Apple Seed – growing great ideas!

Happy Birthday to School!

An aerial view of the M275 before the flyover was built. You can see the large outline of St John's church by the newly formed Rudmore roundabout.

An aerial view of the M275 before the flyover was built. You can see the large outline of St John’s church by the newly formed Rudmore roundabout.

You’ve probably noticed, that I have a bit of a thing for heritage and history. Whenever I’m in a place, I just notice things about it – architectural features, signs, alterations and it starts my brain whirring…I wonder about the people who lived there, or the chain of events which may have sparked change…and I wonder about what was there before…


For me it’s all about the story.

And so it is that I appear to have sparked off another history-hunt, this time in Stamshaw, which is in the north-west section of Portsea island. The local Infant school building was built in 1899 and will be 115 years old next year, so I proposed a local heritage project, using this event s a catalyst to explore the local history of the area. The school were really supportive an I’ve been working with the Headteacher and key staff to develop a new community project which launches on 19th June. 

We’ve already been provided with some amazing archive maps and found some great photos in the City Archives, but what

The section comes from a larger map, dated 1952. It shows the outdoor swimming pool, which is located roughly where Stamshaw Park is now.

The section comes from a larger map, dated 1952. It shows the outdoor swimming pool, which is located roughly where Stamshaw Park is now.

we really need are photos and stories from local people to make it come alive.

To this end we’ve sent out press releases to local news groups and through social media, to promote the work and invite local people to take part to, by sharing their stories and memories.

The project will run over the course of a year, with three focused ‘Detective Days’, the first of which takes place in two weeks time. The children will begin by exploring clues to the past which can be found in their own school building. In the autumn term they’ll be going out and about in the local area, to find evidence of the past from present day buildings and sites and in the Spring term 2014 the school hopes to invite in local people, former pupils and staff from the school who can share with the children their own memories of Stamshaw. The project will culminate in a birthday party celebration, where the children can share the journey of learning that they’ve been on over the previous year.

The school has already been awarded a small grant towards the project from the Nelson Community Panel, and this will help pay for materials and resources which will be used during the project.

If you know anything about Stamshaw’s history (either the school or the area) that you think might be useful to the project, please can you drop me a line in the first instance:

The school will be setting up a dedicated webpage and email address shortly, and they also hope to have a ‘postbox’ in the school office, where local people could drop things in.

FE Chaplaincy project steps up a gear!

A candle, a tub of bubbles and some Maltesers...classic tools in the field of chaplaincy (!)

A candle, a tub of bubbles and some Maltesers…classic tools in the field of chaplaincy (!)

I’m pleased to say that the FE Chaplaincy project is now building momentum, and later this morning I’ll be doing my first ‘pastoral’ visit there.

To find out more about that, and the project in general, why not toddle over to:

Building Bridges in Barcelona

A stained glass window from Barcelone Cathedral

A stained glass window from Barcelone Cathedral

I’ve just come back from three days in Barcelona, attending the GUNI 2013 Conference on university-community engagement. I went as part of a small team from NCCPE, to promote the newly emerging UK Community Partner Network, which you can read more about here:

I met a really diverse group of people from universities across the globe, whose uniting passion is about enabling the knowledge, skills, research and resources held within universities to be more easily accessible to communities, in order that they themselves can make the changes they feel they want to make, whether it be about social justice, health, women’s issues, heritage or infrastructure.

Some of the projects I learnt about were incredibly challenging and quite beyond my own cultural frame of reference. Other were encouraging and inspiring, as new ways are being found to learn and share across continents and with new technologies.

But perhaps unsurprisingly some of the most effective forms of engagement come through personal relationship: that one-to-one encounter with another human being, who values you and wants to come alongside you so that together you can make a difference to the people around you.

And THAT is where I fit in.

Although much of the language and context of Higher Education is new to me and I’m still finding my way through the jungle of jargon, essentially I see that it’s about valuing people and using our skills to benefit one another. It’s about recognising that each of us has gifts and skills that can be used to a greater purpose, whether or not we have a degree or speak several languages. The ability of each human being to acknowledge the dignity and value of another shouldn’t ever be undervalued.

Policy can affect practice and funding can support practice, but without people there *is* no practice!

I have the privilege of attending the CUExpo in Canada next month, where any of the delegates from Barcelona will also be in attendance. I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation, and finding out more!

New shoots!



