Shaping the future of Never Such Innocence - our focus groups

We have run a number of nationwide focus groups to inform the next phase of Never Such Innocence.  We also have an online survey available if you'd like to contribute, here.  Read more about some of the focus groups below...

In June 2018, we spent some time reflecting on the incredible success of the 2017/18 Poetry, Art, and Song competition commemorating the First World War.  In the final year of the annual Centenary Competition, young people from around the world had engaged in numbers we had never seen before, nor anticipated! We were amazed and impressed by the quantity and quality of submissions we received.

We were also looking forward to amplifying their voices and making sure children and young people were strongly represented in the Armistice Commemorations.  Following four remarkable centenary years, we were concerned that after the end of the First World War Centenary opportunities for young people to engage in commemoration and reflect on conflict might be reduced.

We wanted to  create a long term legacy to ensure that children and young people continued to have the opportunity to learn about, and reflect on conflict. We wanted to develop a project that supported educators in the best way possible. We devised an online survey for teachers and educators and questions for young people to help shape our future.

St. Andrew’s, Scotland

We were fortunate to attend a conference at St. Andrew’s University, The Home Front: The United Kingdom 1914-1918.  The conference lasted three days, one of which was reserved for children and young people. On this day, our Artist in Residence Bethzienna Williams delivered an amazing songwriting workshop for five school groups.  The students all worked together and contributed to an anthem to the tune of Niall Horan’s Slow Hands.

Students also joined us for a workshop and focus group about the future of commemoration. We asked each of the children to learn about a person or a group featured in our First World War resource, and write a few words to commemorate them.  Walter Tull (p. 67) was remembered as ‘The Bold Boy’, Agnes Florien Forneri (p. 113) as ‘The Thoughtful Nurse’, and Dogs (p. 22) were commemorated as ‘The Furry Soldiers’.

The students then expressed their views on the value of commemoration and how we should remember in the future.  We were interested to hear the children say they were worried about past conflicts being forgotten, so thought it was important to continue actions like a minute of silence, and wearing poppies.  They also told us that they’d like to commemorate other things like conflicts that are ongoing today, and people who have lost their lives in natural disasters or acts of violence today. They said they would like to learn more about the world around us today, and commemorate and remember people who are experiencing conflict today.

As our first pilot focus group, we found the session at St. Andrew’s incredibly informative and helpful, it was a privilege to work with the children and their reflections were very thought provoking. The workshop at St. Andrew’s was key to the formation of the new project - Giving Children & Young People A Voice on Conflict.

You can also listen to a podcast about the conference here.

Dublin and County Waterford, Ireland

As part of our Island of Ireland project, NSI Artist in Residence Marty Longstaff visited two of the schools who had taken part, and along with Eleanor, ran a songwriting workshop and focus group.  At the first school in Dublin, the pupils were incredibly excited at the prospect of having their voices heard by adults in important positions, and children from far and wide.  They worked hard on their song with Marty, and wanted to use the song as an opportunity to speak out on issues they were passionate about like conflict, poverty, and homelessness.  

Students visiting the First World War memorial at Glasnevin Cemetery

Students visiting the First World War memorial at Glasnevin Cemetery

At the second school, the children asked Marty and Eleanor for a new learning resource that had lots of information about children’s lives during different periods of history and different conflicts.  Inspired by figures like Anne Frank, they wanted to learn what it might have been like to be a child of their own age. The Primary 6 children at this school were also keen to share their passion for local history.  They had completed a brilliant project investigating their local area during the First World War, and wanted to do similar work on different periods.

A few days later, both schools joined other children and young people from across the Island of Ireland at Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, to sing their songs and commemorate together all those who lost their lives in the First World War.  The positive atmosphere of this event and the coming together of young people from different backgrounds, impressed upon us even more the necessity of continuing to run events that allow young people to form real and lasting connections.

Bellingham, Northumberland

Following a request from Bellingham Middle School for an NSI songwriting workshop, Marty Longstaff visited the school to offer year 7 and year 8 pupils an introduction to songwriting techniques, and hear what they would like NSI to offer them in the next academic year.  

Having already studied the Holocaust, year 8 felt that this should be the subject of their school song. They helped their year 7 classmates understand the necessity of remembering this event, and the whole group took part in some exercises to imagine how different people might have felt during this terrible event.  The song that the group learned together was from the perspective of a British soldier encountering a Concentration Camp for the first time.

Together we talked about remembrance and commemoration, and why it is important and helpful to commemorate.  The group decided the four key reasons we commemorate are:

  • because someone / something made a big impact on the world,

  • because we care about someone personally,

  • because we feel gratitude,

  • because we need to learn lessons.

These four points resonated with us strongly; we felt they encapsulated the reasons why we as individuals and communities feel the need to commemorate the past.  

We also asked the students what else they would like to commemorate, and the suggestions ranged from negative events such as the current refugee crisis and those who have lost their lives in terrorist attacks, to more positive moments like the Queen’s birthday and the achievements of rights throughout history, such as women’s suffrage.

We thoroughly enjoyed working with the students at Bellingham and can’t wait to hear what else they come up with for the next competition.

St. Vincent’s School, Liverpool

LF Speaking.JPG

The NSI competition has received some extraordinary entries from St. Vincent’s students for three successive competitions, so we were very excited to visit in February and hear the students’ thoughts on commemoration and conflict.  We were also delighted to be joined at the school by many leading members of the local community, who very kindly shared their thoughts and expertise with us.

It was great to see students again who had sung at our Gala Dinner at Canada House in 2017, and students who had attended the Awards Ceremony for Together, in Berlin, after their beautiful ceramic piece won a prize in the art competition.  NSI Artist in Residence Bethzienna Williams also held a workshop,. working with a group of students to write a moving song.

The community leaders provided us with invaluable insight into how we can continue to support them, and the young people they work with, to engage with challenging topics and to play their part in commemoration.  Representatives of the Police force, the City Council, local Multi-Academy Trusts and the Rotary and Lions clubs spoke about their goals for the city and the challenges that face young people, and how Never Such Innocence can support and help young people in Liverpool and more widely.

The event ended with students who had worked with Bethzienna performing their new song to the assembled community leaders.  The song was about the importance of young people having their voices heard, and the brilliant performance showcased what the pupils could accomplish.