Future Reactive: children's visions of physical activity

What does being active really mean?

How can we keep active in this mechanised world?

What would an active future look like?

CCI artist Sally Todd worked with scientist Dr Helen Brown from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research and the class of eight and nine year olds from St Philip's Primary School in Cambridge to explore these questions during the spring term of 2015.  The children’s ideas and artwork were used to curate an exhibition in the hospital. They also informed a new Cambridge University Hospitals staff health and wellbeing campaign. The project has continued to have an impact at the school:

Since our last project with you, we now do the daily mile every morning before school and are well on our way to creating more active teaching styles. I’m just back from training to do active maths for example. The project was a great spark for us. We recognised that this was really  important. I’ve worked there 9 years but (the project) really raised the profile of the school and made us take notice. It gave the ideas much more traction. I think we were all quite shocked by what Helen told us and then your work really springboarded us to thinking about other priorities that school should have other than academic ones. Your project really captured everyones interest. We’ve invested in more play equipment too. And really seen more keenness from pupils to take part. The banner has hung in school for everyone to notice and commit on.

The Future Reactive project began with a morning led by Helen to introduce how science can inform some of these key challenges. Sally then returned for 3 further mornings in January and February, inviting the children to develop their own ideas in response to these challenging questions.

Part of our remit at CEDAR is to translate evidence about healthy behaviour into real-world action. This exciting project offers that very opportunity. Dr Esther van Sluijs and I are delighted to be combining art and science to engage and inform the children of St Phillip’s School about ways they, and their families, can stay active.
Dr Helen Brown

Future Reactive brought together a new partnership between Addenbrooke’s Arts, The Cambridge Institute of Public Health and Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination.

The posts below offer an account of some elements of the project. 


Teamwork is the key


The year 4 class from St Philips came with their educators and parents today to see the exhibition drawn from their work throughout this project. It will be on display in Addenbrooke’s Hospital until the end of April and we expect nearly half a million people to pass it.

Jane Ramsay, Chair of Cambridge University Hospitals, welcomed the children as ‘artists and scientists’ explaining that partnerships are the only way we can tackle the big health challenges we face as a society and this partnership is a good example of the small steps we all need to take together.

Carol Brayne, Director of Cambridge Institute of Public Health, talked about teamwork with the children and said:
….(it) is the key to getting things done. With good teamwork, we can improve everyone’s chances of feeling well and being as healthy as we can be, all through our lives.

The Institute of Public Health, where I work, brings experts on health together to look at how our research can make a difference; and I saw that you have made your artwork as a team with Sally and Helen and with each other. You have come up with some wonderful ideas that way. It might have been much harder to get such good artwork done if you were working on your own.

…..I think your art show will help hundreds and hundreds of people who will walk past and have a look because it will tell them that we can all make a difference to our health by getting more active. And, if you are active when you are young, it is likely that you will carry this on as you get older and have more fun being healthier for longer in your life.

One of the jobs that CEDAR does is to use their research to help the city planners and the Government see why people need to be more active. The research helps decide how Cambridge and other cities can be better – with better buses and cycle lanes and all the things that make it easier to get more active. I hope some of the planners will get ideas from your exhibition too.

Maybe, as you get older, you’ll stay interested in health and how to make a difference. I don’t think there are many Year 4 classes who know what epidemiology means, so you have a head start. If you do, come back and talk to us. You could study with us and then you could help make changes that can affect millions of people’s lives.

Carol and Jane posed for the children to do one last active drawing before walking down to the Treatment Centre corridor to see the exhibition.

In twenty years time...


This was our final session with the children in school so, after warming up with active drawing again, we asked the children for their advice on how to inspire people to become more active...both now and in the future.

We will be drawing on their brilliant ideas for the exhibition we are putting together now for the gallery in the hospital. Here's a flavour:

If I’m physically active my body will .....sweat and puff

What happens to our bodies when we don’t move? ....If you don’t be active you will be having a short life

If I was an 'eppy-deee-meee-oll-ogist' I would advise the government to .....stop being bossy, buy more exercise equipment  

The children made up their own acronyms for catchy health slogans:

The morning also offered the children a chance to revisit the active imagined spaces they had drawn on a different scale.

