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Practical Piracy

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Who: A group of four post-graduate research students from the University of Warwick, working with Warwickshire Children’s University (CU) and Bath Place Community Venture.

What: A series of multi-disciplinary participatory workshops, totalling 12 hours, based around the theme of a pirate’s life.

Why: To engage children (aged 7-11) with learning outside of the classroom environment. The project also assisted postgraduate students to fulfil the public engagement needs of the Researcher Development Framework.

Where: The University of Warwick, with activities held in Bath Place Community Venture. 

When: Piloted over the academic year 2010/2011, during the Autumn term, with plans to continue this model of working in the future.

Project DescriptionTreasure Map

Practical Piracy is a multi-disciplinary project exploring life for a pirate in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This idea emerged through a partnership between Warwick Volunteers, Bath Place Community Venture and the Children’s University, both at a local and national level.

Postgraduate students led the project, designing and delivering a series of participatory workshops, each concentrating on the different subject areas of the students. This became structured around the core theme of pirates, which could be used to frame the project and encourage children to become involved.

The sessions intended to convey research in a fun and exciting way, avoiding dictating theory and encouraging children to use a variety of skills and abilities to learn about the subjects. For example, the children learnt about history and geography through the design and development of treasure maps, learning team work and navigation skills in a practical way.

Research students have traditionally been under-represented in Warwick Volunteers’ membership, and this project has provided a formula to help address this. The ‘strong’ promotion of volunteering as a skills development activity was a success, as it was explicitly linked to the Researcher Development Framework, through Domain D (Engagement, Influence and Impact). This has also offered the possibility of other University departments supporting the development and delivery of volunteering activities in the future.


To explore the potential of Children's University to provide a model and structure for student volunteers to create and deliver inspiring activities for local children; 

  • Developing Warwick Volunteers’ work with post-graduate students;
  • Developing partnerships both internal to the university and externally with the community;
  • Assisting students in fulfilling domain D (communication, dissemination, engagement and impact) of the Researcher Development Framework (RDF).

Results and outcomes

What worked well

Following the module the schools have reported a significant increase in the confidence of the children who took part, broadening their horizons. The structure and interactivity of the module encouraged the children to think creatively and developed intrigue in the subjects.

"I think particularly for us the group work seemed to work very well and having a mixture of short tasks to keep the children engaged. Some of our tasks involved the children mind mapping on their own. We would allow them to feedback to the group their own ideas and question why they thought that, and then we would feedback whether it was a myth / true, expand on their answers or question them further. I think this worked well and we had children who enjoyed discussion and asking lots of questions, which was fantastic." Student Volunteer

The partnerships were vital to this impact as Warwickshire Children’s University and Bath Place have a well established working relationship with the community. They were able to talk to parents who do not usually become involved with after school activities. For example engaging teachers with the project who have the ability to target parents, using local knowledge- especially needed in the case where the parents are illiterate.


The postgraduates each took responsibility for leading a session, developing comprehensive lesson plans in advance. This has been a learning curve for the students to recognise and develop the link between recreation and learning activities. Yet, this worked well as Warwickshire CU were able to provide resources and support for the students. In particular, they have a well established lesson plan structure, which integrates the CU quality assurance guidelines. Furthermore, the explicit linking of the project to the RDF secured the support to the PGR skills development team, who delivered the training and offered on-going support for volunteers.


One of the most important aspects achieved for Warwick Volunteers is demonstrating that this model of working is feasible and that our partnership approach enables them to broaden the opportunities for the community as well as the partners. Furthermore, they have had a lot of interest to re-run the module, particularly in schools. Currently they are evaluating the feasibility of this, but it does demonstrate how quickly positive news of this work has spread.

"The opportunity to be involved in a National Research Project- not something open to a little community centre very often, the opportunity to work with some of the ‘brightest and best’ in the country, perhaps to influence them for the future and who knows where it might lead for them, us and the wider community!" Bath Place


Understanding the audience.

Another module was developed with a similar model to this, called Island Mysteries (based on themes from The Tempest). The module includes statistics, relationships, genetics, adapting text, and disability as topics.  However the module did not run in the November due to low sign up from the children. This has been attributed to two factors. Firstly, timing as it was planned to be held on a Saturday morning. Secondly, the age group (KS3) targeted may have been a factor. It is hoped the module will be run in 2011 with a primary age group of children.


The smooth delivery of this project logistically has relied upon the strong partnership between Warwick Volunteers, the Warwick Children’s University (CU) and Bath Place. Each partner has brought a wealth of expertise and contacts to assist the project:

  • The postgraduate students were recruited via email from the PGR Skills Development Team, and via a presentation at a Café Scientifique session (a multi-disciplinary networking event where PGRs present on their research areas).
  • Training and support was also provided by the Postgraduate Skills development team to ensure the volunteers’ work met the RDF requirements.
  • Warwickshire CU module planning guide, with Planning for Learning built into it.
  • Recruitment of schools/children was made possible through the connections of the CU and Bath Place.

Top Tips

  1. The name of a project is very important for marketing purposes. Branding the module as ‘Practical Piracy’ made it appear more enticing than Maritime History, the research area.
  2. A volunteer group size of 3/4 is ideal for enabling everyone to participate in the planning and delivery of sessions, but without relying too heavily on individuals. 
  3. Promoting activities through an established community partner is effective, as they have existing links and relationships that can be utilised.
  4. A format of 4-6 weeks gives enough time for the children to develop during the course of the activities without being too big a commitment for volunteers to struggle to meet.