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Thinking Differently - Fliss O'Neill (part 1)

23rd January 2020

Fliss O'Neill introduces the first part of her 'Thinking Differently' placement at Westfield School, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation

"On a dull January Monday morning, I headed over to Leominster for the start of my school placement of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation funded project, ‘Thinking Differently’.

I had a lovely sunny day at Westfield.... thanks to lots of warm friendly people who knew who I was and why I was there… progress in itself! Emma (the class teacher) and staff were really helpful and the kids were great… no issues no refusals, plenty of interaction and I know everyone’s name without hesitation already!

A sheet with photos of people on a wall. Is says, Who are we? and it's surrounded by post-it notes with words written on themWe kicked off with a discussion about a visual page of artists portraits that included a photo of myself sent into school the week before I arrived, to elicit some enquiry and help the pupils prepare for my visit. Post-it notes were used by the children and staff to write down thoughts and keywords about the images, this acted as an icebreaker to the day and led into the ‘Who am I?’ provocation that introduced me to the children through a series of objects and items - personal and meaningful to me.

We took turns to take something from a bag and, in doing this, conversations were generated that helped everyone to interact and bond; by break time, we were all feeling more relaxed and communicative in one another’s company. One boy is fascinated with vintage, wrinkles and all things old; at break time he showed me a picture of a toy shop full of toys including ninja turtles he’d drawn that had astronomic price tags attached, he said, ‘Do you want to buy something?’ I said ‘I couldn’t afford them!’ I commented about the ninja turtle drawings and I said my boys had them years ago, ‘Have you still got them?’ he asked, ‘I will look in the loft’ I said, ‘and bring them next week if I can find them’.

Later, we talked about where the children would take me to visit on a tour of the school and then we all headed off together. The school site is really tiny and it’s hard to see how they manage with sixty-plus children and their staff in such tight space. We finished our first day together with free drawing; I was impressed by how everyone just plunged in and happily drew pictures about their passions and interests. Next week it’s their turn to bring in something they hold dear to talk about and share with the group… Teaching Assistants included!

That night, replaying the day in my mind, I kept thinking we need to do a colossal fundraiser and publicity stunt to get a new school site or something for these lovely people, near the town centre so the children can continue to reach and use the many activities they access by foot."

Fliss O'Neill is a Meadow Arts Creative Practitioner and freelance artist.