Came to Coventry

A SCAN conference of 6th formers entitled 'Sustainable-6th' was held in the National Museum at Cardiff in June 1999 to discuss ways in which school to school networking could help with practical work in geography. One of the practical objectives of this meeting was to find themes linking communities from which joint projects could develop which highlighted similarities and differences in the process of urban regeneration.

Two of the our groups came up with the themes of 'Came to Coventry' and 'We Picked Pottery' which emerged from a tour of the museum's art collections.

'Came to Coventry' emerged from a study of the museum's examples of the work of Graham Sutherland where the images were those destruction of the urban environment by bombing.

Questions were asked about the extent to which the loss of historical references to Coventry's built environment had affected the 'sense of place' of its young people.

'We Picked Pottery' was our response to the museums large collection of ceramic tableware and the lack of any reference to the socio-economic system which had created the 'socially-sterile' cased objects. This led us quickly to the communities of 'The Potteries'. It was felt that it would be illuminating to compare and contrast the communities of Stoke on Trent and Cardiff Bay, both of which both sprang up as a response to the exploitation of coal energy on green fields. Coal is no longer a reason for the Bay community to exist, but people are still buying North Staffordshire tableware.

We produced the following outline to stimulate networking between students in Cardiff and Coventry. It is particularly relevant in that Coventry has adopted, and developed the SCAN appraisal system as an integral part of its 'Spirit of Coventry' project; a celebration of the millennium. Our compare and contrast themes are:- 'cycles of consumerism', and 'spiritual notions of place'. The file is a development of ideas generated at the first Cardiff Sustainable 6th conference held at the Bishop of Llandaff High School in 1997.

John Case & Sarah Johns: Cardiff Sustainable 6th 1999


1 'Came to Coventry': A Role for Historical Appraisal

2 A Time Line Based on the Development of Trade

3 Civics and Sustainability

4 The Curriculum Context

5 The 'Children's Agenda 21

1 'Came to Coventry'

A Cultural/Economic Time Line


Natural resources and settlement


Feudal sustainability


Commercial pastoralism

Cradles of consumerism

Cultures of manufacturing


Passing of the bow

Machines for saving time

Systems of mass-production

Machines for war

Systems of mass destruction


Promoting cross-cultural unification

Planning for sustainable development


2 A General Time Line Based on the Development of Trade

Stage 1 Ethnoecology

Stage 2 Regional sustainability

Stage 3 Commercial ecomenes

Stage 4 Cradles of consumerism

Stage 5 Cultures of manufacturing

Stage 6 Fire and metals

Stage 7 Machines for saving time

Stage 8 Systems of mass production

Stage 9 Machines for war

Stage 10 Systems of mass destruction

Stage 11 Cross-cultural economies

Stage 12 Planning for sustainability

3 Civics and Sustainability

3.1 Places as 'monuments' and 'magnets'

All human groups consciously change their environments. Environment may initially shape the range of choices available to a people at a given moment, but then culture reshapes environment in responding to those choices. The reshaped environment presents a new set of possibilities for cultural reproduction. Inevitably this will involve the selection of successful cultural variations. A new cycle of changes begins in this way. The historical flow of cultures may be analysed in terms of changes not only in their social relations, but in their environmental ones as well. The latter are expressed in the structural alterations they make in their social space.

The study of the structural relations of cultures is usually best done at the local level, where they become most visible. The choice of a small region has one crucial problem: how do we locate its boundaries? Our world capitalist system has brought virtually all cultures into trade and market relations which lie well beyond the boundaries of their local ecosystems. In this important sense, distant places and their inhabitants gradually become part of another people's environment. Faced with these nebulous environmental boundaries two kinds of educational metaphors are used to teach ideas about place:-

3.2 'Came to Coventry'

For more than a thousand years, cultures have succeeded one another in a space of about 100 ha in the centre of modern Coventry. This particular phenomenon was expressed by John Thomas in his guide to Coventry Cathedral as follows:-

The compression and blending of past times that has occurred at Coventry is the process by which people attach property in land to a marketplace, and then accumulate its value in a society which recognises abstract wealth. It was this basic economic process that committed the citizens of Coventry to an expanding economy that transformed this small patch of land. This process began with the destruction of a few hectares of oak forests to form the Saxon settlement of 'Cova's Tree'. Since then, it has witnessed the endless accumulation of capital in secular and religious buildings (Fig 1). Paradoxically, some of this wealth has kept alive the notion that there are in fact two ways to be rich, because our wants may be easily satisfied either by producing much or desiring little. Our government in its plans for sustainable development and biodiversity has said the time is rapidly approaching when the world will have to chose the second quality of life for survival.

