A window on the past

An Engaging Places network 2008/09 case study | 16 July 2009

Key Stage 3
History - with English and Geography

When it comes to engaging places, the seaside town of Brighton is spoilt for choice. The grandeur of the Royal Pavilion… The iconic piers… The impressive marina… Yet amidst all this splendour, it’s a derelict chocolate shop that has captured the imagination of students from Cardinal Newman Catholic School.

Photo of adult and young person, on a street, video camera in hand

Cardinal Newman student filming their documentary © Cardinal Newman Catholic School, Hove

The chocolate shop is one of three historic buildings featured in a documentary about the changing face of Brighton. Made by year 10 students, the film is now being used to generate interest in the built environment across the school.

Twittens through time
Fourteen gifted and talented geographers and historians with a passion for the subjects took part in the project. ‘As a humanities college, we were looking for ways to create more links between students’ learning in geography and history,’ says Kate Forbes, key stage 3 lead teacher for history. ‘Working with the Brighton and Hove Museum Service through the Engaging Places network, we saw the potential that the built environment offered for some really rich cross-curricular learning.’

What did the teacher want to achieve? The teacher wanted to increase students’: curiosity about the built environment; understanding of how we are shaped by where we live; attainment in geography and history; confidence, independence and teamwork skills.

The students focused on three streets in the Lanes, a historic part of Brighton. Once the heart of a fishing town, today it’s a maze of alleyways, or ‘twittens’, packed with shops and restaurants. The challenge for the students was to see beyond Jamie Oliver’s Italian and Martha Lane Fox’s karaoke bar to the people who lived and worked in the streets in the past.

Using street directories showing addresses through time, the students delved into the history of particular buildings. Who lived there at different times? How had its use changed? In school, they carried out internet and library research. Out of school, they spent time exploring archives, old maps and census data at Brighton Museum.

Photo of students filming on the street

Cardinal Newman students filming © Cardinal Newman Catholic School

Visiting the streets proved a turning point in the project. The students’ list of names and addresses became real places, lived and worked in by real people over hundreds of years. Seeing, touching and recording the buildings brought the past to life in a vivid and exciting way.

Chocolate and beer
Inspired by their research, the students set to the task of planning and writing their documentary with relish. They scripted clear, informative reports on changes in architecture, purpose and place over time. To add colour to the film, they retold the story of three buildings through the eyes of historical characters – a Belgian chocolatier, a wealthy hairdresser and the impoverished child of a large brewery family.

Unfortunately plans to film these episodes in front of the buildings, including the now derelict chocolate shop, were scuppered by poor weather. Dressed in period costume, the students retreated to the shelter of the museum’s local history centre for filming.

How was the learning organised? A group of year 10 gifted and talented students: explored how local streets have changed over time; researched the lives of people who used to live in particular buildings; made a short film for other students, telling the story of local streets through the eyes of historical characters.

New links were forged with the English and media departments as the students wrote their scripts, created characters and developed their drama and presentation skills. The school decided to invest in a professional audio-visual specialist to make the film and the students flourished under his expert guidance.

Appetite for local history
Putting the film on the school’s intranet has created a real appetite for local history. Year 7 students now visit the local history centre and use census materials and street directories. Guided tours of the past have become learning walks, with students exploring the streets and finding things out for themselves.

What was the impact? The students are now: more aware of the physical face of their town and what it can tell them about the past; more confident when working in teams and with outside experts; reaching new heights of enthusiasm and attainment in geography and history.


As Kate Forbes says, the project has opened students’ eyes to the variety of ways you can uncover historical information. ‘They now look at the world around them as something they can learn from. It’s brought a fresh and exciting dimension to their work.’

Want to do something similar with your class?
We have collated a list of activities, organisations and resources for you to use with your students in exploring your local community.

The Engaging Places network
This case study comes from Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Hove, East Sussex, who worked with the Brighton and Hove Museum Service through the Engaging Places network for 2008/09.

The Engaging Places programme is run by CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) and English Heritage. It supports teaching and learning through buildings and places.

The schools involved in 2008/09 followed a process of disciplined innovation using the QCA co-development framework – a rigorous approach to curriculum change.

Read more about the and view the Engaging Places videos.

All Engaging Places 2008/09 network case studies

Street investigation - Ospringe Primary School, key stage 2

A new view on design - Graveney School, key stage 3

Grounds for improvement - Barmby on the Marsh Primary School, key stage 1, 2

A 360-degree journey - Dover Grammar School for Girls, key stage 4, AS level

Tales from the Palace - St John’s CE Primary School, key stage 2

Libraries by design - Thamesview Vocational Centre and Riverview Junior School, key stage 2, C&BE diploma

Resurrecting the past – St Pius X Catholic High School, key stage 3

Groundbreaking geography - The Royal Grammar School, key stage 5

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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