Frustrated with the decline of arts and creative subjects in schools, Nick Corston gave up his day job to form a not-for-profit enterprise that connects children with art in their community.

Photo of Julian Mitchell leading a coding activity at Raynham Primary School in London
Julian Mitchell leading a coding activity at Raynham Primary School in London

There can be no subject closer to a creative heart than creativity itself. So how those hearts must bleed to read week after week of the decline of arts and creative subjects in our schools. And soon it will surely have an impact on the workplace and wider society – if it hasn’t already. And how feet must fidget when Sir Kenneth Robinson, an expert on education in the arts, gave a TED talk on how schools can teach creativity out of children.

It’s about helping our young people find their passion and follow that dream

But what to do, how and when? How can you walk the talk without giving up your day job? Well, I co-founded STEAM Co as a not-for-profit community enterprise in my sons’ primary school in Paddington in London a few years ago, giving up a career in brand design, marketing and innovation.

We connect kids with their art and our communities with their schools by helping them to run mini creativity festivals. It’s through a collaboration of parents, teachers and what we call ‘creative carers’ – people in their community in creative companies, secondary schools, higher education and businesses who care about creativity, kids and all our futures.

We redefine art to make it as accessible and inclusive as possible, to both young people, parents and teachers, many of whom see it as a soft option. So, it could be the art of painting or photography, drawing or DJing, cooking or coding, fashion or football. It’s about helping our young people find their passion and follow that dream.

Marva Rollins is one of London’s first black and minority ethnic head teachers and a respected school community leader in one of the most challenging parts of Tottenham in London. When she says it’s tough she means it, and at an event of ours in Canary Wharf she said: “We’re broke, but not broken, yet for us creativity is a luxury.”

Digital experiences

Both the CEO of Barclays and the CEO of Your Favourite Story, an independent digital agency in Shoreditch in London, agreed to work with us so that the children at Marva’s school (and other children) could take part in creative activities. These included learning to create digital experiences and games, and not just playing them.

Barclays has trained 15,000 of its staff as Digital Eagles, giving them the technical skills to help customers. We’ve produced a simple ten-minute training film which teaches them, whether they are bank tellers or support staff, to lead a coding activity with a BBC micro:bit, a small computer device that can be coded using a tablet or regular computer. We’ve worked with Barclays staff on STEAM Co days in schools and at our regional launch events.

But a STEAM Co day isn’t limited to the art of coding – there are more than 20 other creative thinking and doing activities from spin painting to improv and inventing to ukulele.

Your Favourite Story wanted its staff to contribute to the local community so it sponsored a day where we took our pop-up day drop truck to Raynham Primary school, Marva Hollins’ school. CEO Julian Mitchell claimed to have no previous experience of coding BBC micro:bits, but after the training video he taught over 200 children to code. In another activity, the managing director helped children make and fire paper rockets while members of its web design team helped with spin painting and T-shirt design.

Global creative agency Havas has also collaborated with us to run a creativity day for local primary children at Regent High School, a secondary school in Camden. In one activity the children were invited to design a billboard advertisement about healthy eating, two of which were chosen to be displayed on a real billboard.

Collaborate for creativity

We are now appealing to more creative people and companies to collaborate for creativity in this way, helping run events in schools. We want to tap into our children’s obsession with celebrity and develop creative activity packs with famous creatives that can be delivered in and by school communities.

We’ve issued a call for creative people and companies to be a part of it, not as patrons, but as PARTrons, for as little as £1. Already we’ve listed hundreds of PARTrons, and are looking for others to both help fund and help deliver half and full-day sessions in schools across the country.

Nick Corston is Co-founder of STEAM Co.
www.steamco.org.uk

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Photo of Nick Corston