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Romany Roots

John Keeley, Community Arts Manager at Hundred of Hoo Arts College in Kent, explains how a joint Arts, English and Media project enabled students at the school and its partner primaries to explore Romany life and culture.

The Hoo Peninsula is a sparsely-populated rural area linked to the heavily-populated Medway towns of Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham. The social and physical isolation of the villages in the area is a very real problem. The ethnic profile is overwhelmingly white, although there is a substantial Romany community in the urban part of Medway. The aim of the project was to raise awareness of this group, as well as giving children from the schools a chance to work with an international artist and exhibit publicly.

Although the Hundred of Hoo School has carried out a number of partner and community projects focusing on each of its specialist subjects (art, English and media studies), we had never combined all three for a project with partner primary schools. The Romany Roots project aimed to provide literacy, 3D art and film-making experiences for year 5 and 6 pupils in five of our partner primary schools and for our own sixth form media studies students.

International artist Edwina Jaques has worked with us on several arts and education projects, and she evolved the primary elements of the Romany Roots initiative. Students spent two days investigating Romany social history and language. They created 3D vardas and other Romany symbols, and also painted ceramic letters of Romany words. These would later be exhibited at the New Art Centre in Chatham, and would be incorporated into a larger sculpture which Edwina was producing. This larger sculpture was displayed in Rochester Cathedral for six months as part of an exhibition on spirituality and faith in Medway.

For the same event, our sixth form students produced a 15-minute documentary, which followed the experiences and feelings of a local Romany family. The film was produced with input from the school’s video artist in residence, Margherita Gramegna. Students were given a project budget, timescale and brief, and worked as a professional film production unit. This gave them invaluable work-related learning experience. Working with challenging material also gave them invaluable insights into the work of a professional film maker.

Uniting our three specialist subjects and delivering a project which reached 250 children in our partner schools was a great success. Primary students learnt about a different culture, produced 3D artworks, which formed part of the central feature of a locally important cultural event. Our sixth form students gained invaluable experience of the challenges and considerations involved in putting together a professional documentary, while managing a budget, responding accurately to a brief and working to tight deadlines.

To find out more about the Romany Roots project, email John Keeley.

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