Help for Hedgehogs

Some of my favourite projects are the ones which pull together lots of the things I love.  Last year I worked as a Community Engagement Officer for The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, and found myself in the lucky position of concocting one such project.

‘Help for Hedgehogs’ is a Heritage Lottery Fund funded project, focusing on Hedgehog habitats and activity in and around the beautiful Brandwood End Cemetery in South Birmingham.  The Friends of Brandwood End Cemetery have worked incredibly hard over the years to develop and celebrate the Cemetery, but wanted to focus on practical steps that they could take to support wildlife in the area.

The result is a project which involves conservation work such as creating bug hotels and hedgehog homes, alongside small mammal surveying, art and craft activities, informative talks, knowledge sharing, school workshops and, naturally, community film making.  Emma Sargent from The Wildlife Trust has been working alongside some of Birmingham’s Park Rangers to deliver some really exciting, hands on learning.


I have been working with pupils at two local schools – St Albans and Woodthorpe Primary – to document the project.  Starting from basic film-making workshops, the pupils then went on to film on location whilst their classmates built bug hotels and hedgehog homes.  It always astounds me the speed of the transition between kids nervously approaching a tripod to taking responsibility for directing a shoot!  Some members of the crew conducted interviews and presented to camera.

We hope that the final film will carry key messages around what people can do to encourage hedgehogs, a rapidly declining species, into their gardens.  The three key messages are:

  • Leave areas wild to create spaces for hedgehogs to hibernate
  • Encourage tasty bugs into your garden by leaving log piles or making bug hotels
  • Cut holes in fences to allow hedgehogs to travel safely between gardens – they travel around 2km per night!

To help The Wildlife Trust map out hedgehog activity there is now an online tool to report sitings.  I’m quite chuffed that my parents have recently been able to record a live siting in North Walsall!  Go to http://www.bbcwildlife.org.uk/hedgehogsighting and record any ‘hog siting’!

The film will be screened in early June – more details to follow nearer the time!

Untold Stories: sharing stories across the generations

This blogpost also appears on the People’s Heritage Co-operative website.

As part of The People’s Heritage Co-operative’s HLF funded project, ‘Untold Stories: Birmingham’s Wounded Soldiers from WW1’, Year 8 pupils at Swanshurst School took part in a series of workshops with Rachel Gillies – Community Film Maker to learn how to conduct filmed oral history interviews.

The result of their hard work is 11 remarkable interviews with a range of people discussing their own experiences and the experiences of relatives in some of the major conflicts of the 20th Century.  From shelling in the trenches of The Somme to the shelling of Hartlepool, patrolling the Suez Canal to holding the line in Korea, back to the UK to the aftermath of conflict in people’s daily lives, including the reality of medical care, the interviews are eye-opening and frank.

Students took on a massive responsibility in helping interviewees share their often harrowing experiences.  Special thanks must go to staff at Swanshurst School and to former teacher, Doug Smith, who facilitated the project and who organises the school’s annual ‘Veteran’s Day’.  Thanks also to Veterans, School Staff and Lt Col. Steve Jeffery who were so forthcoming and generous in their interviews.

The quality of these interviews really does speak volumes about the maturity and sensitivity of pupils who were only born in the 21st Century.  They are ensuring the the lessons from previous generations are passed on.  And in a world that feels in a state of flux, what could be more important than that?

Editing Untold Stories

Back in September I joined with colleagues from ‘The People’s Heritage Co-operative’ to share the findings from our project, ‘Untold Stories – Birmingham’s Wounded Soldiers from WW1’.  We launched a teaching resource and a film I had filmed and edited at Highbury Hall.  Ahead of sharing the oral history interviews from the project, here are some excerpts of a blog I wrote whilst editing the project film:

So here I’m sat at my desk, looking through scores of photos and hours of footage, wondering how I’m going to pull so much fantastic stuff together.  My job, you see, is to turn all of the lectures, interviews, workshops and explorations we have undertaken through our ‘Untold Stories’ project into a finished film for our launch on 13th September.

img_6975I have rich pickings here. Workshops where we delved into the archive to discover magazines produced by invalided soldiers, photos of injured servicemen following facial reconstructive surgery, lectures on the sheer scale of organisation required to ensure wounded soldiers were treated, genealogy workshops on tracing WW1 casualties, interviews with Korean war veterans, an interview with a serving Military Surgeon, explorations of Highbury Hall with a group of school pupils… it’s fair to say that we have been busy.

