Only Connect – Head, Heart and Hands – Dawn Williams

I first heard the words social pedagogy when working on a lantern project in Wrekenton about 20 years ago when a Social Pedagogue from Germany came to visit our project. He described his job as a sort of teacher/youth worker/social worker/artist. He explained that the way he worked was to facilitate and support a child to reach their full potential and that he often used creative activities as an opportunity to do this. We described the magic of lantern making workshops as “the power of chat” – conversation with children and their carers whilst engaged in a creative activity – he named our workshop as Social Pedagogy.

In April I attended the Social Pedagogy Development Network event in Derbyshire, with two colleagues from Sage Gateshead. It took place in the magnificent setting of Lea Green Learning and Development Centre; a beautiful Victorian building with access to a lush green outdoor setting. Creativity was the focus – it was one of the best conferences I have ever attended, and sparked lots of connections – I thought I would try and give you a flavour.

Pre-Conference instructions asked us to bring “warm outdoor clothing and appropriate shoes” words which strike terror in my heart. We were invited to play on the outdoor equipment – I looked at the high ropes – they were high….and terrifying… and so I  declined the kind offer……however, the chance to sit by a fire pit was accepted……..what followed was a packed two days of inspirational presentations and creative workshops….and delicious food and very good conversation.

Image Image: Nikki McClure, Paper Cut

165 delegates attended – a mix of residential care workers, play workers, social pedagogues, academics, council staff, colleagues from the creative and cultural sector, and some newly graduated social pedagogues.

After an amazing curry, we kicked off proceedings with a creative blend of social pedagogical theory and practice. The highlight for me was hearing about Derbyshire’s Social Pedagogy Journey as a NESTA funded creative council. During 2010, they developed social pedagogic practice in residential care and contract care services and in 2013 have opted for Social Pedagogy as the underpinning framework for all work with children in care.  Can you imagine what that would mean in the North East if a council adopted social pedagogy to ensure best outcomes for children and young people?

We also heard Social Pedagogy practice being described as working with the Head – knowledge of the child, Heart – building relationships with children and Hands – engaging with everyday, practical activities.

Dr. Wendy Russell gave a keynote speech about play as an activity and how we can jointly create spaces for playfulness – she shared some playful exercises which I have stored away in my tool box for use in workshops. The following day was a similar programme of inspiring presentations and workshops. We delivered a session on the benefits and challenges of a cultural organisation using social pedagogy principles.

I think it was the atmosphere at the conference that struck me most.

photo 2Here’s my portrait drawing with my eyes closed!

Going back to Wrekenton Lanterns for a moment, a key requirement for a successful arts in health project is the provision of a congenial space. It is an atmosphere as much as a place and it has been defined by John Angus, a King’s Fund researcher, as consisting of:

“…a spirit of energy, laughter, purposeful creative activity and the beginnings of trust, credibility and confidence. It is an embryonic focus for well-being. It is also, hopefully, a space in which health and social workers can meet community members on their own terms”

For two days I was in such a space. I listened, shared, and learned with passionate, generous colleagues. I was in my element.

photo 1My papercut.

So, what does this mean for the work of Bridge North East? We have invitations to present at conferences around the country about Strong Voices work, we have suggestions for our training programme, we have generous offers of support, we have conversations to follow up on and we have thoughts of inviting the next Social Pedagogy Network conference to the North East – you would be very welcome to join us.

If you would like to find out a bit more about Social Pedagogy follow these links:

ThemPra – Unique Learning Opportunities

National Children’s Bureau – Abbreviated Learning Framework for Artist Pedagogues


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