A Partnership Project between Autism in Nature and Britten-Pears Arts
Joe Carr, Collection and Learning Curator
The Red House is the historic home of the composer Benjamin Britten and his partner the singer Peter Pears, located in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. It comprises the historic house, kept as Britten and Pears knew it; Britten’s composition studio, similarly in its original state; the two men’s library, which also functions as a performance space for small recitals; a museum gallery telling the story of the two men’s lives and music; and a large purpose-built archive building including reading room, housing the papers of Britten and Pears and others in their creative circle. The complex is set within extensive grounds that are also open to the public. Full details can be found at https://brittenpears.org/ and www.brittenpearsarts.org
There is an active programme of onsite sessions available to local schools at the Red House, chiefly to pupils in KS1 and KS2, and several staff-led sessions have been developed to support various key National Curriculum areas. These support not merely music and history, as might be expected, but also science and logical reasoning, with topics such as Make an Opera in a Day, The Science of Sound, Murder in the Orchestra (a mystery involving logical reasoning as well as music education), Music Through Time, and so on. The full offer to schools is set out at https://brittenpears.org/visit/school-visits/. The vast majority of these sessions include a visit to the archive to see material tailored to the session and to visit the main strongroom.
Autism and Nature is a non-profit organisation dedicated to enriching the lives of people on the autistic spectrum, especially children, by engaging them with the countryside, nature and heritage https://autismandnature.org.uk/
SEND learners project with Autism and Nature
In Autumn 2019, working in collaboration with Autism and Nature, The Red House set out to develop a new set of school sessions suitable for SEND learners, and began to work in partnership with Autism and Nature and three different local special schools.
The aim of the project was to inspire teachers to engage children with autism and related conditions with the historical and cultural heritage of the Suffolk Coast. These children may get few opportunities to go on school trips to heritage sites, and yet these can have considerable benefits to pupils’ learning, their social skills (life skills) and well-being. If a child really enjoys visiting a heritage organisation with their school, and they return with their family, it could become a special place offering comfort and relaxation, as well as learning, and might stimulate a new interest for the child.
As part of the project to engage pupils from local special schools with the historic and cultural heritage of the Suffolk Coast, Autism and Nature worked with the Collection and Learning Curator at The Red House to develop six site visits for pupils from three Suffolk schools. The purpose of the visits was to give pupils the opportunity to learn about ‘Benjamin Britten and his Music’. Visits were hosted by Joe Carr, Collections and Learning Curator at The Red House. The visits also gave teachers and support staff the chance to learn more about The Red House and how visits such as these can support learning about local heritage, giving them more confidence to take their pupils to local heritage places in the future. An important element of the project was follow up work with the pupils in school, and this was supported by a series of widget colouring sheets produced by Autism and Nature, which also recorded and evaluated the visits. The schools taking part included: Stone Lodge Academy in Ipswich, which caters for children with moderate learning difficulties and conditions such as autism and ADHD. The Thomas Wolsey Ormiston Academy, also in Ipswich, caters for children with complex physical, medical or sensory needs with associated learning difficulties. The Ashley School Academy Trust in Lowestoft caters for children aged seven to 16 years with moderate learning difficulties, many of whom have speech and language difficulties and autism.
The visits were developed with the support of the school class teacher and Autism and Nature staff and worked to engage the children with the entire site at The Red House through a range of activities which included music, craft, object handling, storytelling and musical demonstrations.
Teacher and pupil feedback was wonderful, for example one teacher was impressed with the confidence shown by the pupils, their engagement and participation in all the activities, and their enthusiasm. She commented that the colouring sheets were a lovely resource which would be shared across the school. The session also helped her to appreciate how music can be used to engage pupils’ interests and bring topics to life. Visits such as this broaden horizons and allow pupils to see and experience new things. The pupils commented that the vocal visualiser was ‘so cool’, ‘the harp was amazing’ and one pupil wanted ‘to learn to play the harp’. The pupils performed the song about the sea at the school Harvest Festival, using the musical shakers they made. It was wonderful how engaged all the children were in all aspects of the visit. The theme of exploring the sea and linking this to Benjamin Britten’s nautical music was very successful in engaging the young people with the site and music.
