As part of the Arthur Wharton Heritage Project, FURD worked with schools and community projects in key areas of South Yorkshire (Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster), where Arthur lived and achieved as an athlete, footballer, cricketer and in later life, as a miner. Through these projects, primary and secondary school children created artwork, poetry and drama works inspired by Arthur and his incredible life.
Below are a summary of the projects delivered and related links to images, text and videos where appropriate. The projects were a great success and we hope these examples of the types of creative work that can be delivered around Arthur’s story, will inspire educators and creatives alike to find interesting and imaginative ways of using Arthur’s memory in education.
Spoken Word Poetry
Project leader: Poet & Novelist, Desiree Reynolds, support from Writer, Paulette Morris
Newfield School, Sheffield (Y9)
“This project has been brilliant for this group. It has raised their self-confidence as well as educating them about a forgotten icon. We had already touched on the story within our Black History Month programme, but this work has allowed us to expand Arthur to other areas of our curriculum. Can we have some more please!”
Poet Desiree Reynolds worked over several sessions with a large group of Y9 boys at Newfield School, Sheffield. The boys were from a wide range of backgrounds and abilities. Desiree used the art form of performance poetry, which in recent years has gained kudos with young people through popular culture and music artists like Kanye West and Eminem.
The emphasis on oral expression of ideas proved to be an ideal medium for the group to instantly express their feelings and have their voices heard and respected. Following the writing of poems, one was chosen as a group piece and the element of a ‘flash mob’, (an impromptu public performance where an audience is going about its normal business unawares), added an extra twist and the need for solid team work to their performance.
Coaching for the performance came via Paulette Morris, known for her great work with Leeds Young Authors, who worked on their confidence and delivery. Their first appearance was fraught with nerves as they had to perform in front of their peers. They surprised everyone and some teachers shed a tear as they watched the boys blossom with articulate expression, paralleling Arthur’s difficulties and challenges with their own.
The results have been fantastic. The boys have performed at numerous prestigious events promoting Arthur’s story and also gained self-esteem and focus through recognition of their creativity and hard work.
View the Flash Mob poets here
View our Creative Projects video for inspiration
Project facilitator: Artist, Teacher & Curator, Colin Yates
Westborne School Sheffield (Secondary, Y8s)
Dinnington School, Doncaster (Primary)
“It was all about how you can turn a person into art. Students have been able to develop ideas in their own way rather than following a procedure and they’ve been able to express themselves in different ways which they wouldn’t normally get chance to do in lessons.”
Working alongside visual artist Colin Yates, who specialises in football illustration, students were given an introduction into Arthur’s life and were able to discuss his world and ask questions. They then explored a range of visual arts processes including painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and graphic design.
They then explored a range of visual arts processes including painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and graphic design.
“It was a great opportunity for the children to take part in something outside of the curriculum and also develop their personal approach to Art and Design. Colin was fantastic at introducing them to other ways of thinking and making, giving them a chance to work in a much more open manner. The level and diversity of work produced reflects the nature of the workshop environment in which they worked”.
From this starting point they carried out their own research and explored their own ideas in relation to key ‘chapters’ in Arthur’s life. They drew inspiration from internet research, the written word, oral stories, books, photographs, drawings and old newspaper clippings about Arthur. Finished pieces included everything from collage and painted portraiture to sculpture.
Shelia Leeson, Arthur’s granddaughter, along with project manager Lisa Sultanti, attended a Senior School assembly to talk about Arthur’s life and to award certificates of appreciation to the pupils who took part in the project.
View a range of the work produced here.
View our Creative projects video for inspiration
Project facilitator: Filmmaker & Media Facilitator, Jenson Grant
Edlington Primary School, Doncaster (Y4/5)
Mexborough Secondary School, Rotherham (Y9)
“Acting out aspects of Arthur’s life really got the students thinking about what the world was like from his perspective”.
Working with media artist Jenson Grant, students from Mexborough and Edlington Schools created 15 minute plays. The development of the plays were a collaborative process that all students were involved in. Jenson provided stimulus in the form of story details, background information and appropriate costumes and props.
Edlington School’s play, ‘Mining Our Business’, brought to life Arthur’s time as a miner in South Yorkshire. This project was particularly poignant as the village of Edlington was Arthur’s home for the last 15 years of his life and is also where he is buried. Arthur worked at Yorkshire Main Colliery in Edlington. It closed for good in 1985 but there are still members of the community who are involved in telling the story of the coal industry which Arthur gave his physical strength to for many years. The headteacher at Edlington, Janice Middleton, has been championing Arthur’s legacy for more than 20 years so was delighted when an opportunity came up where pupils could be actively involved in his story.
After an introduction to Arthur’s life and questions and discussions, students formed production teams and wrote and directed a script together. Some then created their own music to go along with the production. The group were also able to visited Arthur’s grave during the project which transformed him from an historical figure to a real person who had lived and died.
In Mexborough, Y9 students and their drama teacher Stephen Taylor worked with Jenson Grant to devise and develop a play about Arthur’s Life (entitled, ‘The Story of Arthur’). As the students were older, they chose to look at personal aspects of Arthur’s life and how they affected his passion for football. They were particularly interested in how his relationship with his parents, and later his wife, might have shaped his character and the decisions he made. The students then developed scenarios based around key moments in his career. There was a particular focus on imaging the moment where Arthur would tell his parents that he wanted to be a footballer rather than a minister in the church. These hypothetical ‘what ifs’, had resonance for the young people and their own life choices.
Jenson provided props and costumes to help students discuss, role-play and develop their performances. A cloth cap, vest and a football were used to symbolise various things and a crown to refer to Arthur’s Ghanaian heritage. The students chose their own roles, including directing and stage management duties.
View our Creative Projects video for inspiration.
Project facilitator: Artist & Writer, Vicky Morris
Rotherham Young Writers – a community writing group for 14 to 19s based in Rotherham
“It was great to be able to work on such an interesting local project. I never even knew about Arthur beforehand. Now I feel that we’ve helped to tell his story and that maybe even some of my ancestors knew him. It’s a small world in Rotherham!”
Vicky Morris has been running Rotherham Young Writers for several years and has a range of methods for sparking creative writing responses to themed work. For this project she first arranged for the group to meet with Sheila Leeson, Arthur’s granddaughter and oldest living relative. Sheila lives in Rotherham so it was an ideal link and shared connection in the town they live in.
The group were able to pass around original photographs of Arthur and ask Sheila questions directly while making notes which really enabled them to absorb his story in an interesting and emotive way. Drawing on various research sources, Vicky made a list of points of resonance and quotes from books, the internet and newspapers to share with the group. She delved deep into the era Arthur lived in and researched wider happenings such as scientific racism and Victorian sports. These were presented to the group through photocopies of texts and images, reading from notes and books and videos clips.
The group made their own notes as they discussed Arthur’s story, then Vicky delivered a series of short trigger exercises to get them to run with ‘first thoughts’ about aspects of Arthur’s life in a range of ways. She felt it was essential that everyone could explore their own ideas, interests and motivations, but to ensure everyone didn’t end up writing about the same things, she asked them to choose key themes after this initial work. In this way, they worked in a similar way to how a poetry commission would work. The idea was that between them they created a body of work that would reflect different aspects of Arthur’s story.
The resulting poems are moving and varied and really help to bring Arthur’s story to life in a poetic sense.
Darkie of all trades.
Rewarded with the pit, like everyone.
Muscles put to more use.
In the underworld, we’re all black.
By Katherine Henderson
View members of RYW reading their work here.