Letters for Learners is a new public engagement project piloted in Spring 2015 at Newcastle University funded by Newcastle University’s Institute for Creative Arts Practice. Letters for Learners was led by Dr Michael Richardson and produced by participatory theatre company Cap-a-Pie with input from GP and creative writing tutor Dr Eleanor Holmes.
I got this really good material and I wrote a letter to get it. How good’s that? – Researcher
Six researchers worked with theatre company Cap-a-Pie and Dr Eleanor Holmes to write letters to members of the public inviting them to understand and inform academic research through creative tasks. The project was open to all researchers at Newcastle University. The six academics that took part are currently conducting research in the areas of neuroscience, English literature, human geography, marine science, fine art and government statistics.
The project “sold out” in under a week with eighteen members of the public signed up to receive a letter. Letters were sent to recipients in England from Hertfordshire to Northumberland.
“People can be cynical – ‘There’s another piece of research gathering dust’ – This project showed me how this research is really plugged into people’s lives.” – Recipient
The project proved a positive experience for both researchers and recipients. The medium of engagement used built a close personal connection between researcher and recipient enabling a deep and personal engagement whilst the use of creative arts allowed the recipient to gain an in depth understanding of the research. Feedback from recipients was very positive. They were excited and motivated to find out about academic research and felt they better understood how research impacts their lives. They were all keen to engage further with academics. Most notably they were very keen to assist the academic with their research and understand how the interaction was ‘useful’.
Dr Michael Richardson, Cap-a-Pie and Dr Eleanor Holmes are keen to expand and develop this project, involving more researchers at Newcastle University and reaching more and diverse members of the public. Letter for Learners has the potential to become a key part of Newcastle University’s public engagement, offering researchers a route to interact with the public at all stages of a research project and develop Impact.