Another teacher commented that in class, it was exciting to see the interest and confidence the pupils displayed engaging with the different instruments they were introduced to at The Red House. This inspired the school to introduce playing the piano as a follow-on in school. The pupils’ follow-on work related to Benjamin Britten is now part of the school’s Arts Mark evidence file. It was delightful to see how the pupils all engaged with the activities throughout the day, from handling artefacts to listening to and creating music. The questioning and ideas from all of the pupils was a fantastic result and it was wonderful to see how the pupils continued their learning and developed their ideas from the day back at school.
The success of the visits resulted in a new partnership project with the aim of creating a new set of engaging school visits focusing on music and soundscapes over 2020/21.
With the lockdown restrictions due to Covid 19 the new project working with the schools has had to be adapted to a new online environment. Initially, we thought that the huge success we saw in the first set of visits, from hands on multisensory short and engaging activities across different spaces, would be difficult to be replicated via a zoom sessions to the classroom. However, over February and March 2021, we have developed and delivered a set of 8 sessions for the schools via zoom which have been engaging and inspiring for the children involved. Working with Autism and Nature we developed a set of interactive presentations which explored and shared the sounds and soundscapes of the Suffolk Coast. Linking live music making and creating sounds, the children explored each environment and were supplied with materials such as activity and colouring sheets created by Autism and Nature. Each class was also supplied with an audio recorder, so the children could begin creating their own soundscapes in their schools. The results of which will be created into a unique CD for the children by the Autism and Nature team. They will also collect all the recordings of pupil voices and music to edit and create a Memory Sound File for pupils taking part in the sessions (a unique set of recordings for each class) to share with family and friends, and other pupils and teachers in their schools
Again teacher feedback has been wonderful as the feedback below indicates.
Thank you both so much for the lovely Music sessions that we have done. The students have really enjoyed taking part and it’s been great to see how Music can be used to bring the Humanities curriculum to life for these children.
Britten-Pears arts and The Red House will develop its offer for visitors with autism and other SEN in several ways.
A visual story will be made available to all visitors which will provide details of the sites, staff and displays, to help schools and families plans and prepare for a successful visit.
Three sensory packs will be created for The Red House, Museum Gallery and Archive building so that we can engage SEN visitors with these spaces.
One area we are also exploring is relaxed/quiet openings for the museum site. Quiet spaces are important for many children with autism. The Red House has a quiet and calming garden. Visitors Aldeburgh can stroll along the shingle beach with their child, whilst Snape Maltings is a tranquil spot with wide ranging views. These quiet spaces are ideal spaces parents can retire to if a child becomes anxious during their visit.
There might be elements of the experience that some children might find challenging; teachers might be concerned about factors such as lighting (too bright, too dim or transitions between the two), sound (from videos for example), interactive displays or the presence of mannequins (some with a recorded voice). Whether a place is busy at certain times might be particularly important. Some children with autism may express particular anxieties themselves before a visit, such as: how far will they have to walk; will they get back in time for the next activity; will it be noisy; will there will be dogs off lead; and so on. We have worked with Autism and Nature to create their heritage guide which provides information about these, and many other issues which will help adults to judge the suitability of the various places for their child and, critically, help with planning so that any issues can be managed or avoided.
It is important to ensure that children enjoy their experience. We strongly recommend teachers make a pre-visit before taking a class, especially for children with more severe and complex needs. Issues such as whether the parking area is enclosed for children who have tendency to run; access for children in wheelchairs; open water; toilet facilities; quiet areas to retire to if children become overwhelmed; and so on. Teachers could also take this opportunity to take a few photographs or record a short video to show their children, or make into a visual schedule; some heritage places have very helpful information, including risk assessments, that they can send to schools. Planning a visit can help to minimise stress and make a visit relaxing and enjoyable, that might otherwise have been daunting.
by Joe Carr, Collection and Learning Curator