Immersive theatre adventures for schools
From 2019 to 2022, Imaginate worked with six Edinburgh primary schools in Brunstane, Muirhouse and Wester Hailes, bringing creative and immersive arts experiences for pupils through the Immerse project. The three-year programme aimed to partner with schools to develop creativity and imagination and had a huge impact on the social and emotional well-being of all the children who took part.
The programme included immersive theatre adventures performed in schools, 3 month-long artist residencies, creative projects, and visits to the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival. The programme reached over 5,000 pupils across its duration. The schools served communities facing multiple challenges - on average 77.5% of pupils were from the most deprived areas of Scotland, 34% received free school meals, 58% had additional support needs, and 30% had English as an additional language.
Boosting Wellbeing and Confidence
Evaluation demonstrated the project’s hugely positive influence on participating pupils’ well-being and life skills as evidenced in the Bank of Hope report. The immersive shows elicited awe and excitement from pupils, providing treasured moments of imagination and joy – as one teacher enthused, “It was just this magical thing that made such a difference to all of us” – while for many students, just stepping into a theatre venue was a first-time experience they would never forget.
Artist residencies had wide-ranging benefits on pupils’ confidence and communication abilities. A teacher at St David’s Primary reported improved self-esteem for her class – “The residency really helped my pupils show how special they are – even from another universe they shine.” Artists likewise noted increased confidence among pupils to express themselves and take creative risks. That teacher noticed the residency was "particularly empowering" for a boy who had always struggled to focus. "His approach to work across the board has improved. He now sees his artistic approach as an asset," she explained.
The collaborative nature of the arts activities also helped students learn to work together. A teacher at Craigroyston Primary shared that through the residency, "children came together and worked as a team, developing their collaborative skills”, while one of the pupils said “I’m learning to working with people I’m not really comfortable with... and it’s challenging!”
Lasting Impacts: Skills for Life
The impacts of Immerse went beyond temporary inspiration. Teachers saw increased engagement with lessons and literacy skills continuing long after projects ended. A teacher reflected that Immerse showed her “the importance of getting a good hook to get the pupils interested in the learning.”
Participation in the project gave children transferable skills. For example, it helped pupils build resilience when pushed outside their comfort zones within a safe creative space. A teacher at Canal View primary explained how for one anxious pupil, the residency allowed her to “confidently continue, adapting her dance to cover the mistakes. She was just in the moment, feeling the music and trying out new ideas whilst the class watched. This new-found ability to be flexible, adaptive and confident was wonderful to see.”
Providing Equal Access to Creative Opportunities
The Immerse programme brought invaluable arts exposure to schools serving disadvantaged communities. As one headteacher expressed, “For these children to come in and have a first-hand experience of ‘magic’ was just mind-blowing. They are living tough realities... and at this moment, it was just a magical experience.”
Immerse demonstrated the immense potential of immersive performing arts to captivate young minds. The creativity, collaboration, and self-expression inherent in these activities gave pupils vital skills to navigate life’s challenges. As a teacher summed up the programme's impact: "It provided a 'bank of hope' and showed that although things can be really hard, you shouldn't give up. You keep going and make it work."