One of the artworks produced by the children in care.

Two of the University’s Fine Art students have worked with foster children from across England and Ireland to create artwork celebrating National Care Day 2021.

Second-year undergraduates Connor Green and Emma Davis designed and ran online workshops with the children, organised through national child care provider, Five Rivers, to inspire them to produce art around the theme of ‘love’.

The children’s work – including a mosaic created from more than 250 hand-drawn portraits – was then exhibited on the University campus through projection onto the walls of its buildings. This innovative event has, in turn, now been used to create a short film that was released for NCD2021.

“Emma and Connor are ambitious fine art students and have demonstrated their passion and creativity for working with young people and a strong desire to contribute to the community through their art practices,” 

said Laura Rosser, Lecturer on the BA (Hons) Fine Art degree. 

“And working with Five Rivers has provided them with not only valuable life skills and interdisciplinary career experiences, but it has been an excellent opportunity to support and inspire young people.”

As part of the second year of their degree, Conor and Emma had the opportunity to undertake a professional placement or residency, to develop their understanding of the career options available to them. With both of them interested in careers in arts education, they took advantage of a new collaboration with Five Rivers Child Care.

Having undertaken some training with the social enterprise in November, Emma designed a series of workshops around the theme of its National Care Day – ‘Love’, which was chosen by the children in Five Rivers’ care. The duo then delivered them online to the children and young people, aged 9-16, and based as far afield as Ireland, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Manchester, as well as here in Devon and Cornwall. They then took the artwork produced and mastered it into a form that could be projected, with Connor also creating a special hand cart to hold the projector itself.

“I have to say that the abilities of the students, working directly with children and young people, exceeded all my expectations,” 

said Olivia Doherty, National Participation and Engagement Officer at Five Rivers. 

“They were supportive, encouraging and sensitive. They were able to apply the theme of ‘Love’ beautifully to the work, and their flexibility and availability could not be faulted. Their initiative and ability to overcome challenges was great – they met all deadlines – and we are proud to have created this collaboration with the University of Plymouth.”

The feedback from the young people has been very positive, with carers at Five Rivers noting increased confidence and positivity among many of those who took part. For example, one student said: 

“My favourite part was working with the artists and having fun getting to meet new people.”

And another student, added: 

“It was good fun, I've never done something like that before; I don't usually use paints so that was cool to try something new. And it was fun meeting all the other young people from around the country.”

The University joins hundreds of other partners, including local authorities and NHS Trusts, to have collaborated with Five Rivers in its 30-plus year history. The organisation provides therapeutic children's services with clinical, education provision alongside its residential homes and fostering families. It operates from 22 locations around England, and specialises in helping children who have been neglected or abused, subject to trauma, or in need of specialist mental wellbeing help.

One of the National Care Day pictures projected on campus during a special exhibition of foster children artwork
The artwork was created by children in foster care across the country
The artwork by the foster children was inspired by the theme of 'Love' and was assisted by Fine Art students at the University
The exhibition was projected onto campus buildings to mark National Care Day
Projecting pictures onto campus buildings, created by foster children
The theme of this year's NCD was 'love'