Our town

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Brent primary children are finding out about their communities and themselves by making models. Nic Barnard reports

Disaster! Libby is looking at the brightly mottled model on her desk. "We decided to spray the floor, but we forgot to cover the walls," she says ruefully of her small-scale decorating.

Libby, 10, is working intently with her friends on a beautiful cardboard and paper model of the prayer room at North West London Jewish Day School.

She explains why she chose the room to represent her school. "Well, we're Jewish," she says, simply. "It's where we pray. It's the most holy room, because it's got the Torah in it."

Over on another desk, Gabriella is putting wire mesh on top of a miniature succah, to represent the leaves and branches that traditionally cover the shelter used for the autumn festival of Succoth. "I think my whole school is special, but I can't really put in the whole school so I've learned to pick out the main bits," she says.

The Year 5 pupils are among children from six primary schools in Brent, north-west London, taking part in a model-making project to tell museum-goers of the future what makes their schools special and what it's like to grow up in the borough.

Along the way, they are learning to look at their schools with a fresh eye and try out new materials and different styles of drawing and painting to convey their emotions about the places where they learn and live.

Their results form the prototypes for six models constructed by visiting artist Rebecca Birch, which will go on permanent display in Brent's community history museum, the Grange, when it reopens next year. They make up a colourful and kaleidoscopic picture of life in the borough's schools and their subjects draw on everything from music and games to prayer and computers.

Brent is one of the country's most culturally diverse local authorities.

The six schools represent five different faiths - Anglican, Roman Catholic, Islamic, Jewish and Hindu - and one is non-denominational.

Chlo Bird, learning officer at Brent Heritage Services who conceived the project, visited each school with Rebecca Birch for six weeks of workshops.

Pupils went around their school looking for images and places, and working on sketches and paintings that summed up a special feeling. Then they worked them into 3D models.

An important feature, says Chlo Bird, was that "the children got to tell the stories. We were strangers, coming in and asking them: what can you show us? It's been a really eye-opening experience. We really got a sense of the different ethos in each school."

Many models incorporate sounds and text - at North West the pupils are writing Hebrew texts on the wall, while pupils at St Margaret Clitherow RC worked in their school prayer - and different materials. Islamia pupils used crystals to represent the light in the playground.

Susan Braham, Year 5 teacher and deputy head at North West, says the focus on conveying feelings brought a new dimension to art lessons. "In a way, it's the national curriculum, but from an artist's, not a teacher's, point of view," she says. There was "less emphasis on perfection, more emphasis on emotional response".

Rebecca says there is real pride among pupils that their work is going on public display. Along the way they have learned to improvise and experiment - and hopefully teachers have learned something about how their pupils feel about them.

"In one school (the children talked about) their clubs and the things they did. So we've got children playing judo and singing and climbing and playing games," she says.

"Hopefully it will make the teachers feel that all the effort they put in is really appreciated."

For more information go to: www.brent.gov.ukgrangemuseum


Get your pupils to experiment with different drawing materials and techniques to express different moods and emotions. Try these to get them started:

* Use pastels on coloured paper to create a lively and exciting atmosphere.

* Draw straight pencil lines on white paper to create a feeling of calm.

* Use charcoal on grey tissue to creates a sad, moody and mournful atmosphere.

Combine the following materials in different ways: pencil, charcoal, graphite, chalk, marker pens, pastels, coloured pencils, cartridge paper, tracing paper, tissue, brown paper, acetate, coloured paper, carbon paper, black sugar paper.

The only thing limiting your drawing is your imagination and creativity.

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