School Workshops: getting arty with Brenda

Date Posted: 14/06/2013

A school pupil enjoying an art workshop

Brenda Burgess tells us more about her inclusive, highly educational art workshops for all ages and abilities.

I’m lucky enough to have my dream job. Having worked as a professional artist and workshop leader in the Kent area for over 20 years, I developed my arts-based workshops (often clay) after I realised most young people love art almost as much as I do.

Art workshops at Kent Life

At the moment I’m working with two very different sites. Kent Life, near Maidstone, is a farm-themed, child-friendly, relaxed venue with loads to do. They have a wonderful education team run by Claire Geddes and Rachel Hogan.

Brenda BurgessThere would be something for every age here but perhaps it is most suited to school visits for infants and juniors. Here I provide the option of clay-based workshops that are core subject and National Curriculum relevant. 

These sessions are structured so that young artists can achieve a lot in a short time – each taking a piece of well-made sculpture home with them.

The pottery workshops at Kent Life are very popular for school trips, providing an experience that cannot be replicated in the classroom environment.

Key Stage 1 pupils enter the magical world of the mini-beast and discover what the world would look like if they were only two centimetres tall. Children are encouraged to use their imagination to produce their own clay mini-beast to take back home with them.

Key Stage 2 pupils discover the science behind the amazing transformation that turns ‘mud’ into stone. They then make their own coil pot.

The workshops offer plenty of opportunities for cross-curricular activities too. For KS2 school groups, as well as Art, Design and Science, the workshop is linked to History, both topical (using the same techniques as the Romans) and local (where the clay comes from).

School children on stilts at Kent Life attraction

Pictured: children having fun on stilts at the Kent Life attraction where Brenda organises art workshops.

The idea is to really engage with all the pupils I work with, including those with special needs. The workshops help develop motor skills, problem solving, self-expression, sensory development and self-esteem. Children become fully engaged with the process and come away not only with a piece of art to paint at school, consolidating what they have learned, but also a sense of pride and achievement.

Feedback from teachers and pupils alike is overwhelmingly positive. Once schools have experienced the workshops on offer at Kent Life they return year on year, which is the highest praise possible.

The pottery workshops that are on offer through Kent Life are an integral part of the education provision, linking past and present, old and new in a fun and interactive way.

Another site and another option at the Canterbury Tales

I also work at another site with further workshops available at the Canterbury Tales attraction.

This is a very useful place to think about if you are studying Chaucer. A school trip would give students have a tour around The Tales with an audio tour voiced by Bernard Cribbins. I then offer the option of a clay sculpture workshop based around the story of Thomas Becket. This is very suited to senior schools. There is also the option of a costumed guided tour of Canterbury as well. The ever helpful Emily is the education manager here.

I love working with young people and introducing them to clay work. It is has such a positive impact on them both emotionally and educationally. 

Every school visit is different, from little ones who have only just started school to some who are much taller than me. Sometimes we have whole school years of 120 students, sometimes 20 – it is always different and can never ever be boring.

To be allowed to use this brilliant medium to bring a site’s collection to life is a real pleasure. It allows an opening up and deepening of understanding that I hope stays with students and teachers alike.

You can find out more about Brenda’s workshops at

School Travel Organiser's Guide