Many Hands – Scarborough Science and Engineering Week 2018

Posted on 04.12.2018

In early October we took the Many Hands project to Scarborough Science and Engineering Week. The convention, held at Scarborough Spa from the 9th – 11th October, was attended by groups of school children and college students. The annual event aims to inspire young people to consider careers in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).  

Our Many Hands project ran on two days, working with primary-age children, chiefly Years 5 and 6. We were kindly hosted by The University of Hull and our workshop station was situated amongst projects that the university’s science and engineering departments had created: virtual reality video gaming, a Formula One racing car simulator, and a planetarium.

Similar to our previous event in Whitby, we knew the sessions would be working primarily with children, therefore, we decided once more to engage on a creative, practical level first before approaching the request for an environmental pledge. The process and time of making the hand trinkets would act as a space to engage in conversation, and the trinkets themselves would be a take-away reminder of their pledge and the thinking it had provoked.

In addition to this creative activity, we had planned to incorporate more scientific discussion and learning into the workshops, particularly due to the careers environment that we were working in. We wanted to ensure we linked in with the science and technological side of the climate change – the issue is altogether political, social, and scientific. There are a wealth of important career roles that are and will be integral to ensuring a sustainable future. We devised an age-appropriate quiz for the young people as a starter: to get them thinking about the complexities of climate change, the science behind it, and what can be done to counteract what is happening.

In reality, the event was so fast-paced, with so many young people passing through the area that the use of the science quizzes or specific discussions relating to environmental careers became near to impossible! Each of us were working with up to five children at a time facilitating the construction of woolen hands, with the majority of conversations relating to practical instructions of how to make them. Discussions about climate change, sustainability, and the thinking behind the written pledges were often short and rushed, which was disappointing.  

Over the two days, we had more than a hundred young people interact with us, making trinkets and pledges, and have their hand portrait taken for our ongoing collection and documentation. In terms of material for the Many Hands photographic project, this was of course great news! However, the pace at which we were interacting with the participants also meant less meaningful engagement with the children we were encountering. And we mustn’t forget that this engagement is an integral part of our methodology for the work. However, both Layla and I recall bright moments where a child wanted to discuss the environment in more depth, which was wonderful to witness. One student and her friends had come up with a song about litter picking, which they performed a rendition of while making their trinkets!   

The event presented a great opportunity to engage with children on the subject of climate change and the environment, however the fast-paced and time-sensitive nature of the interaction meant that on the whole a meaningful engagement with each individual, an interrogation of the facts and science behind climate change issues, questioning, conversation and discussion, was not really possible. This is something to build on and learn when developing the project and working with children and young people again. It is important to ensure the time and space is created to conduct nuanced interaction with the participants – which means thinking about the quantity of children we are working with. Quantity, for a project like ours, does not trump quality. A fleeting encounter may be fun and enjoyable for the children, however may not create lasting insight, questions or something that will ‘stay with’ them or provoke further commitment to the issues involved.

Some observations and reflections from collected responses was the recurring theme of ‘plastic’ when the young people were making pledges and discussing pollution. This perhaps shows the internalisation of recent media campaigns surrounding plastic consumption and recycling which have been widely publicised, particularly in the past couple of years. It also reflects how current changes in society will have impacted children, such as the carrier bag charges. Children who go shopping with their parents are likely to have noticed this change, and question it. There were also some nice thoughts and pondering from the children about personal connection to the environment, and a love and protection of the world. Many children wanted to draw and talk about their favourite animals; their favourite parts of nature. From working with both adults and children now, this has seemed to come across more when connecting with younger people – this talk of lovefor animals, fish, nature, the world: the openness to relay an emotional connection to our surroundings is perhaps more natural when we are young. Do we lose this as we get older? Is this something important to reconnect with? If so, how?

Overall, the event in Scarborough was a great opportunity for the Many Hands project to collect more photographic and written material for the ongoing work. It also provided some important points of learning in terms of participant engagement and recognising how the process of the work needs to develop meaningful and sincere interaction with those involved. We will take this learning forward to our next events in the coming year.

To update what is next for Many Hands, we are currently developing our first zine! The Many Hands Zine will be a quarterly publication that works as a communication platform to showcase our collected pledges and hand portraits, as well as including writing on the subject of climate change and environmental concerns. A future issue of the zine will specifically relate to young people’s connection to these concerns, building on and incorporating our experience of events in Whitby and Scarborough. However, our first issue focusses on the themes that encompassed Invisible Dust’s Under Her Eye event, during which the Many Hands project was first thought up.

In the meantime you can follow the Many Hands project on Instagram: @manyhandspledge or by visiting:

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