University of Birmingham’s ‘Babbling Beasts’
By Dr Danielle Fuller, reader in Canadian studies and cultures of reading at the University of Birmingham
We asked Dr Danielle Fuller from the University of Birmingham to tell us about the success of ‘Babbling Beasts’ – an event she organised at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with Roz Goddard (poet-educator) and John Sears (Games Designer). Find out how their event came about, how attendees interacted with the beasts on the day, and what advice Danielle would give to those wishing to be part of Being Human 2018. This project was funded by a Being Human Small Award.
Tell us a bit about your event. What subject areas did you cover and what did you want to achieve?
‘Babbling Beasts’ followed the format of a 90 minute workshop (repeated twice) for families with children aged eight and up. We used a combination of creative writing, shared reading, voice recording and the ‘Babbling Beasts’ sound technology to make and record a story-game. The event took place at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where we used the objects in the Ancient Egypt Gallery as the ‘treasure’ to inspire stories about getting lost or losing precious items.
We were keen to reanimate the Ancient Egypt Gallery in a way that was unexpected and to remind participants that the creative process of writing, reading, story- and game- making is fun!
How did you make your event appeal to your target audience? How did you go about spreading the word of ‘Babbling Beasts’?
Our event was aimed at children aged 8+ with at least one accompanying adult. With this audience in mind we chose to hold the workshops at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. It is in a city-centre location accessible by public transport, has a good track-record for offering inclusive events and is a well-loved site.
We advertised the event via a digital postcard sent to our professional and social networks. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery kindly circulated the event amongst their mailing list. We also did a short ad on local Facebook sites about the city; as well as general promotion on Twitter to reach our intended audience.
We had a great turn out at both the workshops. We also had some lovely feedback from the children that attended. One said that ‘I learnt today that stories do not always have to be perfect. It’s OK to improvise’, while another told us ‘I learnt what stories you can make by looking at something. Anything can make a story’.
Adults accompanying children also enjoyed the experience, one feeding back that ‘I learned new things that can be of use in educating my children as well as in other aspects of my life’.
What worked particularly well in the planning, design and delivery of your event(s)?
We branded the project by designing a logo which we used on badges, a banner and on all the invitations and ads, which proved very successful. We also had a research assistant (paid for by the University of Birmingham) who worked on branding and promotion of the event so that we could fill the workshops.
Visiting the venue twice as part of the planning to figure out logistics and also to make a sample ‘lost and found’ babbling beast recording! The children loved playing back their stories/games in the gallery at the end of the workshop. Also, ensuring that we had three people to support the delivery and evaluation of the workshops – in addition to the three of us who were running them – was very helpful.
What were the main challenges you encountered or what, if anything did not work well as you hoped?
We only had tight 90 minute slots for each workshop group. We had to focus on moving people back and forth between the workshop room and the gallery (3 floors apart!). It was also a challenge to get people to complete the evaluation sheets in the small window of time before they left the gallery.
Some participants hit problems with the technology, although we overcame most of these. The workshops have taught us that we need to explain the tech more simply.
What was your motivation for getting involved in Being Human? How useful did you find it to be part of the festival?
Being Human provided us with an opportunity to pilot our workshop model as part of a ‘Research & design’ project that investigates children’s feelings about reading and whether digital game-making can be used as a route into leisure reading as a resource for life. The Being Human funding helped us to secure an Arts Council England grant.
Do you have a top tip for future Being Human event organisers?
Get as much help (paid and volunteer) as you can with promotion and publicity; then again for delivery (e.g. meeting and greeting; doing any consent forms and evaluation).