So perhaps for now I should just share some of my favourite snippets, and save the rest for the film.

img_7076My main involvement in the project has been working with pupils at Swanshurst School to teach them how to conduct Oral History interviews so that they are able to do their own interviews. Alongside former History Teacher, Doug Smith, and members of the People’s Heritage Co-operative, we ran a series of workshops to prepare the girls for interviewing war veterans during the school’s ‘Veterans Day’ event.

The stories that emerged over the course of Veterans’ Day really highlighted the variety of experiences. One gentleman spoke about his Grandfather being called up to serve at The Somme alongside his horse. Another interviewee highlighted a number of occasions when his father and comrades were injured in the trenches. Other interviewees spoke about more recent conflicts in WW2 and in the Korean War.

Whaimg_6965t was particularly striking was how much the pupils took away from the experience. Here are a few comments from pupils themselves:

‘You learn so much about where you live and what goes on that you feel responsible to continue this’.

‘I think that taking part in experiences like this can be even more informative than learning about it in lessons, because in this situation you’re learning more about actual people’s experiences’.

Of course I couldn’t share all of this without also sharing the project film itself!

Untold Stories: Birmingham’s Wounded Soldiers from WW1 from Rachel Gillies on Vimeo.

Discover Dance!

I was a keen little dancer as a kid – ballet, tap, stage dancing.  A precocious little ball of energy, clad in pink lycra with hair in a tight, tight bun and face caked in blue eyeshadow on the stage of Aldridge Youth Theatre.  I loved it, and always get a tingle when I see others experiencing the liberation of leaping about, the point when they are given permission to let go of inhibitions and discover how joyous dance can be.

So how wonderful was it to document a project that encourages dance in the middle of lessons?  Yes, that’s right.  Dance in English.  Dance in Maths.  Dance in French!  And for that to be coupled with seeing professional dancers perform in the middle of your classroom?  To have the opportunity to go on a trip to see a live contemporary dance show?  Tingly.

‘Discover Dance’, a project developed by DanceXchange and Dance4, brings live professional dance to the classroom and uses dance to engage pupils in learning key subjects in a creative, exciting way.  It’s hard to visualise how dance can be relevant to learning about algebra, but as you can see from the film, this works.  Pupils use their bodies to explore concepts and ideas that may not make so much sense on paper.  It’s fun, and so, so liberating to push the desks to one side.  Pupils also have the opportunity to attend a live dance performance, to make connections between what they have learnt in school and the world of professional dance performance in professional venues.  Inspiring stuff.

I’ve been documenting the pilot project in two schools.  The short documentary is now doing the rounds of schools to encourage other schools to participate in developing the project further and bring this wonderful scheme to others.  I think it’s a great idea.  See for yourself.

Discover Dance from Rachel Gillies on Vimeo.

I’ve worked with the fabulous staff at DanceXchange before – their creativity, vision and commitment to advocate for dance as an art form is wonderful to be around.  Jane Ralls, DanceXchange’s Dance Development Director also provided me with this wonderful reference.

“Rachel Gillies is a wonderful community film-maker, demonstrating real ability to make people feel at ease with her presence and obtain exciting and relevant footage. As the film-maker for our Discover Dance project in 2013, she had a warm and friendly manner and was exceptionally flexible in approach. She did a excellent job of editing the material that she captured to create a snappy advocacy film for us to promote the project – and its already been used on numerous occasions. She would be a real asset to any education/community project – either to help document and evaluate work or to help with promotion.”

If you are a teacher and want to learn more then do contact DanceXchange (in the West Midlands) or Dance4 (in the East Midlands).  Teachers and pupils were raving about the project – I’m excited to see how it develops!

‘Looking After’ children in care

Life can be stressful enough for children and young people within the care system without being passed from pillar to post when it comes to healthcare.  The Looked After Children’s Nursing Service provides a ‘one-stop shop’ for health screening and support.

