Unabridged version: Teapot Course

The Teapot Course, Norwich


Delivery organisation

Norwich Community Workshop and Norwich Castle Museum, as part of the Skills for Life course.


East of England Development Agency, programme value unknown.

About the project

The Teapot Course was aimed at helping women improve their English language skills and develop relationships between people within the local area. As part of the Skills for Life course, women were invited to paint and decorate teapots. Tea drinking was seen as a familiar and universal activity that could encourage the women to talk and improve their confidence.

The big idea

The project manager was keen to do something to support the museum service to widen the appeal of museums to a broader section of the community, particularly for women who do not speak English as a first language. The project was keen to show that there are different ways of engaging women and their families. The project manager was aware that the museum had a large European collection of teapots. She developed a project around people's experience of tea drinking because, as she says, “no matter what people's experience, everyone drinks tea and this seemed a good basis to start a project”.

Setting up the project

A key aspect of the project was to reach out to people in deprived parts of the community, most of whom had young children who attended the local school.

The project manager negotiated with the school to lead a workshop. The pupils were asked to write or depict on a postcard what their parent or carer meant to them and to draw a portrait. The portraits were framed and put up in an exhibition. The project manager invited the parents and carers so that they could see and collect their children's portrait.

Over 200 parents attended the exhibition. During the showcase, the mothers were invited to write down the sorts of things that they would be interested in doing. The parents suggested that they would be interested in taster classes for the Teapot course but that they would need crèche facilities.

The project held a taster session and a crèche was provided by the museum. The taster sessions were used to encourage the parents to sign up to a 10 week course. The aim of the first session was to explore the museum and participants were asked to design their own tea pot and logo. The teapots were very personal and included things like children's names and people's native language.

An important strand of the project was an element of embedded learning in numeracy and literacy. The project manager subtly included activities that developed numeracy and literacy skills.

The main challenges were demonstrating to other agencies that a project of this kind was worth doing. The other agencies had low expectations of resident engagement having found it difficult to generate good turnout in the past.

Getting people to sign up to the taster session in the first place required intensive investment of time. Many residents were not used to venturing outside of their comfort zone and were reluctant to leave their immediate area. However, once they had signed up to the course they overcame their unease. The project manager ran three courses.

Impact of the project

The women attending came from a range of different nationalities, including Congelese, Russian and Indian. A number of women had not mixed with people from such varied backgrounds. Every session started with a cup of tea and people were asked to bring in tea from their native country. Each week people would bring in different types of food to share.

The first course was attended by everyone who had signed up. During the sessions the women were invited to talk about how they felt about themselves. The creative activities worked well in allowing the women to respond to sensitive subjects. They were more likely to bond with other participants and open up when their attention was focused on a creative activity and what was thought to be a universal pastime: drinking tea. The group was small and intimate enough to feel a sense of trust and to create meaningful relationships. It was small enough for people to remember the names of each others' children.

Most of the women felt that they did not have any creative ability but were able to demonstrate that they had an eye for colour and design. The project manager noted that some of the women have developed confidence and have now gone on to sign up to other courses, and that they often felt a sense of achievement at having produced a tangible object that they could share with their children and wider family.

One of the participants had qualified as a social worker in her native country. She was able to employ her skills with the other women and helped as an interpreter and to facilitate the sessions. This helped her to develop confidence to start volunteering with other projects.

The project was based in the main foyer of the museum. For some women, the use of the space in this way allowed them to feel more comfortable, as well as visible, in the museum.

Norfolk Learning Partnership selected this project as an example of good practice. People in the local area were aware of the success and the project manager was invited to share her thoughts and experiences.

Lessons learned

The engagement strand of the project was a core part of the work and it was important to develop relationships with the local schools and other agencies. The main thrust of the project was to help women improve their literacy and numeracy skills, and both engagement work and the creative activities were needed to attract and sustain interest.

The project manager acted as the single point of contact and this assured the women that they could express any concerns and access more information if needed. The project manager was in contact with the participants over the course of the week, which helped maintain attendance.

The project manager has now created resources, such as a toolkit, so that the project can be replicated.

Top tips to replicate this project in your locality

1. Create interesting ways of engaging with parents: go to where parents meet and congregate such as schools.
2. Ensure that there is one point of contact: be available and contact participants often to reassure them and build confidence and trust in the project.
3. Tap into existing resources: other agencies can offer time, space and expertise that is useful to the project.

Where to next?

To draw the project to a close, the project manager organised an event to showcase the work of the participants and to evaluate the project. To support wider roll-out of the project, the project manager has developed a package of resources.

The project secured family passes for all the participants to allow free visits to museums and galleries in the local area. Several families have used the passes to visit museums in Norwich and beyond, with some families venturing as far as Yarmouth.