Speech Bubbles helps Newham children communicate
Academic hopes to expand programme to more local schools
By Martin Voller
Following a successful first year, Dr Sheila Preston, Head of Performing Arts at the University of East London (UEL), is keen to increase her University’s involvement in the Speech Bubbles civic engagement project..
Developed in 2009, Speech Bubbles is a participatory drama project which promotes social and personal wellbeing for children aged between five and seven with social and communication difficulties.
The project is overseen by London Bubble Theatre Company and is currently delivered in more than 30 schools across London and Manchester.
After being awarded civic engagement funding by the University, students were trained and in September 2015 UEL proudly became the Newham provider for Speech Bubbles.
Dr Preston’s awareness of the project and familiarity with the work of London Bubble was a key factor in UEL’s partnership with the project.
“I wanted to work with an initiative that already had a good infrastructure in place,” Dr Preston explained. “What inspired me about Speech Bubbles was that the methodology is clear and straightforward, but it’s also really, really effective. It’s something I knew we could train our students to do.”
Students from the School of Arts and Digital Industries, Cass School of Education and Communities and the School of Health, Sport and Bioscience have been delivering weekly drama workshops which help 60 children in three local improve their social and communication skills.
“Schools nowadays are under pressure to deliver curriculums that sadly can lead to rigid and instrumental approaches to learning,” Dr Preston said. “For children of that age who have communication difficulties, school can feel confusing and disorientating.
"Speech Bubbles offers a safe space for children to work creatively in a small group using story drama.”
A recent survey revealed that 89 per cent of children participating in Speech Bubbles showed an improvement in learning, speaking and listening, while 90 per cent showed behavioural improvements.
“Play and joy is key to the process. The children are thriving as the project places their own stories at the centre of the experience,” Dr Preston said.
“There is evidence to suggest that early intervention is vital. If you don’t address social and communication problems early on then this can lead to a range of complex social and health issues later, increased unemployment and relationship breakdown.”
She continued, “Between 60 to 90 percent of young offenders have a speech and language and communication difficulty yet schools are very under resourced, they don’t have the capacity to be able to work with children in that concentrated way.”
Not only does the project help the children, but it benefits the university students, too.
Dr Preston said, “The benefit for the students, besides all of the transferable skills of working regularly with children and liaising with the school partners, are the employability aspects. After having worked on this project for a year, the students can become a freelance facilitator for Speech Bubbles or another drama project.”
“It’s great for UEL because it creates a model of sustainable civic engagement activity that isn’t just a one-off project. It’s embedded, it’s growing, it’s having an impact in Newham, and will do over a long period of time.”
Having successfully delivered workshops throughout the academic year, Dr Preston plans to grow the project in the years ahead.
“Later this year we plan to expand to six schools, nine schools the following year and 12 the year after that, potentially impacting on 480 children over five years, so it has a plan for development within Newham,” she indicated.
For more information about Speech Bubbles view this short animation that has been created by London Bubble Theatre Company.