Waterside Primary School

From Joiners’ Square to Waterside – how Glyndebourne helped celebrate the opening of a new Primary School in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.

Opera is the perfect medium for celebration and when Glyndebourne was approached by Jo Blagg, Education and Outreach Manager from Stoke on Trent Theatres to mark the move of a local primary school from a well used but outdated Victorian school, built in 1879 to a brand new shiny building, purpose built with its own wind turbine, we were delighted to take on the project. Here was an opportunity to explore change and transition from old to new, work with Years 1 to 6 to share their thoughts and feelings about the closure of their old school and their hopes for the new one.

Composer James Redwood led the project, he knew the school from Opera Experience visits over the years that we have been touring to Stoke-on-Trent. Funding was secured from the Clore Duffield Foundation and we began the careful preparation and meetings for this new work with Hilary Pickin, Headteacher and the staff.

As with many building projects there was a delay but we knew building work was beginning and the move was imminent. James began work with staff, children and the community in September 2006. A small steering group with representatives from all 8 classes met for the first three weeks to research and discuss the project and it was decided that each class would focus on a different aspect of the landmark move. The group found out from the school logs from 1879 that many children went on haymaking holidays to work on farms. The infant mortality rate was also very high at that time, 5 died in one week. For the remainder of the term each class spent two afternoons creating a brand new song to match the subject allocated to them by the steering group.

Year 1 thought about how tough it must be to be a builder working on the new school – they wrote the Builders Blues.

Year 2 looked around the old Victorian hall and wrote about the peeling paint and scruffy old wood – their song was a beautiful lament about a building at the end of its life.

Year 3 thought about how the new students at Waterside might feel on their first day at school – their song was called Shaky Shy Shivery! Feelings we all remember from our own first days at school.

Year 4 cast their imaginations back a hundred years and further to a time when the view out of the school windows would have been clouded with smoke from the kilns of the potteries. In the middle of the opera is a beautiful section which contracts that view with the panorama afforded by the top floor of the new school.

Year 5 got all nostalgic and collected their memories of school events – sports day; trips; playtimes; happy and sad times.

Year 6 imagined that they were attending Joiners’ Square School a hundred years’ ago when there was no central heating and when the teachers were allowed to use the cane.

All the words and melodies were devised by the children over the term and the piece was shared with the rest of the school at the end of term at Joiners’ Square. James’ work was complete and Kit Henson, Director, and Jackie Trousdale, Designer, worked closely with the school to bring the project to life for a performance for the local community, staff, parents and carers to mark the opening on 7 July, 2007. Each class created a mural to go with their songs, which now have pride of place in the new building. The enthusiasm, creativity and joy this project generated was enjoyed by everyone in the audience when each class took to the stage, singing with such commitment the work they had created. Afterwards the audience toured the new building guided by the Year 5 pupils who had such pride in what they had achieved and hope for what they will achieve.