottles, aluminium foil and copper piping, and to the side were a series of inspiration boards – I loved how the tubing of the surrounding machinery echoed the sea creatures pictured, all of which look  like they already inhabit imaginary realms.

Due to the nature of how the PRU students are encouraged to engage within the college environment the workshops are structured quite differently to how one would expect. You need to understand and remember that these are students whose regular schools have excluded them, no longer able to support their emotional and educational needs. These valuable sessions offer dedicated, personal support, allowing them to transition more easily back into an educational environment and hopefully consider applying for further study and future training. It is a given understanding that the students cannot always commit to arriving on time, many travel quite far and rely on the limited rural bus service, one young girl’s journey had taken her an hour and half to get to Taunton – this alone indicates her level of wanting to actively participate.

Fiona adapted easily to this alternative approach to delivering a workshop, understanding quickly that these pupils could come and go as they chose, participate as much or as little as they wished. Her demeanour made pupils feel at ease, even engaging in conversation is a big step for some, so gaining their interest and trust to try a new skill or technique is just wonderful.

The staff also took delight in joining the workshops, seeing them join in encourages the students to get ‘hands on’, makes for a relaxed atmosphere and adds a sense of worth to the making process. It also provides a great opportunity for their own creative personal development, especially towards the end of a very busy term. The fish made from pliers (pictured below) was made in partnership by a member of staff and one of the students. I admit that I also had a go, who could resist rummaging to find buttons and interesting lengths of wire when everyone else was getting so involved.

Naturally some students dipped in and out relatively quickly, but not before having a go at manipulating plastic with the hot air gun, playing with wire or a spot of welding. A few did engage for a good length of time, Chantelle made this fantastic lizard and one young lad explained he had the choice that morning to attend a second workshop or go mountain biking – he chose the workshop!

You can view the results of all their labours at Taunton Flower Show this August.

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WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY by Davina Jelley

Published on July 10, 2018 // Davina Jelley