Early years experts
Bub Club Wellingborough: Where toddlers and babies are the experts in creativity and collaboration.
Guest blog by Liz Clark
I am standing at the edge of community hall in Wellingborough watching ten families sing and move together. In the centre of the circle of families is Sophie, the dance artist who leads the session. She exudes energy and smiles and is inviting families to join with her in exploring a range of materials and music through movement. A baby crawls towards her, he looks at her intently and then plops onto his belly. Sophie does too, taking her cues from the baby and invites other families to join them. This tiny baby, who can’t be more than 11 months old, has just become the leader of that part of the session. The baby laughs with delight as he sees other join him.
I see a group of boys start to roll they big grey mats they have been sitting on into tubes and lift them between them. The mats are heavy so it takes time for them to work out how to carry them, and they end up expertly transporting them across the space. They run back to get another and another until they have created a stepping stone path across the floor. Another child sees their creation and joins in, making big leaps from mat to mat across the room. This child is followed by her mum, who uses her child’s ideas to create her own hopping, jumping dance across the mats.
This kind of creative collaboration is a hallmark of Bub Club Wellingborough, where children’s ideas take centre stage. As I look around the room there seems to be about a dozen exciting adventures happening at the same time, with each child exploring freely, supported by Sophie and the other adults in the room who are a diverse mix of parents, childminders and grandparents.
Sophie works hard to create a culture which values the different ways that children move and express themselves; from the energetic three year old who wants to run, to the baby tentatively starting to crawl and exploring the materials close to the safe base of their significant adult. Sophie introduces an eclectic mix of materials (cardboard boxes, jumpers, fabric, shower caps) and suggests possible ways of moving with them but the children always come up with their own inventive ways of dancing with, and combining the materials. All the adults actively create an atmosphere of permission for their children to discover and explore.
Behind the scenes Sophie is supported by the two organisations who have worked together to make the sessions happen; Hemmingwell Community and Skills Centre and Made With Many. Hemmingwell Estate has it’s challenges as a community and is in the top 5% in terms of deprivation in the UK. “There hasn’t been much provided for local residents in the past” says Paula Elmore from the centre, “we’re here to be the heart of the community, a place where families can feel safe and can gather”.
Both organisations share the ambition to make a lasting difference for local families. “The centre is amazing and really community focused” says Made With Many Head of Creative Programme, Vicky Frayard, “they are a trusted place in their community and they are so passionate about supporting families”.
It is clear there is a great sense of trust and admiration between the two organisations. Paula says “When Bub Club brings sunshine into people’s lives, it raises their aspirations, for themselves and for their families. Our artist Sophie is sunshine embodied in a person.”
Sophie dances into the middle of the group of families with a basket full of scarves, then a handful of ribbons. She launches into the air, making everyone “ohhh” and “ahhhh”. There is a moment of wonder as ribbons land on the floor and onto the laps of the families. Sophie begins to dance with the ribbons, and the children get drawn into the action. Adults linger expectantly around the children’s play, looking for opportunities or invitations to join. Sophie encourages families to go “off track” when a child’s interest is sparked by a task or material. I see a child fascinated with rolling himself inside a stretchy blanket. Bolstered by the story of the day, his parents carefully tips him upside down. With the natural inventiveness and curiosity of the very young children, the materials Sophie brings to the session can become anything. You are aware that each child is having their own unique adventure that is not dictated by any of the adults present. Instead, the adults become playful supporters of their children’s creative, sometimes risky thinking.
I see a three year old pulling a friend of the same age in a large plastic trug. The tub is heavy, it is hard to move. Each child has to figure out the best way to get moving, they think about the solution, I can see them working it out through their bodies. They swap over, then one child, using all of his body weight, heaves as hard as he can and the trug starts to move. The bucket tips…. this is more risky play….. but the landing is soft as Sophie has provided mats for the children to move on. Both children roll out, smile at each other and scoot on to the next adventure.
At Bub Club children love to collaborate with each other and with the adults in their life. The session provides a relaxed, safe and creative space for adults and children to be together. There is much smiling and laughter, with the sessions becoming a celebration of who the children are now, not who they might become. In the current climate of ‘hurrying’ children through their developmental stages and the “catch-up” rhetoric eschewed by the media, the session is refreshing and a delight to witness. These children are inventors and performers, engineers and artists. The adults expect surprises and are delighted in their children’s creativity and ingenuity. At one point Sophie, a mum and her toddler dance on ribbons laid out on the floor, hopping, turning and tiptoeing along the lines the ribbon makes on the floor. It is a dance of joy and belonging, with each partner looking and responding in the moment to each other. Everyone looks very ‘at home’.
“I don’t have to persuade the families that this is a fun thing to do.
The families are so welcoming, they really do feel that this is
their new community.”
Sophie, Dance Artist
As the session ends a mum notices that her child has laid down on the mat in front of her, the mum leans forwards to wrap her child in a mat. She brushes her hands over the child’s forehead and tenderly kisses her. There is a palpable feeling of love and care mixed in with creativity and joy. As the families enjoy some refreshments at the end of the session, 2 year old Euan tells Sophie “I want to come here all day” and as the families leave some children look wistfully at the now empty space, maybe wishing that it could all begin again.
Liz Clark is Artistic Director of Turned On Its Head and an experienced early years dance artist. She attended Bub Club three times over six months to observe practice and support Sophie in her development as an artist.
Made With Many is a community-led arts programme which produces events and activities designed to surprise, delight and inspire. The programme aims to encourage more people to take the lead in experiencing, creating and taking part in high-quality arts and cultural activities.
Hemmingwell Community and Skills Centre exists to create the environment and infrastructure for engagement with the local community, facilitating a safe space for community use. They aim to create engagement and activities which lead to social mobility, to create employment and education programmes along with community cohesion holding events that bring the community closer together.
Published 22nd March 2023