Centre for Creative Media Research > Video Critical

Burley St. Matthias Primary School: Making the video

This group seemed to begin the project with a moderate amount of knowledge about environmental issues, almost none of which, apparently, had been acquired in school. The environment was said to be 'the surroundings, like the trees', and on a bigger scale, 'the world'. The children quickly thought of places where they wanted to film - notably the canal and Burley Park - and were aware that the local factories, although often producing 'not a lot, any more' (Aaron), created pollution - 'Rubbish, different gases which they release into the air' (Sam), 'Carbon monoxide' (Aaron).

The group were able to name many environmental problems, such as pollution from factories, cars, general rubbish, oil tankers, sewage, radioactive waste from Sellafield, and nuclear bombs. Some of them, at least, understood and were able to explain about acid rain, the ozone layer and global warming, and they knew about recycling: glass, plastic bottles, paper, tin cans, clothes, and Aaron knew that polystyrene can't be recycled - 'You can't burn it and it doesn't rot down'.

Phrases such as 'Save the whales' came readily to their lips (with Aaron indulging in an explanation - 'Hunting, greed, slaughter - it's the Japs'). They also named several endangered animals, and were aware that the rainforests were being cut down, with Tom explaining that land was cleared so that animals, being reared for meat, could graze.

These rather abstract concerns were related to the local area, with it being mentioned that the lions by Leeds Town Hall have been eroded by acid rain-like pollution, for example, and that factories were polluting the local canal. Demonstrating some imagination, in the first week it was suggested that we could take a sample from the canal and compare it with tap water - a suitably visual thing to do on the video.

As an abstract 'issue', the environment had only moderately enthused the children. In the second week, however, they had a lot to say on the matter of the local environment of their school, and, to a slightly lesser extent, the surrounding area. They were keen to bring up various matters - which, without prompting, they all seemed to quite correctly think of as environmental - about the school field, pond and gardens, and litter dumped by the school. Agreement that parks with flowers are good things was immediate, and not gender-specific.

The children were enthusiastic about filming in the area, came up with many ideas, and were keen to fit as much into the available time as possible. Concerns which emerged during the production process included the children's awareness of crime in the area, and a drug problem, which they understood to be linked.

When interviewing each other, the interesting question 'Would you live in Burley by choice?' came up, with most of those asked deciding that they probably would. The video project was seen as enjoyable and interesting.

Natalie: Do you enjoy making this video?

Rebecca: Yeah, it's really good fun. You can get some laughs out of it as well.

Aaron said that 'a lot of the good points [about the video project] are walking round looking at things that you'd never notice before'. In common with the other children, he had an awareness of the area 'starting to go downhill [...] My Nana says you could swim in the canal and things like that [years ago], because it wasn't as dirty'. In addition, the economics of environmentalism had not gone unnoticed:

Tom: What would you do to improve the area?

Aaron: First of all I'd clean it up, then -

Tom (interrupting): How, how would you clean it up?

Aaron: If I had the money I'd pay for it cleaning, hiring a lot of people to clean it and getting the streets cleaned properly.

Tom: Where would you get the money from?

Aaron: No, I didn't say I had the money, I said if I had the money...

More than any other, this group repeatedly made clear the view that Leeds City Council had a responsibility to fix almost any local problem. The Council was far from deified, however, as we can perhaps most simply note from one boy's unmailed letter to them, which expresses the concerns in a manner not uncharacteristic of this school's population: 'To Leeds City Council, Do some people cleaning up Burley or you're dead. You better clean up our street or you are dead, sucker'.


This group, a random selection from what was not regarded as 'a good year', seemed to surprise their teachers with the quality of their video work. The more truculent and undisciplined children were still able to contribute something to the project, and showed a concern for their area which avoided easy cynicism. As at Royal Park, although most of the children had been far from committed environmentalists in a general sense, when faced with their local surroundings they became enthused with ideas and complaints, and apparently came to see both good and bad aspects which they had not previously noted or discussed.

The text and images on this site are by David Gauntlett, © 1997, 2004.
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