I worked with pupils at Firsbrook School in Quinton to produce a short animation to illustrate what happens at an annual check up.  The young people, themselves classed as ‘Looked After Children’, worked with their Art teacher, Richard Upton and myself to create the animation.  This involved discussing their own apprehensions and experiences of accessing health care and advice.  This formed the basis of the script which we developed into a stop frame animation, using characters the group developed themselves.

AnimationThe young people are given annual check ups by a specialist team of nurses, and they also have the opportunity to discuss health issues with a specialist paediatrician.  This means that their physical and mental health can be monitored and managed, and support can be offered where needed.  Files are kept in one place and the young person will usually see the same person each year.

This animation formed part of a further film, based on interviews with nurses, doctors and healthcare assistants within the Looked After Children’s Health Team.  This explains in some details what children and young people can expect.

Daisy Hale, Elliot Sturman did a sterling acting job undergoing a mock check, and Jennifer Smith did a fantastic turn as a Social Worker (maybe a new career beckons?).  Huge thanks to everyone within the team was brave enough to go in front of the camera!  Thanks also to everyone at Firsbrook for making me feel so welcome – staff and pupils alike.

Got your attention?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition which is hotly debated and widely misunderstood.  Where is the line between a ‘spirited’ or ‘badly behaved’ child and a child suffering from ADHD?  How can you tell?  Fortunately in Birmingham there is a service to which children can be referred in order to try and determine exactly that.

I was commissioned by Birmingham Community Healthcare Trust to develop a short film to outline what the ADHD Nurse Led Service does and to explain to parents, carers, school staff and school nurses how referrals can be made and how the assessment is conducted.

ADHD referral

1,000 DVDs were produced back in January (yes, I am incredibly behind in my blogging!), which are now being circulated in schools.  This is an important tool in aiding understanding of the condition and compliments the awareness-raising that the ADHD Nurse Led Service is already doing.

The film was produced in close collaboration with the ADHD team – Kim, Chris and Mel.  However, the real star of the show is Scrabble, Kim’s Springer Spaniel, who showed real professionalism in demonstrating some of the key symptoms of ADHD!

If you would like a copy of the film, or want to know more about the service then head to the service website for more information.

Monoxide Mole investigates

Over the past year there have been a number of really sad stories in the news about people dying as a result of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.  The tragedy of all of these incidents is that they are so easily preventable through a knowledge of the possible dangers and by getting appliances checked by a qualified and registered engineer.

In a bid to educate people on the dangers of Carbon Monoxide, the Gas Safety Trust funded Moseley Community Development Trust to work with local pupils at Park Hill Primary School to help spread the message.  Phil Beardmore, an expert on home energy issues (one of the many hats he wears!) developed a training session to teach adults working on the project what Carbon Monoxide is, what can make it hazardous, the signs of poisoning and how it can be prevented.

Gas Safety Project

This was a unique project as it was pupils themselves that took the lead on creating an advertising campaign.  I worked alongside the wonderfully talented and creative Sandra Taylor (formerly of the rather marvellous Playtrain organisation) to help the group develop their ideas, find creative ways of expressing what was quite a complex subject (especially for Key Stage 2 pupils!), and then to realise their vision through drama, narration, film and animation.

The result is a fun, informative film, developed and created by the pupils themselves which is now being shown in homes across Moseley.  The pupils learned new skills over the course of the project, but more importantly really took the message of Gas Safety on board.  1,000 DVDs have been produced to make sure that the message is spread far and wide, and the information is now available online on the Moseley CDT website.

Thanks to Sandra for all of her hard work co-ordinating the project, to Phil for his excellent training and support, to all the supportive staff at Park Hill, to Tony Thapar at Moseley CDT and to Ben Lister for his excellent work on the edit. Above all, well done to the pupils who put so much effort in and made the project such a giggle!

2011 – The Year in Review

This year has been a pretty shoddy year for blogging. Thankfully that’s because it’s been a fantastic year of increasingly ambitious, interesting film projects with wonderful people. This blogpost is a bit of a round-up with some thank yous thrown in!

