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Wise About Words: Ground-Breaking Project Just Announced

We have been awarded funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to launch a new drama programme in partnership with the Wensum Trust


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Norwich Theatre is thrilled to announce that it has been awarded £150,000 from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Teacher Development Fund to launch a ground-breaking project, Wise About Words, supporting young people and their mental health. This past year has seen school children face unprecedented disruption, with their wellbeing deeply challenged. This year experts from the Royal College of Psychiatrists have released analysis revealing almost 400,000 children sought help for mental health problems during the crisis.

Developed in partnership with The Wensum Trust, the new project will run in eight schools across Norfolk from September 2021 – July 2023. The Trust has the UK’s first dedicated ‘Strategic and Systemic Lead for Attachment and Trauma’, showing their strategic focus on holistic child welfare. This role directly supports disadvantaged children across urban, coastal, and rural areas in Norfolk.

Wise About Words will embed drama and storytelling into school culture, improving emotional well-being as well as literacy, communication skills, focus and memory in primary school children. The project will support teachers, arts practitioners and school leaders in their professional development and understanding of arts-based learning techniques applied to the curriculum. Throughout the two-year project, there will be a series of co-learning opportunities including artist residencies.

Using verbal and non-verbal drama practices, from role-play to puppetry, from devising theatre to mime and clowning, each school will explore the use of storytelling as an effective educational strategy in the classroom. Working with traditional and newly devised texts, pupils will learn to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and better appreciate the world around them.

Stephen Crocker, CEO of Norwich Theatre, said: “I’m so proud that this project will deliver much-needed support to our local children. It has been such a gruelling year for us all, but especially school children who are suffering mentally at an unprecedented rate. Our partnership with the Wensum Trust is not about getting kids into theatre, this is about developing creative ways to support children’s mental health and wellbeing. I know that culture can help us recover from this crisis, and thanks to the Wensum Trust and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation we are able to work at the heart of our community and provide unique ways to remove barriers and disadvantages to our young people.”

Wise About Words builds on an existing partnership between Norwich Theatre and the Wensum Trust and aims to address systemic disadvantage faced by children across urban, coastal, and rural areas in Norfolk. The project is underpinned by regional and national research in partnership with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation which aims to positively influence arts-based education policy and practice in the future.

Wendy Ellis, Norwich Theatre Creative Programmes Director, said: “We are delighted to have been successful in this funding which enables us to continue to develop and strengthen the relationship we have with The Wensum Trust. This project will enable us to work alongside teachers and school leaders to learn together, continuously improving the way in which creative learning is made accessible for those children in local schools who can benefit from this the most.”

Daniel Thrower, CEO of The Wensum Trust, said: “This is a very exciting time for The Wensum Trust and our school communities. Over the years, we have been involved in a number of projects with Norwich Theatre, which have helped our children and families to develop their artistic and creative skills. The Paul Hamlyn Foundation grant allows us to take our partnership to a new level and will empower teachers to develop their story sharing skills and to promote a deeper love of stories amongst children. Through this project, teachers and children will become wiser about stories and will develop a richer vocabulary that will build confidence and increase emotional literacy. Together with Norwich Theatre, we aim to show how immersing children in stories and drama will overcome barriers and help emotional wellbeing.”

Norwich Theatre has been awarded the funding following a competitive application process and after demonstrating its long-term plans for developing and deepening its engagement with the local community.

The eight Wensum Trust schools in Norfolk involved in the project are – Arden Grove Infant, Burnham Market Primary, Firside Junior, Garrick Green Infant, Heather Avenue Infant, Kinsale Junior, Lodge Lane Infant and Wells-Next-the-Sea Primary.