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Brighton rocks

One pupil's rubbish is another's work of art. Phil Mills reports on the beachcombers who have created a very different collection

Beachcombing expeditions normally end up with nothing more than a pocketful of shells, but not for pupils of Stanford Junior School in Brighton. There, a year's worth of collecting has been transformed by Year 3 into a thought-provoking art exhibition for visitors to the city's annual festival.

That ballroom chandelier is actually a collection of discarded plastic cigarette lighters glued to a ball. An array of fingers from fishermen's rubber gloves resemble sea flowers.

"I believe art is the catalyst that ignites children's imaginations," says Lou McCurdy, the school's artist in residence - one of only a handful in junior schools.

"From there, their minds branch into geography, history, all areas of the curriculum. We are showing children what previous generations have done to the environment. The youngsters naturally want to change things for the better."

In the school's basement room, about 90 Year 3 pupils have been working with debris collected from one beach over the course of a year by Lou.

Plastic bottles form a New York-type skyline and there are metres of rope and nylon fishing nets that children pull and climb on. Now they are all working on the shape of the British Isles in detritus form, an interesting metaphor.

The children express what they have learned about the impact of man-made products on marine life in other ways too.

"This project has captured children's imagination and now they are doing environmental projects at home, painting pictures and writing their own thoughts," says Giovanni Franceschi, headteacher, who invited Lou into the school last autumn.

Lou is sponsored by a local estate agent and hopes to take the project to other coastal towns. "We live by the sea but you don't always feel connected with it," she says. "I never imagined how well this idea would bridge that gap." Her tips for starting similar projects are: Find an artist willing to give time and energy.

Find space, preferably a room not being used.

Contact marine conservation groups for facts and assistance www.brightonfestival.orgwww.stanfordjun.brighton-hove.sch.ukResources for exploring beach themes with younger primary children at www.tes.co.ukresourcesbeach1

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