2011 montage

Pool of Memories

One of the most exciting and rewarding projects has been finally getting the ‘Pool of Memories’ project underway. After months and months of plotting and planning our funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, ‘Friends of Moseley Road Baths’ were able to throw ourselves into implementing an extensive and exciting programme of oral history interviews about the swimming baths and its 104 year history. I’ve been working in schools around Balsall Heath and Moseley to bring History to life for local pupils through using our interactive Virtual Tour website and Pool of Memories archive, then guiding groups through filming their own oral history interviews with members of the public. The response has been wonderful and it’s been difficult to keep a check on my enthusiasm in order for us to actually get the projects done!  Here is a taster of what we’ve been up to in the six projects completed so far!


What’s Wrong With Wolverhampton?

There was also no shortage of enthusiasm, or talent, from students at Mediacove who I worked with at the start of the year to create a documentary ‘Wolverhampton in Focus’ which investigated the claim by a Lonely Planet article that Wolverhampton was amongst the worst cities in the world!  Needless to say we uncovered a huge amount of positive stuff going on.  The documentary was a springboard for a live streamed debate, where the group took charge of finding panelists, chairing the discussion and filming the whole thing in the Mediacove studio.  I thought it was a fantastic template for empowering and innovative media work, but don’t take my word for it… here’s the Behind the Scenes film where the group talk about how the experience has changed their lives.  More information on the Mediacove blog

Young people making films

As the cuts to youth projects began to bite I spent some time with young people at Fox Hollies Forum in Acocks Green producing a short film with them to highlight the need for good quality, safe youth provision in their neighbourhood.  The group did a fantastic job of making their case and the film formed part of a wider campaign of lobbying and demonstrations that certainly puts any notion of apathetic young people to rest!

Meanwhile pupils in and around Billesley took part in a range of fun after-school clubs organised by the lovely crew over at Balsall Heath’s very own Round Midnight.  I led a range of film-making workshops which saw Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils getting to grips with using camera equipment and exploring how they can create their own short films.  I also joined the gang at Round Midnight to help pupils document arts activities happening at King Edward VI Girls Grammar School in Handsworth.

Promoting health

2011 has also been a year of promoting some important areas of the NHS, specifically services aimed at supporting children and families.  The year began with a whopping 10,000 DVDs of my Health Visitor film going into production to be distributed to new parents across Birmingham.  As I type there are a further 1,000 copies of a film about the referral process for children with suspected ADHD in production.  A third film aimed at young people and carers outlines the health services provided through the ‘Looked After Children’s Health Team’ for children and young people in the care system in Birmingham and will go into production shortly.  That project involved working with pupils at Firsbrook School in Quinton to create a short animation – loads of fun and my first animation!

A day in the woods

One of the most fun parts of my job is the opportunity to delve into other people’s worlds.  I was really lucky to be able to join a group of three and four year olds in Moorcroft Woods as they explored the woodland through the use of stories, crafts and their own observations.  The ‘Forest School’ supported by the Wildlife Trust and run through Rowley View Nursery School is all about getting kids out of the classroom and giving them opportunity to get muddy and let their imaginations run wild.  The response from the kids was absolutely wonderful to see and it’s hoped that more schools will grasp the opportunity to get involved in similar schemes off the back of the short promotional film we produced.

Film training

Finally I made a couple of trips down to London to deliver film-making workshops to the lovely folks at Friends of the Earth.  This is one of my favourite bits of work as it’s always hugely amusing to see what adults get up to when they’re given free rein to play with a camera!  I’ll leave you with a short film produced in one short hour long session – it shows you what can be created in a short space of time, as well as giving you some tips for your own film-making!

Huge thanks to all of the organisations I’ve worked with over the past year and all who have assisted in bringing some great stories and projects to light! Happy film-making for 2011!

Pool of Memories progress

35 pupils in four schools have now been part of creating a total of eight films about the history of Moseley Road Baths in Balsall Heath, all of which will eventually be added to our online archive of the building at www.poolofmemories.co.uk.

