Voices across the Reeds: Dramatising the effects of climate and time on RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Education and Lifelong Learning


Young people in Norwich aged 16-18 will conduct arts-based research at the local RSPB nature reserve Strumpshaw Fen, investigating impacts of climate change on the reserve and its wildlife over time. They will present their research in a public engagement event of verbatim theatre, also at the Fen, in December 2021.

The project aims to:
a) engage young people (A-level students) with the impacts of climate change on the environment close to where they live (Strumpshaw Fen near Norwich);
b) help young people understand climate change impacts on a specific place and its wildlife (the Strumpshaw Fen reserve);
c) link young people's developing understanding of local climate change with global impacts, by considering effects on birds and their migration to and from the reserve;
d) afford young people's enjoyment of a nature reserve as means to appreciate its value;
e) develop young people's expression and communication in writing, photography and drama, so they can share their understanding with others and for public engagement;
f) involve the teachers of the young people in collaborative interdisciplinary research to consider links across school subjects;
g) create records of the young people's project activities and performance for sustained public engagement and continuing research.

A-level students and their teachers are the immediate target audience. Their school community is a wider target audience as its members will be invited to the public engagement performance created by young people participating in the project. Further audiences include teachers and teacher educators (through regional and national networks); RSPB reserve staff and visitors to reserves and RSPB websites; academic researchers and writers working at the intersection of environmental research and the arts; and the general public of Norwich, Norfolk and East Anglia.

Young people will conduct research across two visits to the reserve (one for writing, one for rehearsing their performance) and be introduced to explorations of environment in a) nature writing (identifying research interests and questions in a writing workshop); b) film representations of local environments and changes in them over time; and c) audio from Steve Waters' Voices from the Reeds and Song of the Reeds projects.

With the help of experienced writers (Professor Jean McNeil and Professor Steve Waters), teachers and performers specialising in narratives of climate change (Arts Regeneration) young people will prepare their own responses to climate change and its influence on the reserve. During research trips to the reserve, young people will meet with visitors and employees of the reserve, gaining insights to how the community of the reserve responds to climate change. What impacts of climate change does the community identify, and how do its members address them? What do the young people see, hear, touch or smell in the environment of the reserve that tells of the effects of climate change, and of what could yet be lost? The project has potential impact on regional and national education for understanding climate change.

The project shares learning and outputs through a) public performance at Strumpshaw Fen; b) performance for peers and parents in the school community of the young people; c) an online teacher CPD event hosted by UEA with contributions by young people; d) via a podcast of the performance and document of the project, hosted by UEA; e) presentation for teaching/education communities via the British Educational Research Association and an article for the Chartered College of Teacher's magazine Impact; and f) report to the leadership group of ClimateUEA for promotion via national and international networks. Young people will be invited to ClimateUEA's COP26 collaboration with UEA's Drama department, which will present a parallel suite of professional performances addressing climate change for public engagement.


10 25 50
Title The Race against Time 
Description A 40-minute production of site-specific promenade theatre performed twice at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, on 5th Dec 2021. An audience of around 25 people saw each performance. The production included scenes at five sites around the nature reserve, linked by a first-person narrative monologue elaborated during the audience's journey around the fen. It included drama, movement, music, poetry and speech-making, devised by the participating students in response to the nature reserve. The relationships between childhood, ageing and nostalgia framed their reflections on climate change and its impacts on specific places. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact The production was devised with the experience of the immediate audience in mind. For the 50 audience members that joined each performance, the experience was moving and thought-provoking. It brought families to the nature reserve, often for the first time. It challenged their views, and the views of the project team, about the nature of theatre - many of those involved had no prior experience of promenade theatre. Online films and web pages presenting the project have stimulated interest from representatives of nature reserves, and organisations related to the environment and heritage. 
URL https://stories.uea.ac.uk/dramatising-climate-change/?_ga=2.191235434.1708352572.1646732772-45092795...
Description The key findings of this project relate to how young adults respond to natural environments (nature reserves) as part of a creative process. The participants in this project developed a piece of site-specific drama at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, and presented it to friends and family in their college community in 5th Dec 2021. In this instance, the project demonstrated that a group of students who were not used to working together in other settings could create an original and moving production which communicated powerfully to their audience. Reflecting on the process, the participating students identified i) how working outside informed their improvisation; ii) how, over several visits to the reserve, their relationship with their surroundings deepened, also influencing their thinking about climate change; iii) how the project led them to reflect on boundaries between subjects in school/college, and what these permitted or excluded in terms of their engagement with climate change issues. The project demonstrates the merits of interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Perhaps the simplest finding of all is that learning outdoors is a powerful experience with cognitive and social benefits: it should not be construed as a novel or unusual thing to do.
Exploitation Route The project provides a template for outdoor promenade theatre productions that arise from collaboration between educators, arts practitioners and representatives of nature reserves.

