Who We Are: Family Learning with Akademi

Image Credit: RJ Fernandez
Author's Name: 
Shehnoor Ahmed
Image Credit: 
RJ Fernandez
Akademi has been supported by The Big Lottery Fund since 2009 to engage families in the London Borough of Brent and Barnet in an innovative program of learning activities. Parents, carers and children aged between 9 and 16 had the opportunity to work together to explore the cultural heritage of their families and the wider community, whilst at the same time enjoy learning together and spending time together.
The activities in the sessions included dance, story telling, drama, music and arts and crafts. Families were encouraged to work together to shape the project, sharing their own talents and skills as well as discovering new ones. During one session families brought in their own instruments and the afternoon was spent sharing traditional folk songs and dances with the group. We also gave families activities to take away which they could do at home together such as writing a poem or story about a journey they have taken, cooking together and sharing a recipe or a theatre show from cardboard boxes and creating a miniature play. These would then be shared with the group the following week and used as a source of inspiration for the sessions. A paper butterfly made by one of the children was the start of a story of the journey of a beautiful creature travelling through rivers, forests and cities. The group then used music, drama, dance and song to bring the story to life. 
To celebrate the work produced families performed at community events and festivals such as the Kilburn Park Grange Festival and ‘Brent Celebrates the Flame’, a day of festivities celebrating the London 2012 Olympic Games. As part of the project’s Olympic festivities we organized our own banner ‘relay’. Stitch workshops were held in the community, such as with the Wembley Women’s Refugee Group and in local libraries, in which people were invited to sew their contributions onto our Olympic themed banners exploring ideas of friendship, diversity and ‘Who we are’.
The project was also awarded an ‘Inspire Mark’ for helping to bring the spirit of the Games to the local community and the banners are currently on display at Brent Museum as part of their London 2012 exhibition.
Alongside the workshop activities we also produced resources with creative project ideas for the home and sent out E-newsletters, signposting families to further learning opportunities, events and activities in their local area. This included several fun outings such as a visit to Hackney Farm where families took part in a creative workshop making beautifully decorated thunder drums as well as meeting some very friendly city animals. 
The positive benefits for families taking part in our projects have included an increase of confidence, literacy skills and verbal communication particularly amongst those who were newly arrived to the UK. Some of these voices seemed at first so small that they were spoken through friends or other family members. However by the end of the project we observed a change with an increase in confidence to speak their opinions, share their ideas with others and eventually to perform and narrate a story in front of a crowd of hundreds! This of course also included the parents, some who were reluctant to take part at first but over time and with gentle encouragement all the adults found themselves getting stuck into the mess and fun of making, playing cool rhythms on the drums and playing singing games with their voices. Parents commented that they were now putting more time aside to do fun learning activities together with their children.