Stella Fry, Art & Design Coordinator at Whitstable Junior School, describes Year 6's journey to becoming artists and makers with Start at Turner Contemporary, Margate.

This is the first year of a three-year Start programme at Turner Contemporary.  Over these three years, more than 1,000 children will be introduced to new art forms, inspired to create their own art and linked to the rich heritage of the place in which they live. To learn more about Start, click here

“Heard anything back from Turner Contemporary yet?”a colleague enquired hopefully last July. The end of a school year is usually characterised by dogged determination to make it to the finishing line, beyond which summer’s freedoms stretch. Not so this year, as we waited eagerly to hear whether we would be one of five schools within Kent’s Coastal Alliance, selected to work with Turner Contemporary on an exciting and creative initiative from Children & the Arts, linking art with our cultural heritage. Many hundreds of years previously, a Roman vessel jettisoned its cargo of Samian pots off the coast of Whitstable. These pots were recovered in the nets of local fishermen, who took them home to their wives where they were used to cook puddings. Some such dishes remained with families for centuries; others found their way to the British Museum.

Having attended an INSET session at Turner the previous year, I was very keen to forge links, so the news that we had been successful was very welcome. Whitstable Junior School was already enthusiastically involved in a Coastal Alliance celebration of Pudding Pans, to culminate in a day of activities, kick-started by the discovery of an actual shipwreck in our school playground, in early October! What Turner was proposing would enrich our children’s understanding of local history, making it more meaningful through art activities and gallery visits.

After meetings with Turner’s ever-helpful Jennifer Scott and Joan Hobson, a day of school-based workshops took place in October. The Start project encompassed 110 of our children: all of Year 6, plus representatives from our other 8 classes (those with a particular aptitude for art and design and others who might not otherwise have the opportunity to visit galleries). Joan worked with groups of children to create tiny clay tiles, full of personal symbolism and representing children’s feelings about their seaside home.

Later that month children travelled by train to Margate (courtesy of South Eastern Trains) for an activity-packed day. Local artists and educators helped them explore the latest exhibition, make large expressionistic seascapes in Turner’s style and create their own pudding pans, some wildly inventive clay confections! And the children weren’t the only ones to benefit. Three colleagues from Whitstable Junior School attended an inspirational INSET day on the last day of term 1, led by poet Dean Atta, which opened our eyes to the creative potential of gallery visits.

One bright, crisp morning in mid-November, a delegation of Whitstable Junior School pupils returned to Turner. The children’s tiles, made with such painstaking care, had been incorporated into bowls by local artist Bridget McVey and were exhibited with additional art work from participating schools (including Whitstable Junior School’s wire fish sculptures). In addition, a representative from the British Museum supplied answers to the many questions children asked on behalf of their friends back at school.

Over the course of this autumn, and thanks to this initiative, our children have grown immeasurably.  Now they see themselves as artists, and as makers, with links to a rich and fascinating past, but also to a future that they must fashion for themselves.  Our heartfelt thanks go out to all who have made the Start project possible.

Stella Fry