PoMP - Park Hill School

The Heritage Lottery Fund supported project, run by the Friends of Moseley Road Baths has involved pupils in researching the history of the building, taking a tour around the Baths, learning how to make films and conduct interviews, and then finally editing their interviews together into short films to be added to our archive.  Ever since I started making films in the community, back when I worked as a Receptionist at Moseley Road Baths it’s been my aim to get this lovely building celebrated more within the surrounding area.  We certainly seem to be achieving that!

PoMP - Park Hill SchoolPupils have really loved the tours and have asked some really great (and challenging!) questions about the building and how it was built and is maintained.  On several occasions I’ve seen pupils dashing up to parents and teachers to tell them all about the things that they’ve learnt.  Apologies if you’re one of those people who has been bombarded with trivia!  However, we know that young people are exactly the kind of ambassadors we need to ensure future generations enjoy the building.

PoMP - Percy Shurmer SchoolAll of the children have picked up on the film-making really quickly.  We’ve had some real giggles mucking around with the microphones and playing around in front of the camera!  We soon managed to form film crews with a Director, Sound Recordist, Camera Operator and Interviewer.  Many of our interviewees have commented on the professionalism of the group.

IMG_4461

All of the questions for the interviewees have been written by the pupils, who have shown a great level of maturity in their questions.  These budding young historians have really grasped the concept of oral history recording and its importance for helping people to understand the past and its relevance to us today.

PoMP Clifton Junior

The quality of the interviews has been excellent, with some really interesting stories coming out as a result of the groups asking such good questions.  We’ve learnt about the diving boards and drinks for a penny in the 1950s, competitive swimming in the 1960s, school trips to the Baths in the 1970s, someone almost having a baby in the pool in the 1980s and then in stories from more recent years we’ve learnt about the technical side of rebuilding the windows, what it’s like to work there, as well as hearing about the campaign work to keep the building open.

With five more school projects budgeted for over the course of the three year project I am now looking for other local schools who may wish to participate.  The project is aimed at Year 6 pupils, but can be tailored for other year groups.  The finished films are added to our archive, and many will appear on our online archive, www.poolofmemories.co.uk.  They will then be used as part of our exhibition work and will form the basis of an extensive drama project.  If you would like your school to be involved then you can contact us at memories@friendsofmrb.co.uk.

Here is an example of one of the films, created by Year 3 pupils at Clifton Junior School.

Celebrating our services – Libraries

Do you remember the name of your local Librarian when you were a kid?  The person who helped you work your way through different sections of the library, from the toddler ‘Ladybird’ books through to the Enid Blytons, the Roald Dahls, the Dick King Smiths, the Judy Blumes and the Paula Danzigers?  Who helped you navigate your way through the non-fiction for your school projects?  Who organised holiday activities which got you touching wild animals, writing book reviews and taking out huge piles of books in order to get a sticker at the end of the summer?  I remember Gill, the librarian at High Heath Library vividly.  I was in awe of someone who worked with books for a living.  The library was divided into a child and adult section, and I still recall how special I felt when I crossed the threshold for the first time, turning right instead of left as I went in.

That library closed years ago and it’s always saddened me that pupils from my local primary school will never get the chance to skip down there, two by two and hear a story sat on those tiny chairs, then frantically battle with the rest of the class for the ‘best’ books to take out.  That now looks to become the norm as libraries are faced with closure throughout the country.  Some councils are considering closing all of their local libraries.

Closer to home where I live in Balsall Heath, the magnificent terracotta library which greets people as they enter the area is covered in scaffolding and has been for several years.  Whilst it’s still functioning and providing a fantastic service, particularly for local pupils, the building needs extensive work.  Meanwhile, the library up the road in Kings Heath is completely closed to the public.

A few years ago I was commissioned by a dedicated and passionate librarian, Jenny York, to produce a series of films about the work that libraries in Yardley were doing with the local community.  Even back then it was important that they could produce evidence of the impact of their work to help secure funding.  The result was seven short films about different projects.  There is more information on them over on the ‘Libraries’ page.

One of my favourite films is the ‘Yards Ahead’ film.  I think it really shows the passion that kids, teachers and librarians have for their community library.  I could continue to wax lyrical about the service, but I’ll let the film speak for itself.  Enjoy.