The project is described in detail in UEA web content and in a short film representing the participants' performance and their working process.

The project is a useful case study for consideration by teachers, suggesting possibilities of cross-curricular work that addresses climate change.

The project findings deserve consideration by the Department for Education. Their publication 'Sustainability & Climate Change: A draft strategy for the education & children's services systems' (Nov 2021) located such education in the disciplines of science and geography. Our project, and the comments of participants, suggest that students of all subjects have an interest in climate change issues, and that other subjects can play an important role in climate change education.
Sectors Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://stories.uea.ac.uk/dramatising-climate-change/?_ga=2.191235434.1708352572.1646732772-450927954.1629213114
Description Though it is a relatively short time since we completed the project itinerary (Dec 2021), the project has prompted public interest. We have arranged for a public lecture at the University of East Anglia (March 2022), where young people involved in the project will present and explain their work to members of the public. They will explain the creative process they engaged in to express their views about climate change in the context of their region. In addition, the project has interested school teachers and teacher educators. We shared details of the project with senior representatives of schools, academy trusts and local authorities at a regional meeting in March 2022.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

Description Teacher education and development
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Collaboration with East Norfolk Sixth Form College 
Organisation East Norfolk Sixth Form College
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scheduling and preparation for collaborative public lecture at the University of East Anglia campus, in the UEA Philosophy Public Lecture Series 2022: 'Big Ideas in Education: Past, Present and Future'.
Collaborator Contribution Staff and students of East Norfolk Sixth Form College made in-person contributions and also provided pre-recorded video material for the lecture. The UEA School of Philosophy organised and promoted the series.
Impact Video of the lecture will be available at the URL above.
Start Year 2022
Description Voices across the Reeds - education strand. 
Organisation Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Liaison with RSPB for preparation of the production, bringing participants and their guests to RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. Continuing activities to develop teaching materials and guidance for working with RSPB nature reserves.
Collaborator Contribution Provided staff to support project activities at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, to help the students develop their understanding of climate change, plan the programme and promote the project. Contributions included a presentation and tour to students about the Fen, support with risk assessments, social media support, provision for welcoming audiences to the production.
Impact Performance of the project production, The Race against Time.
Start Year 2022
Description College visits (Great Yarmouth) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact 15 students and 4 members of staff joined the project team for a series of project events at East Norfolk Sixth Form College.
We worked together on creative writing, drama and music in preparation for the outdoor promenade theatre production.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://eur01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstories.uea.ac.uk%2Fdramatising-cl...
Description Eastern region schools' partnership event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Describe this research project as an example of research developed in collaboration of schools/colleges and HEIs, describing impacts on teaching and learning, and for professional development.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Promenade theatre production - development at nature reserve 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Several days spent preparing the promenade theatre production at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://eur01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstories.uea.ac.uk%2Fdramatising-cl...
Description Social media about the project on behalf of the university 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A suite of web and social media presentations, including an 'oral history' outline of the project by participants, and short films representing the project and its participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://eur01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dnmap...