Studio 12 collaborated with the Literacy Pirates and designed an interactive stage set for their performances in Stratford, London; an imaginative immersive environment for the children to dream and explore their creative and literacy potential.

Studio 12 considers design as a means for cultural and social change; a device that reveals potential and has the power to communicate ideas, empower communities, trigger imagination and participation and potentially transform lives for the better. In the context of this project, the stage set was purposefully designed as an interactive device. The children of the audience are not passive listeners; their body movement makes the stage set come alive. Stretched fabrics on carefully designed mobile structures transform the audience’s movement into a magical visual game that contributes to the performance and bodily transports the audience into the sea adventures the storyteller is narrating. Oversized rolls of paper, with video art projections form part of the stage set and is inviting the audience to roll, draw, write their version of the story. The audience’s bodily presence and movement through fabric waves, projected sea creatures, sounds of the sea created an immersive experience.

Studio 12 designers are all graduates of the University of East London MA in Interior Design, led by Dr Anastasia Karandinou. This project was designed during their studies with UEL, and was open to the audience of the Literacy Pirates for the performances held on the 18th - 22nd of March 2019, in the UEL CASS building in Stratford.

The Literacy Pirates (formerly Hackney Pirates) initiative is an after-school learning programme, and aims at helping children develop their imagination, reading and writing skills. They welcome children referred by local schools, and offer them an engaging experience that enhances not only their reading and writing skills, but also their imagination, confidence and participation.

The design project of the stage set, as well as the video art, was done by the following group of MA Interior Design students, who formed Studio 12: Dina Husam Jameel Al-Qusous, Birce Gural, Felicia Ivanciuc, Parisa Oreizi, Yuvraj Singh Panwar, Ishita Pathak, Sophie Savvidou, Lasata Shrestha, Esra Tekagac, Garima Thakkar, Sahar Youssef, Fatima Zahra Hadj, led by the course leader, Dr Anastasia Karandinou. The sound design was done by Lalvin; the music by Lalvin and remixed extracts from Night Owl by Broke for Free.

The project was supported by UEL’s Civic Engagement team. Special thanks to: Jude Williams, Director of the Literacy Pirates, Anthony Mensah, Aaron Piper, from The Literacy Pirates (formerly Hackney Pirates), to Gail May, Aisha Labefo-Audu, Joanne Molyneux, Natalie Freeman, from the UEL Civic Engagement team, to Francesca Zanatta from the UEL Department of Early Childhood and Education, to Carl Callaghan, Head of Architecture UEL, and Alan Chandler, leading Research in Architecture UEL. Many thanks also to: Clare Qualmann, Liselle Terret, Gordon Kerr, Lavinia Mihoc, UEL. The Studio 12 Interior Design team received the UEL Platinum Civic Engagement and Volunteering award for their work on this community engagement project.

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Jude Williams, the chief executive of the Hackney Pirates, said, “An interest in education and the potential of children and adults is what has brought us together. We all care about young people’s success and it is important to help them explore the creative side of writing and feel energised about their own creativity. By working in partnership with UEL we have been able to achieve the creation of an immersive environment in which children can be creative. The partnership has brought children, students, volunteers and staff together to give the children a chance to really love their writing and feel proud about it.”

Gail May, director for civic engagement at UEL, said: “The feedback from children, their teachers and volunteers working on the project has been incredibly positive, with children developing their skills and getting their first experience of UEL. The project was complex because of the number of teams and people who pledged their time and skills to make it happen. Overall the project demonstrates how UEL students, staff and the voluntary sector can work together to make an impact in our local communities.”

Dr Anastasia Karandinou, UEL MA Interior Design Course leader, said: “This cross-disciplinary design project was an excellent opportunity to discuss with our students the role of the designer in empowering communities, releasing creativity and bringing people together through a creative and meaningful mission.”