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Meet the designers: A masterclass in creativity from Winchelsea School

From finger painting to peeling glue off your fingertips, the school art room can evoke many childhood memories - one place creating unforgettable ones is Winchelsea community school. Following a collaboration between the Lush designers and students at Winchelsea, Natasha Skinner, a specialist art teacher at the school spoke about her passion to enhance the lives of children with learning difficulties through the arts.

According to The Arts Council, unleashing our creative side as a child can have big benefits. Involvement in the arts can have significant effects on imagination and self-expression. But the arts can do more than just help us to express ourselves, they can be used to initiate change and bring people together.

Of the 1.4 million people in the UK living with a learning difficulty, fifty percent have experienced chronic loneliness. A recent report by the The Institute of Health Equity, suggests that community art projects are a great way to smash down the barriers between those with and those without learning difficulties and help to improve social inclusion.

Winchelsea School is going the extra mile to do just that, using the arts as a tool to stop marginalisation. The school caters to autistic children with different processing and sensory needs, Natasha Skinner explains why creative subjects lend themselves to children with autism:

“There are no boundaries when it comes to art. It’s one of those subjects where being yourself is enough. In the art room we’re the most equal we’ll ever be, because everybody starts at a place of their choosing and everybody’s end game is very different.”

Lush gift designer and creative director Suzie Hackney visited Winchelsea with a loose brief and asked the art students to design a Knot Wrap inspired by Autumn. From there, Natasha worked her magic to inspire students:

“Multi sensory learning is essential. If a child doesn’t know what Autumn is for example, because they’re either non-verbal or they can’t read, if you put some pumpkins and crispy leaves in front of them and maybe make the room cold and then hot again, then sensorially they’ll catch up with the lack in their knowledge of language.”

As well as recognising that art can benefit the individual child, the school works hard to break through the barriers that can often leave children with learning difficulties feeling out of step in relation to their peers. Working with creatives outside the school walls helps students at Winchelsea feel more integrated into their community and gives them a taste of how creative industries work. Something which can have astounding effects on the children’s self-worth and communication skills, and also provide them with work experience for the future.

The school is brimming with creativity - from working with local graffiti artists and holding exhibitions at the local arts centre twice a year, to collaborating with Trinity College London to deliver the children with an Arts Award. All of these ventures help to enrich the student’s education. Natasha says:

“The great thing with this kind of project is that the children get to have quick successes. Their work is valued and they get to see themselves as artists. It gives them a strong insight into industry, so they see that they can be a designer or artist regardless of an ability or disability.”

This forward-thinking approach to learning focuses on enriching the students’ education by putting their wellbeing, self-belief and social inclusion at the forefront. One of Winchelsea’s main objectives is to ensure that all students feel they have a seat at the table of creativity, and they’re certainly working hard to make it happen.

So what came from the Lush collaboration aside from a beautifully designed Knot Wrap? Natasha says: “In terms of their self-esteem it was huge, because the students got to see that they have a worthy place in society. It was great that Suzie and the team came and gave students focused, quality time and built relationships with them, because our biggest goal in special needs education nationally is that our children get the same experiences as any other child.”

You can check out Winchelsea School’s Autumn Leaves Knot Wrap here, or read on to find out how getting creative can make you feel good.

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