Well, things have certainly been busy here at the Potting Shed over the last few weeks! A burst of feverish funding bids and applications have yielded some encouraging results…Here are some of the highlights:

Somerstown Stories project has been signed off by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This marks the end of the grant funding from HLF…but not the end of the project. On-going interest from the local community has sparked three follow-on workshops at Priory School, Portsmouth Foyer and Somerstown Adventure Playground. Each event has been tailored to meet the needs of the individual venue and are noticeably different in feel and approach. For the Adventure Playground, for example, we’re considering how a derelict piece of nearby land could possibly be transformed into a wildlife garden, and to help the children and their families understand what this could look like we’re borrowing from Helen Oxenbury’s ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ story, whilst we explore the nature reserve at Admiral Lord Nelson School in the north of the city. This piece of work is looking at Somerstown in the present, rather than the past, but during this period of regeneration it’s important to help local people make the connections that will help them participate more fully in the process of change in their area.

Somerstown Stories has also enabled me to develop stronger links with the University of Portsmouth, and I am now UoPportraitPUR300dpiworking alongside staff within the Creative & Cultural Industries faculty, supporting the development of their community engagement strategy. They want to specifically focus on an area which includes Somerstown and the city centre, where a lot of the University’s work is based, and I’m pleased to be able to be involved in this exciting piece of work!

It also dovetails very nicely with some work I’m doing with the National Centre for Co-ordinating Public Engagement, who are supporting the establishment of the UK Community Partner Network (or UKCPN) which is being set up to support organisations and practitioners such as myself who are working with universities on research and community based projects. The UKCPN is being funded by the Connected Communities programme which is in itself a new strand of funding with input from five of the major research councils in the UK. As part of my work with them, I will be attending the GUNI (Global University Network for Innovation) Conference in Barcelona in May 2013 to speak informally with delegates about the UKCPN and what we hope to do.

All SaintsHowever, history is never too far away, and two more community heritage projects have emerged at Stamshaw Infants School and All Saints church. All Saints is a classic Victorian church which was built in 1828. They want to re-order part of the interior of their building and I’m supporting them with the fundraising element. One of the funders they’ve applied to is HLF and part of the bid includes some ‘taster Victorian Day’ workshops which are being tentatively planned with local primary schools, in order to draw out some of the valuable heritage of the site. I also plan to link these workshops to the nearby Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, which is less than 5 minutes walk away.

Stamshaw Infants School building will be 115 years old next year and I approached them with an idea IMAG1828about doing a local history project, exploring the history of the area and inviting collaboration from local residents and former staff and pupils. The school are really enthused about the project and again I’ve supported them in putting together a funding bid, to enable this project to go ahead. In many ways it’s like a slimmed down version of Somerstown Stories, with one notable difference in that it’s the area in Portsmouth where I live. If the funding bid is successful the project will include 3 ‘Detective Days’ where the whole school will be engaged in activities linked to the local history of the area and the entire project will culminate in a summer Birthday Party, inviting parents and residents to see the results of the children’s year of enquiry.

And last, but by no means least, I also doing some work for Portsmouth Anglican Deanery, researching and developing a model of Chaplaincy for Further Education providers in Portsmouth. There are two colleges and 3 private schools currently offering sixth form provision within the Deanery and the FE Chaplaincy project sets out to consider the needs of these different organisations and suggest ways in the which the resources of the Deanery (both lay and ordained) could meet those needs. This research also includes an element of face-to-face work at Portsmouth College, which I’m looking forward to!

So, plenty of seedlings to nurture over the coming months! Don’t forget to visit the Facebook page ‘The Potting Shed’ for more regular updates and insights or to connect via Twitter: @sharonaverona

Sharing stories

Somerstown Stories has a will of its own.

The Heritage Lottery Fund grant has been completed, and so technically the project should be finished…except it isn’t.

I was delighted to be invited to speak about Somerstown Stories at the U3A (University of the 3rd Age) Local History group this afternoon. Around 40 were packed in to the Albert Stanley room in Southsea Community Centre, and I was pleased to learn that this was the largest turnout they’d had for a while!

I spoke for about an 45 minutes on the history of the area, and people spoke to me afterwards saying how much they’d enjoyed it. I also met Sonja, who started her teaching career at Stamshaw Infants – this will be very useful, as I’m hoping to run a similar but scaled down version of the  project at Stamshaw Infants as part of their 115th birthday celebrations!

Fresh out of the box! 30 limited edition hardback copies, ready for collection!

Fresh out of the box! 30 limited edition hardback copies, ready for collection!

The other exciting thing that happened today was that the limited edition copies of the Somerstown Stories  book are now ready for release! 30 hardback copies were paid for by the grant, and will given for free to people who requested a copy. Most of these copies have been allocated, with one or two still to find a home. After that, a paperback version will be available via the Somerstown Stories website. It will be sold at cost-price, as the HLF prohibits us from making any profit from their investment. I am very pleased to finally see the book ‘in the flesh’, as its taken around 1oo hours of  my time, on a voluntary basis, to get the book finished. I felt strongly that Somerstown as a community should have the best quality book I could manage, but it was a very lengthy and involved process and its quite a relief to see it finished!


