History in Process:
Wensum Junior School ‘Come Yew In! Again’
Inspired by the award-winning community play, ‘Come Yew In!’ (2017), which explored Norwich’s long migration history, year 3, 4 & 5 students at Wensum Junior School dedicated an entire school year on developing their own version of the project.
During the Spring Term, more than 60 young researchers worked as surrealist historians with Dr Jeannette Baxter and their teachers to research various aspects of Norwich’s diverse history of migration and sanctuary. In the Summer term, Jeannette worked with the students on the practice-based research phase of the project when, in collaboration with Duncan Joseph, Charlie Caine and members of The Common Lottheatre company, the Wensum researchers turned their findings into creative outputs, including: songs, poetry, clay models, a showcase exhibition, and a performance on the school playing field.
The Project …
The Wensum ‘Come Yew In! Again’ project kicked off in December 2018 when Jeannette led twilight session with year 3, 4 & 5 teachers to introduce the project’s research methodology. Jeannette’s research into the German writer and academic, W. G. Sebald, who was a migrant to Norfolk and whose work challenges official representations of history, has allowed her to develop a surrealist methodology of creative historical research for non-academic audiences, and it is one that is readily accessible for young researchers. In the manner of Sebald’s own surrealist-inspired research and writing practices, Jeannette’s creative research methodology foregrounds randomness and assemblage, rather than systematic mining, and places creativity, storytelling and the imagination on an equal footing with documentary research practices in order to make room for marginalised and ‘lost’ historical voices to emerge.
The project launched in January 2019 when Jeannette, Duncan and Simon Floyd (aka Professor Kirby-Bedon) led a school assembly to meet the young researcher team and to talk to them about what researchers do and how they woulf work together over the next year. An entire day of fun and engaging carrousel activities followed, including walks around the historical areas of Norwich, introductory talks about Norwich’s long migration history, and drama and singing workshops, A brilliant launch day culminated in the researchers performing songs from the ‘Come Yew In!’ Songbook in front of a packed assembly hall of visitors and the parents.
What Next Happened Next?
For the Autumn term, Jeannette had the pleasure of working with 200 children, 20 teachers, and 8 families as surrealist historians, using the Come Yew In! Songbook as a source text. The school’s Deputy Head reported that working with research-based songs in this way increased the children’s engagement and led to significant improvements in oracy levels over the course of the CYIA! Project. It also helped students and staff alike to think anew about history, do research and understand marginalization and displacement.
Inaugural School Conference…
In March 2019, all 200 children took part in the CYIA! cross-school research conference, where they presented their research findings in creative formats to 60 children from Avenues Junior School, a Norwich-based SoS. The Deputy Head observed that the conference marked a ‘step change’ for the school, leading it to behave very differently on the day and since. Even the most vulnerable of learners demonstrated increased confidence and enjoyment in telling their stories to new and unfamiliar school audiences.
Empowered by their research into past migration histories, the children researched contemporary migration stories from within the school community. 8 families also joined the project as co-researchers. This led to cross-generational exchange as the children interviewed the families and worked with members of The Common Lot to turn research insights into songs and sketches for the final show.
The Grand Finale
In July 2019, CYIA! was performed by all 200 children and 20 teachers to an audience of 155 family members, project partners, and the public. 95.8% of the 119 audience members asked agreed that seeing the show enabled them to understand the benefits that incomers and migrants bring to the community. A focus group with 22 participating children reported that the project helped to build pupil’s knowledge about stories and backgrounds of migrants with all reporting that they were more aware of the number of different countries pupils and their families came from.