Story of Place

June 2021 - May 2022

Story of Place supports Wallsend Children's Community mission to ensure the town's children enjoy the same opportunities as young people from more affluent areas.

'Story of Place' aims to improve Wallsend families' lives.

Through our Story of Place we aim to improve families lives throughout Wallsend. We are doing this by exploring collaborative story gathering. The stories that are shared give new insights into the challenges families face and awareness of systems that need to change. Story of Place is a commission by Wallsend Children’s Community.

Above all, the Wallsend Children’s Community wants all children to have the same opportunities and experiences as those living in wealthy areas. For this reason much of our ‘Story of Place’ programme is concentrated in the wards of Howdon and central Wallsend. This mission is about social justice and equity much the same way Helix Arts wants to engage people who have the less opportunity to take part in the arts.

Helix Arts’ ‘Story of Place’ programme included a schools’ residency with Sue Loughlin and creative training with artists Lesley Guy and James Whitman.

Young Artists Story Gathering

In 2022, we worked with young people from Carville Primary School, Western Community Primary School, and Beacon Hill Sixth Form. In collaboration with pupils from partner schools, artist-in-residence Sue Loughlin explored the purpose of stories, how they are collected and shared.

Since Sue has now completed her residency we are pleased to announce a public exhibition of the children’s artwork.


Story of Place exhibition at Segedunum

The young artists’ works were displayed at Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum from Saturday 9 April until September 2022 for local residents to explore and enjoy.

Sharing Work on Wallsend Online

Of course if you couldn’t make it to the exhibition, you can take a look at the exhibition in full below.

Story of Place Digital Exhibition

A chat with artist and curator Sue Loughlin and Creative Producer Elizabeth Kane

> What are the ideas behind the ‘Story of Place’ exhibition?

Helix Arts asked me to help students to share and gather stories about the pandemic. Our partner schools were keen for their students to experience using clay. Clay is fun to work with and for centuries has been used to record events, myths and stories. I had lots of ideas to get the conversation going using everyday things like pieces of jewellery or ornaments. After talking to Ruth from Western Primary, I began thinking about plates. Plates can symbolise time spent together talking over a meal sharing the day’s news. Also, decorative plates are often used as ways to commemorate important events. I also wanted the students to create a sculptural figure thinking about their COVID hero, the person most special to them throughout this time.

> How did your vision for ‘Story of Place’ change over the course of Story of Place?

With all artistic processes, you have a vision in mind, but often the final outcome ends up quite different from what you initially imagined. For example, the drawing work, which was the starting point for the project in each school, was so interesting, that I knew it should be included in the show as well as examples of the 3D work. Also, the amount and type of objects made by the students varied. It was important to adapt the processes and ideas to the needs and interests of the students as the project went on.

> Why is letting children take the lead so important?

A lot of the work for ‘Story of Place’ was process led. It is not necessarily about a polished final outcome. Child-led work is one of the main ways to build creativity in the classroom, but it is not always the easiest thing with external pressures. If we want children to be creative and share their experiences, then we have to appreciate and value their ideas. It’s important for us as adults to facilitate rather than dictate. We need to listen and be as flexible and responsive as we can.

>What did you think of the pandemic as a starting point for the exhibition?

It was an interesting brief. ‘Story of Place’ gives us a snapshot of the children’s feelings on the pandemic. Some of their experiences were difficult, but what also came through were stories of fun, sunshine and connection. The whole process really demonstrated to me the children’s resilience and adaptability. Though the children were able to communicate their unique experiences, there is a definite sense of the shared nature of the pandemic.

> Can you share your thoughts on talking and making?

In this project the emphasis was really upon the telling and sharing of stories and the artwork was the way in which these important conversations were enabled. Something profound happens when using creative processes that seems to allow people to open up and express themselves verbally. In particular the group and paired activities gave the students a chance to discover common ground as well as voice their own experiences. The sound of the children working together and enjoying the variety of materials was lovely.

> It struck us how willing the children were to collaborate, share and compromise…

Some children were very clear ‘this is my half’ when doing their paired work, but the majority readily found common ground. Some worked extremely collaboratively. Their pieces of artwork were made through conversation. They thought about the whole thing together, planning the whole the design. It helped that they knew it was going into the exhibition. Suddenly it was not about ‘ownership’ and taking it home! The children realised that the work could be a shared community piece.

> Is there anything you think exhibition visitors should be mindful of or are you happy for them to explore and find their own meaning?