Review of 2012

2012 certainly has been an eventful year here at the Potting Shed! There have been lots of memorable events over the course of the year and some exciting things to look forward to. Here are some of the highlights…

Somerstown Stories - a project devised by Sharon and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Somerstown Stories – a project devised by Sharon and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund

January saw the start of the wider community phase of Somerstown Stories. This project had already been nearly two years in the making, so it was both daunting and exciting to see it hit the streets of Somerstown.

Work continued from the highly successful launch of the project at Somers Park Primary School during the  preceding autumn term. The opportunity for partnership work was very exciting, and a wide range of local groups and organisations got involved including Southsea Community Centre, SureStart, Portsmouth Film Society, three local churches (St Luke’s, St Peter’s & The Kings Church), Omega Street Centre and two separate departments (Architecture and Creative & Performing Arts) within the University of Portsmouth.

Visitors at the Museum of Somerstown

Visitors at the Museum of Somerstown

During the course of the project we realised there would an underspend in the budget, but we quickly put the money to good use by running some extra events and funding a book*. One of the best events was the Museum of Somerstown – a temporary exhibition in an empty shop in Somerstown. We saw over 200 visitors over the course of the four days it was open – a fantastic response, aided in no small part by a great article in The News and interviews on Express FM.

Somerstown Stories as a project continues to generate interest, particularly through the Facebook page and there are plans to carry out some follow-up work in partnership with the University of Portsmouth as part of their community engagement work.

One of the authors reads his own work in print!

One of the authors reads his own work in print!

Other projects this year included Storytelling Club at Stamshaw Infants school. This involved running an after-school club for 5 weeks, helping the children to explore facets of storytelling and then to write their own original stories. These stories were printed in a specially made book, entitled ‘The Story Chest’.

I also had the opportunity to get involved in a cultural Olympiad project called  Dysarticulate. This was supported by legacy funding from the Creative Partnerships programme.

A ring of flags at Portsmouth High School

A ring of flags at Portsmouth High School

Working with local artist Jon Adams, I ran workshops in four different schools, facilitating flag making, using pages from recycled books. I can honestly say that every flag was unique and there were so many different ways to approach the work! Everyone was included, no matter what they felt their artistic skills were like.


The summer saw a change of pace with a return to North End Playscheme. This week-long children’s activity scheme has been running for nearly twenty years and is almost entirely staffed by volunteers. Here I exercised my storytelling skills once again with a suitably Olympic themed tale of daring-do entitled: “Lucy and the Race to Save the Olympics!” Lucy is a character I created years ago for a similar playscheme in London, and she often features if I’m doing a serialised story, as this one was. The afternoon saw a subtle shift from Storyteller to Administrator and First Aider, but as you might expect, Playscheme is always “all hands on deck!”

The autumn term has seen several days unpaid work go into finishing the Somerstown Stories book, which should be available in Jan/Feb 2013. There has also been some work for the University of Portsmouth, beginning to develop some community engagement work, and for the embryonic UK Community Partner Network  a national group, supported by the National Centre for Co-ordinating Public Engagement (NCCPE) which seeks to nurture and support community groups and organisations who work with universities:

2012 has been a diverse year, and in a climate of spending cuts and increased pressures on education and the arts, it feels like no small achievement to have made it this far! 2013 is full of curious uncertainty, with ideas in the pipeline waiting to come to fruition. To find out more you can also visit the new Facebook page: which also includes information about my photography and textile craft work or follow me on Twitter: @sharonaverona

Late summer splendour - original image taken by Sharon Court

Late summer bounty – original image taken by Sharon Court



Passion for education – making your voice heard

I am passionate about education.

There, I said it. All my cards are on the table.

And I make no apology for it.

Valuing children and young people is a central part of my practice and always has been. I follow news about schools and education closely and with the GCSE crisis in the summer and the proposed KS4 education reform, I was determined to make sure I added my voice – put my money where my mouth is, as it were.

The closing date was today, 10th December. It took me two hours to complete the response form which I had to upload to the website as a Word document. But completing the form required me to also have open a PDF document, which contained the Consultation Report.

The more I think about it, the angrier I feel.

At the end the consultation invited you to feedback on what you thought of the process. Here’s what I wrote:

“This consultation was not, in my opinion very well written or balanced.

