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Engaging young people in climate change

Rowanbank Environmental Arts & Education's ground-breaking circus show, funded through the Community Grants Scheme, has been helping young people in Craigmillar learn about the environment.

On the week that the COP26 climate summit drew to a close in Glasgow, the woodlands at Craigmillar Castle Park in Edinburgh came alive with magic, mystery and adventure.

Local school children and families gathered for an outdoor circus experience, led by the mythical beings who inhabit the woods, and to share their hopes for the future in the face of climate change.

 

Giving children a voice on climate change

Positive Imaginings climate circus performance

This ground-breaking outdoor show was the climax of the 'Positive Imaginings' project.

Developed by Rowanbank Environmental Arts & Education – an organisation that uses theatre and story-telling to explore environmental issues – and supported by the University’s Community Grants Scheme, this unique project sought to address the climate emergency for a young audience in an informative, meaningful, and positive way.

In the months running up to COP26, children from Castleview Primary School took part in a series of woodland workshops. Held in the natural environment, these workshops provided a safe space for the children to explore issues of climate change, to voice their fears and to feel listened to.

The children also shared their visions of what a positive future would look like for them. These imaginings were collected through recordings and turned into a beautiful soundscape.

Listen to the soundscape

 

Communicating climate through circus

Young people share their ‘positive imaginings’ during a children’s assembly
Young people share their ‘positive imaginings’ during a children’s assembly

The children’s imaginings also formed the basis for the outdoor show.

Seven performances were held during the week, four for groups of school children from Castleview Primary School, and another three for families living in the local community.

Co-created by professional theatre-makers, environmental educators and children in the run-up to COP26, the show brought the school children’s fears and hopes to life.

Guided by the mythical beings who live and play in their branches, spectators were introduced to the many trees of the woods.

They learnt about the damage being caused by climate change and even got to experience a type of magic that can bring dreams to life.

The performance ended with a children’s assembly, bringing everyone together around a fire pit to voice their dreams and imaginings for a better world.

The children’s hopes included an ending to deforestation, more people recycling and the use of clean energy.

 

A student volunteer helps set up for the Positive Imaginings performance
A student volunteer helps set up

Bringing the University and communities together

The project was supported by the University’s Community Grants Scheme, which funds the development of projects and local action across the Edinburgh city region that has a positive social impact, as well as encouraging increased engagement with the University.

Rowanbank’s Artistic Director Lucy Power, who developed the Positive Imaginings project, is herself an alumna of the University. Having worked as an environmental consultant, Lucy felt that there must be a more effective way to engage people in important environmental issues, and co-founded Rowanbank in 2006.

I dreamed up this project in lockdown while home educating my two children and wondering about creative ways to teach them about the climate crisis. The inspiration for the 'Positive Imaginings' project came after reading ‘The Future We Choose’ by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. I started thinking about how we could most effectively act on environmental issues and help address young people’s climate anxiety.

Lucy Power, Rowanbank Environmental Arts & Education

In developing the project, Lucy and her team worked closely with Elizabeth Vander Meer, a Research & Policy Manager from the University’s Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability. Elizabeth provided support through environmental and social knowledge, in addition to expertise in monitoring and evaluation.

The performances themselves were supported by student volunteers, who helped with set up and filming, providing insights into careers in the creative arts.

I chose to volunteer to gain on set experience that would improve my CV and help me to explore which career path I want to pursue. It was a great experience that helped me to consolidate which areas of film production I enjoy. Being able to watch the play was an excellent bonus!

Kate Woraker, student volunteer

 

More information 

The University's Community Grants Scheme

Rowanbank Environmental Arts & Education

Positive Imaginings: cultivating environmental citizens