Hacking the Bees

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Theatre Film and TV


Hacking the Bees is a 12-month follow-on project that builds on Telling the Bees, engaging with new audiences, bringing drama, design, storytelling and the maker (or hacker) movement together to explore playful, immersive ways to understand global environmental issues and share future visions about bees and beekeeping.

Telling the Bees was a multi-institution, interdisciplinary AHRC Connected Communities funded project that examined the rich folklore, traditions and contemporary practices of beekeeping. Working with beekeepers, primary schools, storytellers, artists, designers, scientists, interested members of the general public, and community partner Tay Landscape Partnership (TayLP), it aimed to codesign 'Future Folklore' by repackaging scientific and environmental knowledge in new artefactual and narrative formats. The project was highly participatory, using knowledge of the past to gain new perspectives on the present and future of bees and beekeeping, and exploring the roles that making and storytelling can play in bringing groups together to generate and foster ideas. Outputs from the project included decorated wooden beehive boxes containing schoolchildren's imaginative and informative bee stories, and the Beespoon - a small copper spoon, 1/12th the size of a teaspoon, representing the amount of a honey a single honey bee can produce in her lifetime.

Hacking the Bees forms new partnerships with Growtheatre, a Sheffield-based community interest company dedicated to theatre inspired by the environment and landscape, and Explore York, a mutual benefit society that runs 17 libraries, learning centres and reading cafes in York. The project scales upwards and outwards from Telling the Bees, and responds to a series of needs and opportunities arising from the Telling the Bees workshops and events, and conversations with our Community Co-Investigators. Hacking the Bees builds upon the 'making as a way of thinking' approach of Telling the Bees by running a series of drama, making and storytelling workshops in primary schools in one of the most deprived parts of Sheffield. We will curate a week-long festival of bee-related workshops, artistic interventions and events at Explore York's venues, and the team will take the project to a number of national events and festivals. We will also redesign the Telling the Bees Beespoon installation as a kit that can be used by community groups, charities and educators; and we will explore new possibilities for turning the Beespoon into a commercial product, while investigating the logistical and ethical considerations inherent in such an enterprise.

Hacking the Bees connects with and addresses some of the findings and recommendations of the AHRC's Creating Living Knowledge Report (CLKR), which describes the challenges, methods and benefits of universities and communities working together. Most notably, the project is designed to foster collaborations and produce legacies that extend beyond the project's costed timeframe; there is no rigid distinction within the project between research and participatory engagement activities; and the project aims to build skills and experience in collaborative working amongst the project team, its staff and community-based participants.

Ultimately, Hacking the Bees will harness the power of making and imagination as a way to foster lifelong learning and provoke new conversations on the significance of the honey bee to the environment and society.

Planned Impact

The impacts from this follow-on project are expected to be numerous and diverse, but we envisage the main beneficiaries will include:
- Teachers, pupils and communities around Manor Lodge and Wybourn Community Primary Schools, Sheffield
- Communities served by Explore York's libraries, archives and engagement programmes
- The wider public attending national events where we have a presence
- Community groups and organisations that take part in the mobile Beespoon pilot
- Individuals, institutions, third sector and commercial sector organisations interested in commercialising co-produced arts and humanities research outputs

Impacts and benefits can be divided into 4 main strands:

1. Skills and Embodied Legacies
The project will benefit participants at our workshops and events. Conscious of the propensity for university projects to replicate and widen inequalities, the project is specifically focused on more deprived areas. Our work with primary schools will respond to their priorities for embedded outdoor learning, improving reading and verbal skills, and identifying and supporting independent learners. Long term, the project aims to raise confidence and aspirations amongst the pupils, and provide resources and techniques which can be used by the teachers and Community Co-I Rachel Newman (Growtheatre) in future years. In York, our festival programme of workshops, events and activities will respond to needs outlined by Community Co-I Dave Fleming (Explore York), including reducing digital exclusion, providing opportunities for intergenerational learning, and developing audiences in deprived areas by supporting their arts and making-based outreach programmes.

2. Knowledge and Cultural Enrichment
The project will benefit people that attend our York festival and other public engagement events by developing awareness of the importance of bees and beekeeping for pollination, food security, environmental sustainability, as well as the benefits of keeping bees and promoting bee-friendly habitats. Our outputs are anticipated to be highly interactive, imaginative and artistic, providing culturally enriching experiences for audiences.

3. Extending Reach, Supporting 3rd Party Engagement
The project will benefit organisations involved in our pilot to repurpose the Beespoon installation as a mobile educational kit. These are anticipated to be 3rd sector, community and educational groups, such as local beekeeping associations, environment-focussed charities and educators. We will evaluate the success of our workshops in primary schools, assessing feasibility for wider adoption. These activities will significantly extend the reach of the project and could provide a long-term legacy well beyond the funded timeframe.

4. Sustaining Legacies
The project will benefit the AHRC and other funders, universities, 3rd sector organisations and commercial companies by exploring and reporting on the potential, methods and ethical concerns associated with commercialising community co-produced A&H research outputs. Our project worker and student intern will gain experience of participatory community work, supporting their studies, and increasing employability and their prospects for future collaborative research. There is potential to not only secure a self-sustaining legacy from the Telling the Bees and Hacking the Bees outputs, but to support and inform similar enterprises undertaken in future projects.

A co-produced Legacy Strategy document will set out aspirations, pathways, milestones and review dates for assessing and developing impacts and legacies. We will measure and evaluate impact using questionnaires, vox pops and brief semi-structured interviews, but we will also experiment with creative ways of tracking outputs (e.g. Beespoon kits) and documenting responses. This might include co-produced films and, reflecting our 'making as a way of thinking' approach, paper, digital, and artefact-based data gathering techniques.


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