Primary pupils connect with their history
Recently MEEN has been busy with a project called ‘Our Environment, Our Heritage’. Having received funding from The Heritage Lottery, we have been working with two East Manchester Schools learning about the impacts of the industrial revolution on their local environment.
The idea for the project stemmed from questions asked by pupils at St Brigid’s RC Primary when they were told not to eat the fruit from the trees in their school grounds. They wanted to know why the food grown in their soil wasn’t fit for consumption. Having seeded an area of the grounds with wildflower seed it was clear that there was much more than just soil in the ground!
The project also worked with pupils at Armitage CE Primary with their Eco team investigating the history of animals in the area and how pollution and human activity has changed animal populations over the centuries.
Both schools researched their local area using historic maps, the earliest from 1848, they examined artistic representations of Manchester and also did internet research. They observed the changes first hand as they walked their local area with maps and a quiz, and they met with various ‘experts’ from a variety of organisations and the local community.
They also did walkabouts in their area looking for biodiversity hotspots and cold-spots and spoke to local residents about the changes they had noticed in wildlife.
Armitage Primary school were visited by Matt Holker from the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit to learn about habitats, they visited Bridge 5 Mill to find out about the black redstart and to create an animal timeline, they also did walkabouts in their area looking for biodiversity hotspots and cold-spots and spoke to local residents about the changes they had noticed in wildlife.
For example, one local resident commented that he no longer had squirrels in his garden, ‘since the big trees in the school were cut down’, whilst two local residents who visited the Eco team told pupils that there used to be bats in the railways arches but they hadn’t been seen for a while.
In response to the information they had collected each pupil chose to represent an animal and using its voice, history and needs, wrote a speech that they would use to represent their cause at a Council for All Beings which they ran as a school assembly.
Meanwhile, St Brigid’s pupils were learning how the industrial revolution impacted on earth and air: they visited Manchester City Football Stadium to find out how they had dealt with the contamination in their soil; they also learnt about causes and impacts of climate change; following a visit to Bridge 5 Mill and finding out about the industrial revolution they grew flax in their school grounds; they visited Debdale Eco Centre to learn how soil is made and what makes soils healthy, and put together a set of in depth questions and met with Cllr Kate Chappell, Manchester City’s Environment Lead, to ask what the Council could do to help.
Then the pupils from the two schools met to share their knowledge and findings, getting to know each other through ‘Heritage bingo’, discussing their projects, writing a letter to themselves to be revealed on their 21st birthdays about what they wish for themselves and the planet in the future, and lastly there was a heritage quiz with several teams scoring 100% on some very difficult questions.
The schools then gave presentations to the Greater Manchester ESD Forum, a group of some 30 environmentalists and members of the community who gave positive feedback on their work: one person commented they had learned there was a local coal mine, another expressed surprise at finding out magpies had nearly been shot to extinction, whilst another was impressed at how courageous the pupils were in delivering their message to a group of ‘unknown’ adults with such knowledge, confidence and care.
The project will culminate in the Autumn with an exhibition of their work at Beswick Library.
Contributed by Beth Perry
Raichael Lock has worked for MEEN for 10 years busily networking and running all kinds of environmentally focused projects with schools. During that time she's also delivered the Department of Children, Schools and Families NW Sustainable Schools programme, NW Growing Schools, and works for the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens.