Start date: Summer 2019 - Ongoing
Tell us about your project?
StoryParks came from an idea we’d seen in a Liverpool park, where there was a permanent ‘Story Barn’ with library books in. We wanted to bring the library to Nottingham parks, but in a temporary way, over the school summer holidays. We wanted to draw in people who might not be used to going to the library, people who might be uncomfortable with libraries or just wouldn’t think of going to them.
So we made secret dens in five parks: Vernon, Woodthorpe, Forest Rec, Wollaton and Highfields. We wanted the dens to be magical, enchanted, secret but also easy to see. We designed them using 4 or 5 big telegraph poles, tarpaulins and branches and the children decorated them. They had beanbags and blankets, cosy areas inside. We used the environment, made bookcases from tree stumps and each den had its own sculpture.
For two weeks before the summer holidays a storyteller worked with primary schools near the five parks to create Story Bunting for their den. Then there were 5 weeks of free activities with a different theme each week (dinosaurs, Alice in Wonderland…). There was a core group of artists who worked separately, rotating the activities around the parks. We did something every day – stories, ranger activities, yoga and wellbeing, music, magic… the dens were open 24 hours a day. They could be used for independent activities as well as the facilitated ones. We left books, topped them up and changed them each week, and activity sheets, treasure hunts. And a big pile of logs that got moved around a lot as people played with them. We had a passport system to try to encourage people to go to all five parks. If the children got a stamp from each park they could go to the library and claim a free book – we wanted to get them into the libraries too.
What excites you most about this project?
It was fantastic – the proudest thing I’ve done in my career. It was magical. The feedback was just beautiful. There were 75 children at some events. There was no vandalism. Not a single book went missing even though we left them in the dens. It was a resounding success (except for the weather, which was very wet). The libraries to some extent got a new audience – everybody feels comfortable in a park. And the parks were re-imagined for a different use.
What did you learn?
That we want to do it again! We’ve secured funding for 3 more years and we want to build on the original idea year on year.
One important thing we learned was about working with a sponsor in new and different ways that go beyond branding and hospitality. Nottingham Building Society - which was founded by Samuel Fox, a Quaker philanthropist committed to education - was our sponsor, along with the City Council. Through the StoryParks Project we were able to make connections to the Building Society’s core values: their commitment to numeracy and literacy education and to giving something back to the communities they serve. We created the Sammy Fox Story Dens and we’ve commissioned a children’s author to write Samuel Fox’s biography.
How has the project been affected by Covid-19 and the lockdown?
[May, 2020] We’ve had to accept that we’re unlikely to be able to run the project in the parks over this summer as we’d planned, so we’ve invested in developing the website in ways that we wouldn’t have done if the lockdown hadn’t happened. We’re sad that we can’t create the dens this year but we plan to re-launch them next year. We’re very pleased with the website; it uses the same themes as the activities in the parks, it’s interactive with lots of video and we’re pleased with the content.
Have you tried new ways of collaborating on this project?
Yes, in addition to working with the sponsors in new ways, it’s new for us to be bringing the two sectors (parks and libraries) together in this way. We’ve brought in the schools as well. It’s needed very tight planning and a clear focus. Working in these partnerships has enabled us to reach more and different children and families.
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