The Causeway story is capturing the imagination of local children – and helping them learn about some big ideas, explains The Revd Danie Lindley.

The Causeway is Damn Cheek’s new summer project. It involves schools, colleges and other community organisations, all contributing towards a play centred around the idea of legacy and including audience participation, drama, storytelling, music, laughter and fun.

As part of the whole project, my role is to visit primary schools in the local area and to work with specific year groups on skills of enquiry, listening, developing a questioning mind and understanding their place in the world.

These school visits are an important part of the whole project. We not only want to share with the children some of the history of St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels which set a context for The Causeway. We also want to introduce the young people to the concept of legacy that is central to the play.

We include as much of the surrounding community as possible in the development of the play itself – for example, the pupils themselves produce artwork which will be integral to the design of the play’s performance space. 

As a part of the core team working towards the production, and as a primary school teacher with 25 years full-time experience, I have always been passionate about children having the opportunity and the skills to think for themselves, to ask questions, to wonder, to have experiences beyond the everyday and mundane – and as a result, to want to learn beyond the curriculum. Taking The Causeway into the primary schools has allowed me to fulfil all of these passions.

I spend 2 sessions with the children in each school. In the first session, I begin with the children coming into the space and sitting in a semi-circle so that they can have eye contact with each other all around the room. This is really important, as one of the first things we do is to answer simple questions by looking at each other and noticing body cues – when someone is about to speak, when to not speak over someone.

Then we begin our ‘I wonder’ questions. I hold up a wooden figure, then ask a series of questions all beginning with the words ‘I wonder’.  “I wonder who this is? I wonder why they are important enough for a story?”, and so on. To begin with, the children always struggle with the idea of “I wonder”. But as time goes on, they begin to learn to look at each other while asking and answering the questions. More than one teacher said they would use the technique again with classes – I see that as a bonus!

Then I tell the life story of Cuthbert – one of the key figures in The Causeway story – using very simple props such as stuffed animals, crosses and pieces of fabric which represent land and sea. At the end of this story I pose more  ‘I wonder’ questions: “I wonder what was the most important part of the story? I wonder what felt familiar? I wonder what felt strange? I wonder why we are still telling this story 1,400 years later?”

On the whole, the children are amazing at ‘wondering’. They use their past experiences, their imagination, their thoughts and feelings to explain their wondering. Some can’t help but ask a lot of questions and want me to tell them all the answers, but part of the legacy of these sessions is to develop the ability to enquire and wonder. I often leave children with many of their questions unanswered – so they have to find out more!

I then get out the amazing facsimile of the Lindisfarne Gospels and we spend time exploring it – looking at the language, trying to copy the illuminated lettering, and just being in awe of the book. The children’s response is always something special to experience.

The second session I spend with the children is all about ‘legacy’,  linking this idea to The Causeway production. We trace the journey of Cuthbert’s body from Lindisfarne to Durham, learn facts and information, as well as exploring the concept of pilgrimage, journeying, and forced journeys as opposed to chosen ones.

We also reflect on refugees – Ukraine, Syria and many other places are often named by the children. They understand some of what it means to have to leave all you have ever known – many have contact with refugees in the school, and many children in the sessions are refugees themselves and share their experiences.

I then ask the children what they would leave behind to let someone know who they were – what legacy of their life they would leave. The children often find this concept difficult, and it is wonderful to tease out such ideas about themselves, about their personalities, and about what people might know about them from their ‘legacies’. The children record their thought on postcards which are then used as part of The Causeway production.

I’m delighted to report that these sessions have been really well received by the children and the adults in school. The awe and wonder inspired by the story, the Gospel, and the idea of legacy has received wonderful comments by staff and pupils. They have especially loved the opportunity to handle artefacts that are usually locked away behind glass. One child said, “It was amazing to be able to touch the Gospel.” 

One member of staff thanked us for giving them a once-in-a lifetime opportunity that would stay with her, as well as with the children, for a long while. Another teacher said she felt excited her school had been asked to be a part of project and couldn’t wait to see what we at Damn Cheek did next!

Those are the kind of comments that make our schools visits – and The Causeway project – so worthwhile.

The Causeway runs at Christ Church Felling, Gateshead from 12 to 20 August 2022. Find out more and book tickets.