 1. An average member of the general public would have been very hard pressed to understand and effectively answer the questions presented without any prior knowledge.

2. The consultation paper offered nothing by way of a clear and simple explanation of the terms, implications or intent of the proposals. It was too vague in some places, and yet values towards certain views were clearly implied. In short: it was not objective, and the ‘evidence’ used to justify some of the proposals was not provided.

3. All the questions posed were clearly slanted in one direction, towards an answer most favoured by the Department of Education.

4. The consultation was not easy to find, nor was it widely publicised.

5. The consultation was overly wordy, and having to make reference to the consultation paper as well as the response paper was unnecessarily complicated.”


I am not averse to change – far from it. Review and reform can play an essential role in improving our services. But the more I read it, the more I realised that what was being offered was a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to education, defended by evidence which was not readily available and thinking which was at once vague and woolly but also deliberately provocative.

Here are some other responses I included in my response (items in bold are the questions from the response form). My favourite is question 20, which assumes the new examinations will be reformed and rigorous, without any evidence to prove it…

5 Do you agree that it will be possible to end tiering for the full range of subjects that we will be creating new qualifications for?

I understand the concerns around ‘capping’ GCSEs – I myself took a middle band exam, based on my ability in the subject. However, an exam that seeks to stretch the very able and demonstrate the ‘breadth & depth’ of knowledge required in that subject, cannot possibly offer a positive opportunity for a less able student to also demonstrate the best of their learning and ability.

7 a) We intend that English Baccalaureate Certificates should be assessed 100% by externally marked examinations.  Do you agree?

Some pupils thrive under exam conditions, whereas others do not. It offers an unfair advantage to those students who do well in such settings, and in turn an unfair disadvantage and additional pressure on those who find exams stressful and where it is difficult to demonstrate their full knowledge and understanding. Thus I would uphold the necessity of a proportion on internally assessed work.

8 Should our expectation be that English Baccalaureate Certificates take the same amount of curriculum time as the current GCSEs?  Or should schools be expected to place greater curriculum emphasis on teaching the core subjects?

Schools are required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum for their students, enabling them to develop a wide range of skills and abilities, as well as deepening their knowledge and understanding. To devote more time in the curriculum to the core subjects would mean that that additional skills and abilities opportunities developed through non-core subjects would be at risk.

These skills and abilities could include:

Project planning


Effective and broad communication including presentation, public speaking

Creative problem-solving

Lateral thinking

Imaginative project development

Emotional intelligence


The majority of activities associated with the core subjects are those that can be completed individually. But in the workplace, a significant number of tasks require teamwork, the ability to understand the small details and the bigger picture, the ability to innovate and bring creative approaches to problem-solving, emotional intelligence (the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and to understand others emotions), personal and spatial awareness, articulation…

Many of these skills and attributes are developed through what are referred to a ‘creative subjects’ although in truth ALL subjects can be approached academically or creatively. Therefore in order to offer a balanced, broad and effective curriculum to students, the time allocated to core subjects must be in balanced with time offered to non-core subjects.

10 Do you agree that these are appropriate subject suites?  If not, what would you change? (The suites are English, Maths & Science)

There are a number of subjects missing from the proposed suites of study, including Design Technology, Drama, Art, Music and Physical Performance. These subjects offer students the space to develop a range of skills and abilities which the core subjects do not.

Given that technology is developing at an exponential rate, and that there are roles in the workplace currently which did not exist 5-8 years ago, it is hard to understand why these subject areas are not also included?

For example: the Gaming industry, which employs writers, designers, programmers, mathematicians, physical performers, vocal performers, amongst many others, now generates almost twice the income of the Film industry. Why are we not allowing our students to have the opportunity to gain skills and experience that would enable them to enter this rapidly expanding industry?

12 What qualities should we look for in English Baccalaureate Certificates that will provide evidence that they will support students to be able to compete internationally? 

Providing ‘evidence’ that proves high standards on an international level would be difficult because the measurement for such evidence can only be drawn from previous GCSE exam results, which have been judged to be ineffective and failing students. If this is indeed the case, then the only evidence on which to make a decision would come from comparing UK exam results with international ones, which are already perceived to be different?

18 a) Do you believe any of the proposals in this document have the potential to have a disproportionate impact, adverse or positive, on specific pupil groups?

There is the very real possibility that the proposals in the document will adversely affect those whose learning style does not lend itself to courses with 100% examination assessment at the end. The workplace does not place such restrictions on its employees, recognising that a diversity of skills and characteristics are essential to create a thriving economy. Yet these proposals seem to wish to create a ‘one-size-fits-all’ process where all students are viewed, educated and examined in the same way, using the same techniques and offering no variety for the various learning styles and approaches that individuals have. I have serious concerns about the effectiveness of the proposals being put forward. I am not averse to reform and change, but these proposals seem to swing too far in the opposite direction, allowing less room and flexibility for a range of students to demonstrate their skills, knowledge and understanding.

