More Search
We help universities engage with the public


< Back to all case studies


Who: Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in partnership with the Manchester Children’s University, Websters Primary School and North Hulme Adventure Playground (NHAP)

What: The design and creation of a community art exhibition made from unrecyclable materials, produced by local children, at a series of student-led workshops

Why: To engage children with the importance of recycling and raise awareness of environmental sustainability and promote community cohesion

Where: Two sessions were held weekly, one at the school and another at the playgroup in the Moss-side and Hulme areas of Manchester

When: Delivery of the project began in November 2010, with the exhibition opening for a week in March 2011

Project Descriptionchildren showcasing their artwork

Re-create is engaging children with the importance of recycling and raising awareness of environmental sustainability. Student-led teams, consisting of students across a range of disciplines, working with Webster Primary School and NHAP within the Moss-side and Hulme areas of Manchester to create a variety of art projects by recycling rubbish. This culminated in a community art exhibition which opened in March, where the sculptures, installations and artworks have been displayed for a week, with a special preview event for the children and parents hosted by the students.

This project is maximising its potential to create a more collaborative approach to community engagement, establishing a variety of new local connections through the Children’s University, in addition to using the project to forge partnerships with the creative arts departments of the University. Following this pilot it is hoped that the model will continue, building upon the community partnerships and using the student led model to develop activities around other themes.


  • Raise environmental awareness project to help children understand the impact they can make through recycling
  • Develop greater provision for volunteering opportunities for all students
  • Supporting MMU’s engagement agenda by promoting community cohesion, bridging the gap between local communities and the University

Results and outcomes

What worked well


Using art has worked well to engage children with learning about their local environment. In the initial session, children were asked to draw their perception of what environment and pollution is. In the following session they were asked to paint their local area (i.e. Hulme and Moss-side), and to illustrate what they liked about their area and what they didn’t like. These two sessions gave a good insight into what the children think about their environment, how they relate that to their locality and things going on within their community. These pieces of work were used to steer the project forward and helped the children develop their ideas into art for the exhibition, such as 3D pieces, photography, collage and wall hangings.


Having two partners, one a school and another from a play group has established a greater diversity of children with varying needs and abilities from multi cultural environments. These children appear to have enjoyed taking part and have the freedom to express themselves creatively. In particular NHAP commented that the children who had chosen to participate in this project tended to be those who had complex learning needs and, in some cases, behavioural issues.

For the students, this also enhanced their learning and experience, as it offered a great opportunity for them to work within very different settings and to learn how to manage the children effectively. Having the two partners also increased the flexibility of the project for the students, as the volunteers could try out different things within the groups and then tweak things for the next group. The volunteers also found it useful to have a choice as to which session they would attend, making their engagement with the project more accessible.  

The exhibitionthe sculptures the children created

A special exhibition preview was held in the Link Gallery at MMU, which is located on the outskirts of Hulme and Moss-side (ten minutes walk for both Websters and NHAP). The exhibition was a celebration of the work and learning that the children and volunteers have gained. Members of the community, parents and staff were invited to attend the opening of the exhibition. It is hoped that it may then also be displayed within community venues such as the library and Zion Art Centre. It is also planned for permanent displays to be set up within Websters and NHAP.


A key success of this way of working has been the relationships we have built with Manchester Children’s University, Websters Primary School and NHAP. This has taught us about effective ways to engage with community groups and established a high quality model, which can be replicated in the future around a variety of themes.

This has been particularly strengthened by the support of the Children’s University accreditation and the training the university volunteer manager has now received to validate activities. This will make the process easier in the future.

This project has also generated broader interest from academics in the Interactive Arts and Photography who have expressed an interest in supporting this project in the future and the possibility of incorporating it within an accredited unit.

Lessons learnt

A key lesson has been to ensure there is plenty of time in the planning stages of a pilot. We intended to recruit students at the start of the academic year, so it was vital to begin planning and partnership building in the early summer.

This project also highlighted some of the difficulties in working with schools. When looking for external partners, it was very difficult to get schools to communicate. Our first two choices, who had been recommended for their suitability, failed to return emails or calls. Luckily the headmaster from Webster Primary School came along with such enthusiasm and this really gave the positive boost needed to make a success of the project.

Photography is a discipline that has been expensive to incorporate. The cost and availability of equipment may be unrealistic with some budgets. However, this was overcome by making pinhole cameras out of un-recyclable materials and utilising other community partners where we can process the film.


A tool-kit has been developed, which provides a framework for students who want to start their own project. It provides students with a background to the Re-Create project with guidance and information about how to get a project up and running in a safe and manageable environment.

The tool-kit outlines to students how to develop skills and knowledge of child protection, learning styles, communication, sharing ideas, lesson planning, project planning, setting a time line and presentations.

Top tips

  1. Consider how this activity can support the university in delivering its objectives – this will enable you to get greater support with your project
  2. Consider what your department or students could gain from developing this project. What would motivate a student to get involved? Could it form part of accreditation to a unit?
  3. Have a plan and time line. Consider how it will fit into the academic year and work within periods of academic hand-in dates and exam periods. The plan will help to develop a business plan  and budget that could be used for funding bids
  4. Consider potential partners strategic aims – how can you support them in achieving their objectives?
  5. It makes life a lot easier to have a partner organisation that has an existing club set up which could be used to deliver your project. Not only providing a safe environment, it also usually means there is a regular captive audience. Existing clubs and schools will usually take care of the administrative element of working with the children, such as contacting parents to get consent for participation, photos etc.


Name: Josie Cartwright