Fig 1 The 'Coventry spiritual locus'

The promotion of education for sustainability may be traced back to the Rio environment summit in 1992. 'Came to Coventry' is an educational project to draw out the notions about nature and consumerism which this small piece of land exemplifies. The aim is to rethink the assumptions behind humankind's fateful dilemma with which we enter a new millennium; either we pursue economic growth and ecological collapse, or we seek ecological sustainability and economic stability. Children have chosen six issues relevant to this problem and presented them in a 'children's agenda 21'. The aim of 'Came to Coventry' is for local children to gather information from the lives of people who have become connected with the area defined in Fig 1 and who have expressed their feelings in its structures, or who may have some deep thoughts just by passing through as visitors. These are the simple questions to be put to people and their structures: where did they come from?; why?; and what is their message for the future? The objective is to present cultural systems for the next millennium which apply the children's Agenda 21 for assessing the goodness of any future economic development, anywhere on our planet.

3.3 A Focus for Values Education

Local authorities are now tasked by central government with consulting children and families about their ideas for a sustainable neighbourhood. This is the context of SCAN, the schools in communities Agenda 21 network. SCAN helps teachers communicate good practice in the national curriculum, whereby the community served by their school is able to participate in the Local Agenda 21. SCAN's surveys fall within the subjects of geography and science, and deal with factual neighbourhood appraisals of quality of life and biodiversity. Implementing plans to improve things usually requires pupils entering the more difficult cross-curricular area of 'values education'. Education for sustainability requires a platform to debate the notional values which are needed to set objectives and promote missions for making choices between alternative lifestyles.

Regarding new objectives and missions for Coventry, John Thomas regarded the cathedral as a starting point for establishing new notional frameworks for future cultures.

As far as the new relationships themselves are concerned, the following statement by Andrew McLoughlin urges an agenda for discussion.

3.4 The 'economies and cultures' time-line

As we look towards the 21st century, time past is inevitably compressed into a scale that emphasises the material and financial systems of history and their underlying processes of economics, politics, culture and social hierarchy. Population growth is the other clock, which may have determined everything else. These scales are more useful as routes to the future than the annual blow by blow accounts of temporal and spiritual strife. They chart the economic steps by which production has steadily increased, and whereby we have reached the environmental problems, issues and challenges that now have to be resolved as a matter of human survival.

The vital factor which initiated a move from the closed regional economies of survival settlements was agricultural surplus at the village level, which involved towns in the large-scale redistribution of surpluses. The European population clock started to tick noticeably through the wave of progress in agricultural techniques which began in the 11th century with the improved design of the plough, triennial crop rotation, and the open field system for stock farming. Towns spelled money, the essential ingredient of the commercial revolution. The crucial move to open national economies involved a shift from a domestic to a market economy when townspeople began to look to wealth beyond their immediate horizons.

The steady rise in production has taken our generation into a global economy where people, money, goods, and services are circulating in a world market with its all-invading, mingling together of cultures, currencies and commodities. This economic system is set against governments intent on maintaining, or creating, clearly distinguished national blocs. Above all there is the imperative of sustainable development, which requires new attitudes towards 'consumption' and 'waste'.

Division and strife are still with us, different, but no less intense. The chasm between rich and poor, the gap between races, and all the problems of an increasingly rootless society, these now have a place in history. The socio-economic issues they raise are signposts of needs to reinforce old value systems of religion and home, or to replace them with notions to curb our extravagant use of nature, and strengthen social relationships in family and community. It is in this spirit that the following 12 topics have been assembled to provide a material and economic time-scale to chart the progress of individual cultures from closed regional economies, through open national economies, to the present global economy. They are being applied to the history of Coventry as a 'scaffold' for schools to add their contributions to make a computer Help File, and stimulate involvement of young people in the city's future plans for sustainable development and biodiversity. The file would be available to all SCAN schools as an exemplar for education for sustainability.

4 The Curriculum Context

For students who would like to develop the 'Children's Agenda 21' as a cross-curricular resource for studying sustainable development, both locally and globally, yet operate within the main-stream subjects to give the in-depth context, their main points of contact with programmes of study, attainment targets and level descriptions, are as follows.

History Key Stage 2

Geography Key Stage 1

Geography Key Stage 2

Science Key Stages 1 and 2

Information technology Key Stages 1 and 2

5 The 'Children's Agenda 21': A Practical Focus for Education in Civics and Sustainability

In 1994 a children's edition of Agenda 21 was published from the input of children from over 100 countries. SCAN was a response of Welsh teachers and students. Basically it says everyone has the power to make, and keep, personal pledges to manage their behaviour in relation to the following 6 issues which the young people felt they could become involved with. This list has been used by several SCAN teachers to focus the national curriculum on the Local Agenda 21, at Key Stages 1 and 2, across the subjects of history, science, geography and IT. ('Rescue Mission Planet Earth' Kingfisher Books 1994)






Communication for action

Coventry pre-War city centre

Coventry post-War re-development

 For a spiritual appraisal of place centred on the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral view the Corixus Project