18 b) If they have potential for an adverse impact, how can we reduce this?

Don’t restrict examinations to 100% examination assessment.

Don’t limit the core subjects to those which are solely ‘academic’.

Recognise that a breadth of skills, knowledge and understanding are developed through a diverse curriculum, and not subjects which do not accurately reflect the needs of the modern workplace.

20 How best can we prepare schools for the transition to these reformed, more rigorous qualifications?

I am not entirely convinced that these proposals are as reformed or as rigorous as they are claimed to be. An assessment of their rigour cannot be undertaken until syllabi have been produced and at least 2-3 years of examination results attained, before rigour and effectiveness can be properly assessed.

I am still unclear about what the criteria is for the ‘rigour’ that is often spoken of?

I am unclear about how the proposals meet identified needs in the current and future workplace?

I am unclear about how much ‘breadth and depth’ in subject knowledge will be covered by the EBS, as no syllabi have yet been produced by AOs.

Without answers to these questions, it is difficult to say how schools can be most appropriately supported.

The power of listening

October has seen me pretty much submerged in the Somerstown Stories book, which I’m pleased to see should be finished in the next couple of weeks! It has been a much lengthier, but also much more intriguing process, as I keep unearthing new fascinating facts about the area. More and more people are showing interest in the book and months after the public events finished, we’re still getting new friends through Facebook and Twitter!

In other news, I’m preparing to give a talk to parents of Year 9 students at Portsmouth High School tomorrow evening. I’m delighted to have been invited back again, (this will be the sixth year I’ve given this presentation) and it’s a great opportunity to be able to encourage and affirm parents during one of the toughest phases of parenting. As part of the presentation I always handout a list of Youth Support Services across Portsmouth, who can offer helpful advice and support across a range of issues including mental health, sexual health, substance misuse, independent living, as well as positive activities and engagement. Everyone needs a bit of extra help from time to time, and its great to know that there is such a range of committed, experienced people out there who are willing and able to listen.

The Rig

Artist Chris Jenkins spent a few days at Admiral Lord Nelson school, as part of a Creative Partnerships project. During that time he built this sculpture from recycled materials.

Inspiration can strike at any time and in any place, and The Rig is no exception!

Set on an isolated rig off the coast of California, The Rig tells the story of a handful of unlikely characters and their struggle to survive on a structure that is literally falling apart. Despite battling with the elements and their own personal tragedy, each person comes to find their own small corner of peace aboard this unlikely refuge.

I was inspired to write this piece, after seeing a sculpture created by local artist Chris Jenkins. Chris was working at Admiral Lord Nelson School at the time, taking part in a collaborative residency-style project, funded by Creative Partnerships. Like many of the stories I am working on, this one has been fermenting in my head for a number of months, but I was hit with inspiration for the details of a particular scene and decided to write it up.

Chris’ sculpture is crammed full of unexpected details, which are intriguing and add helpful stimulus whilst trying to write. To me it feels as if the whole things has been made and re-made over and over again, as haphazard repairs have had to be made, using whatever materials could be found.

I’ve written a chapter from the story, which takes place about halfway through the story arc, and you can read it here: The Rig

The Rig is made from recycled materials, many of which had a former life as part of piano, electric components and parts of furniture.

You can find out more about Chris’ work here:


Story Telling Club – always nice to be appreciated!

One of the authors reads his own work in print!

Over the summer I compiled an anthology of original stories written by 6 & 7 year old children from Stamshaw Infants School. They were members of the Story Telling Club, an after-school club which I ran on a voluntary basis for my son’s school.

Around 13 children took part in a series of  5 sessions, and of that number, 10 children managed to complete and illustrate their own unique story (one or two dropped out due to illness or other commitments).

I took the freshly printed books (courtesy of into school on the first day of term, and the Headteacher was delighted! So much so, that she wrote me a lovely letter, and this is what it said:

“Thank you for the lovely books from the Story Telling Afterschool Club. I felt I must write to say what a wonderful outcome for the children and a special memory for them of their time here at school. It is a superb collection of stories and writing. I really do appreciate all the effort you went to in the organising and ordering of the books.”

Since then staff who have children at the school have also approached me to say how pleased their children were with the books. For my own part I’m very pleased that the children and the school have been so delighted with them, and I hope I get the chance to develop and refine the ideas I trialled at Stamshaw Infants.