Leeds Primary Schools explore mental health through dance

5 May 2018

In partnership with The Co-operative Academies Trust and inspired by our production, Witness This, over the past three months, we’ve been working with 240 primary school pupils in Leeds to explore the theme of mental health through dance and movement.

Company Chameleon’s Learning & Participation Officer, Sam Broadbent, tells us about the project, what we can learn from it and why the project is engaging everyone involved.

What has the project involved?
Following the success of the Company working with Secondary School pupils at three Co-Operative Academies in Manchester, the Trust invited us to deliver a similar project with Primary School age children in Leeds.

Using dance as the medium, the project aims to highlight and explain mental health issues, encouraging discussion and reducing the stigma attached to mental illness.

The project is in three parts, we began in March with a launch date within each school, involving Year 4 / 5 pupils taking part in a creative dance workshop, which explored the themes featured within Witness This both physically and creatively.

Following the project launch, each school identified a focus group who have been working together with their class teacher, along with the support of the company, to create their own dance piece, expressing their own thoughts and ideas surrounding mental health.

The project will finish with a celebration day, taking place in late May 2018 at Co-operative Academy Leeds. This celebration day will bring together the focus groups from each school to share their works and will also include a performance of Witness This by Company Chameleon.

Who has been involved?
This project has so far involved approximately 240 pupils from the four Leeds Co-operative Primary Academies which are: Nightingale Primary Academy, Co-op Academy Oakwood, Co-op Academy Woodlands and Brownhill Primary Academy. The host venue for the final celebration day will be Co-operative Academy Leeds.

The workshops have been delivered by Company Chameleon’s Co-Artistic Director, Kevin Edward Turner; Learning & Participation Officer, Sam Broadbent; Company Dancer, Theo Fapohunda and Company Apprentices, Alice Bonazzi and Sara Marques.

What has it achieved?
Mental health issues could seem like a challenging subject to approach with 8-10 year olds, yet it is something that can affect us all and therefore, should be encouraged to be spoken about from an early age. The pupils taking part in the project have learned about the importance of looking after their mental health in the same way they would look after their physical health. We have also discovered how issues with our own mental health can often impact those around us and the role of understanding and support when helping those in need.

“The feedback from staff is amazing! The children are so engaged with it. A great find – thank you.” Georgina Winterburn, Executive Headteacher, Co-op Academy Woodlands & Brownhill Primary Academy.

Why has the project inspired?
It has been moving to witness the pupils from each school truly engaging with the subject matter and offering their own thoughts surrounding mental health and wellbeing. The pupils have approached the workshops with a sensitivity and maturity and have been honest and open when working with each other.

It has also been wonderful to work alongside the staff from each school, who although they aren’t dance specialists themselves, have really got stuck in with the project! We hope the staff come away from the project with more confidence about teaching creative dance sessions as part of the national curriculum and a greater understanding of the benefits of dance as both a creative outlet and as an effective form of exercise.

What we can all learn from it?
From delivering this project, we have learnt that it’s never too soon to start talking about our feelings, emotions and general mental health. The pupils taking part in this project have gained so much from open conversation in addition to exploring the subject through creative dance. We hope that the project contributes to raising awareness around mental health and helps to de-stigmatise the issue.  We are really looking forward to watching each school’s works in response to Witness This in May!

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