November 2021

Work of Withernsea High School students promoted on a global platform

The collaborative efforts of researchers from the University of Hull and students at Withernsea High School made an impact at the COP26 summit last Friday when elements of their work were used to inform a theatre production about climate uncertainty.

The performance, titled ‘On the Edge’, was a production co-created by the University of Hull and the National Youth Theatre that explored young peoples’ eco-anxiety in the face of climate uncertainty through the power of spoken word, poetry, music and short film.

Helping to shape the piece was a film focusing on the impacts of coastal erosion, told using the voices of students from Withernsea High School.

Created as part of a project led by the University of Hull, the film INSECURE focuses on the impact of coastal erosion on communities along the East Yorkshire coast.

Katie Parsons, a researcher from the University of Hull who led the project, commented: ‘The university have been working with the National Youth Theatre to help inform their productions. As part of this process, I delivered a presentation about INSECURE and explained how it had impacted the students who were involved in its production. The theatre team loved it and wanted to incorporate elements in to their COP26 performance, including the words and photos of students to highlight the concept of the infected sea.’

Briony McDonagh, Professor of Environmental Humanities at the University of Hull, added: ‘In recent years, we have seen young people become increasingly engaged in the climate discussion – they understand the threat of climate change, and the impact it will have on their lives.

On the Edge put young people's experiences in front of world leaders, giving them a platform to voice their feelings about climate uncertainty.

We hope that this thought-provoking production will show future generations that their concerns and experiences are valued by those who have the power to act on climate change.’

On the Edge is a crucial part of MELT, the National Youth Theatre’s major three-year programme launched in 2020 to platform the voices of young people on climate change. MELT is working with climate scientists, academics and the renewable energy sector to provide creative provocation and outputs.

Working with the University of Hull’s Energy and Environment Institute, they are addressing flood risk and community impact through the ‘Risky Cities’ programme, as well as the needs and skills gap of the renewables sector to diversify and build awareness of sustainable energy employment opportunities for young people.
Meanwhile, for the students of Withernsea High School, their indirect involvement at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference is another welcome accolade which recognises their hard work and takes it to a global audience.

Sarah Harris-Smith, Head of Humanities at the school, commented: ‘It is a privilege to have the words, voices and images of our students reworked in to yet another hard-hitting powerful presentation about climate change. I am sure this will encourage more young people to be proactive in taking small actions together now for the benefit of a long-term better future.

A number of our students recently visited the COP26 Battle Bus, which toured the country ahead of the global summit, to further explore what they can do to help the climate crisis. On the back of this, our students have committed to reducing single-use plastics in school and are also exploring ways in which the school can save energy.

I am delighted that they are taking this so seriously and are being proactive in their approach to help safeguard their local environment and the future of the planet as a whole.’

The students’ film INSECURE is currently in the running for a prestigious award, having been one of only five nominated in the Best Climate Emergency Film of the Year category by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Research In Film Awards’ (RIFA).

The awards, which celebrate academic film making, have inspired researchers across the UK to think more deeply about how they share their work with the wider world.

Now in its seventh year, RIFA continues to bring cutting-edge arts and humanities research to a public audience through the medium of film. Previous RIFA winners have gone on to win BAFTAs and other awards; have been screened at film festivals, or gone on to secure funding and further achievements.

The awards ceremony takes place on Wednesday 1st December, with the Arts and Humanities Research Council planning to stage live screenings at four, as-yet-to-be-confirmed, venues around the UK in Spring 2022.


ABOVE: A screenshot taken from the performance of 'On the Edge' on Friday, 5th November. The production was streamed live around the world to a global audience on YouTube.