I’d like visitors to just explore and enjoy. I’m happy for people to take what they find and interpret it in their own way, but there are elements which perhaps require a little explanation to understand. The symbolic abstract work has some profound qualities. Simple abstract shapes and lines (e.g. in the drawings) tell stories of journeys and places. The movement of marks and lines has been purposeful, deliberately made to indicate the difference in freedoms before and during lockdown. The children really took pleasure in the making all of the different elements in the work, and I hope that comes across to the visitors.

> What do you think about how we can avoid letting our expectations or assumptions potentially limit children and young people?

Creativity is a set of habits, it’s for everyone. We are all born artists, but too often we are not given the scope to explore and develop creative skills, and those innate abilities are limited or lost. Throughout my career I have worked with young people, both as an art teacher and a visual artist, and I have seen first-hand the tremendous capacity that students have to create. As we raise the profile of creativity, with projects like ‘Story of Place,’ we encourage more people to appreciate children’s artwork and what they are capable of achieving.

 > What new habit would you encourage everyone to embrace to feed their creativity?

Play! Experiment with anything you have to hand! A piece of paper can become a sculpture. Paint with coffee and a cotton tip. You can draw on a steamed-up window. Art doesn’t have to be expensive or exclusive. Value process over product and don’t be afraid to make a mess – it doesn’t matter what is looks like as long as you enjoyed doing it! Value creative play, experimentation and getting hands-on with lots of different materials.

Learning from Our Partnership

Since we began ‘Story of Place’ it has been shaped by partners and participants feedback. Our approach to the ‘Story of Place’ residency and training for community members was informed by the outcomes of creative training delivered in 2021.

To recap, the training delivered was led by artists Lesley Guy and James Whitman. This training gave staff at the Family Gateway in Howdon and support staff at Carville Primary School a range of creative communication tools. Lesley and James shared a wide range of creative story gathering ideas. The mixed approach to story gathering included exploring writing, visual and combined art forms. Insights about creating the right environment to gather stories were also explored. One of our finding was that those who took part began taking the first steps into embedding this practice in their work.

This emphasis on co-creation is part of Helix Arts commitment to delivering exception quality projects.

The Difference Story of Place Makes

Time to Reflect

As a result of this project what did we learn? Through ‘Story of Place’, these young people had the opportunity to reflect and share their experiences related to the pandemic. Happily their stories offer us hope and resilience. Children spoke about time with their family, friends and community. They enjoyed time to play, imagine, explore, create and learn in different ways.

We found that participants in our training for professionals also took a more positive view of the pandemic. Some said story gathering training helped them rethink and reframe their experiences.

Helix Arts and Wallsend Children’s Community both deepened their understanding of the pressures families face now. We also learned how professionals in schools and community settings are continuing to support families through their work.

Stories to Drive Change

While these personal tales are powerful and clear understanding about the context we work in between cultural, community and education organisations is always beneficial there is more to do.

Now, these young artists and their teachers will share their story gathering skills with their school communities.  As a result of our partnership with Wallsend Children’s Community, these stories will be able to bring about positive change.

What we have learned will continue to Helix Arts’ artistic programming in Wallsend and other priority areas of North Tyneside.





With thanks to

All our young artists and artist-in-residence Sue Loughlin for their ambition, ideas and determination to co-create a powerful exhibition ‘Story of Place’.

Artists Lesley Guy and James Whitman for their work developing creating story gathering training with staff from Carville Primary and the Family Gateway in Howdon.

The whole school communities at Beacon Hill Sixth Form, Carville Primary School and Western Community Primary School. Staff worked tirelessly to give their pupils an extraordinary experience. Special thanks toLauren Armstrong, Amanda Bromilow, Sarah Dixon, Mhairi Duigan, Aggie Freed, Rob Harker, Alex McCain, Ruth Patterson and Jennifer Scantlebury.

For helping to capture the project our film-makers Wycombe 89 Media  and photographer Laurelle Kamara for the creation of the digital exhibition.

Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum for agreeing to host this important exhibition about the community that surrounds their inspiring venue. Particular thanks to Learning Officer Beth O’Connell and Learning Assistant Kirsty Robinson for their help with the celebration event; Adam Schindler for helping install the work; and staff across the outreach and communications teams at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.

Finally Wallsend Children’s Community Paula McCormack, Gill Gray and Darren McGee alongside community researcher Kate Lockhart.

‘Story of Place’ is made possible thanks to generous support from Wallsend Children’s Community with Save the Children supported by BVLGARI.