…and to create their own visual signs of advice, both to alert people to their health and to capture the imagination.

It’s just a kitchen


This is just a kitchen. To get your fruit you have to run up and down a ladder. If you want breakfast you have to run and when you’ve done enough the door opens and you can choose. For lunch you have to get up the pole and slide down until the door opens. Dinner you have to do jumping and for drinks you have to cycle really fast….Everywhere you sit down you have to pedal.
Lola and Rebecca

I would go anywhere on this…


I’m going to be an inventor. That’s my life’s dream….. It’s an exercise bike that flies.  When you sit on the seat the propellers come out. To start it off you pedal - that makes it go up. There’s a bag of wake pills to help when you are tired. I don’t know if they exist but I’m going to invent them. The light is really bright so there are goggles and binoculars and there is a cooler as well because you can get very hot. I would go anywhere on this – perhaps to my grandma in Germany.

Active Inventions


(by Sally Todd)  To begin our second session together the children warmed up again by drawing one minute poses of the body in action….

…….followed by the greater challenge of capturing the moving figure in the same time!

The level of alertness and active engagement can be seen in the energy of the drawn lines. We were also thinking about how we use our bodies during the process, moving around the figure to get a different view or crouching to see a new angle and needing to be active as we draw.

The children then thought about how they are active themselves. Many became inventors to address the challenge of too much sitting down and made drawings of newly imagined furniture or machine like equipment to increase human activity throughout the day.

Before you go out you have to....


If you want to watch TV you have to run on a moving carpet. If you want to lie in bed you have to bounce on a trampoline. Before you go out you have to swing on the bars, do karate, fight a viscious dog, then do football and then do acrobatics through lasers.

A gigantic floating mansion


It's a gigantic floating mansion - you have to exercise to get up there. There are non gravity houses so that you float around.

A hotel shaped like a flower


It is a hotel shaped like a flower - maybe a rose or a daffodil - but then I wanted it to be bigger so I've put it in a fruit bowl. The banana is the football pitch and there's loads of stairs with the fun stuff at the top.
Lewis, on his design for a building that would help us be more active

Dynamic Drawing


Get a hula hoop for every different part of your body like a small hula hoop for your wrist and a big hula hoop for your waist and a hula hoop for your ankle and do that for half an hour a day. Kate

I could start convincing my family and friends to come and jump or run or just stop watching more than one hour of TV…..or ban it for sometime. Lola

…help me and my hamster do gymnastics  Natalie

I will design a new invention!!’Ben

(by Sally Todd) We shared together the children’s intentions for being more active during the week and agreed there were many ways to stay fit. Sport featured hugely especially skateboarding, football and running, but the children also suggested making art, lego cities and wrestling rings and thought that: being active is really helpful for your body, because it makes you strong, flexible and healthy and might be able to live longer’.

The challenge, beyond sport, is how we look at our physical movement throughout the day particularly when much of it is spent inside, either at home or school, and with this in mind an offer was made to the children to use drawing, as a physical activity in itself and as a tool for making ideas visible.

We were encouraged by the example of the great artist Matisse who even in old age and infirm, continued to actively pursue his art and ideas from his bed.

We began by setting up dynamic one minute poses to suggest movement, while the children drew the body in ‘motion’.  This encouraged active looking and alertness, and revealed an impressive ability to work with great focus and speed.

We then changed scale and invited the children to become designers of the future by imagining and drawing more active schools or homes for us to be healthy in. Here’s Nathaniel’s intricate and beautiful imaginary place and also how Raqib and Tom described theirs:

It’s to another world you can get to it by zip wire….if you’ve done exercise you get a golden apple or pear, they’re coloured gold, soft and taste like candy but very good for you. The golden goose lays them and when they’re ready you can have them.  Raqib

This is a ball pit and a cat flap to get to it. People have to crouch down to get through – grown ups are too big! Tom

Helen from CEDAR was able to join us and draw alongside the children: 

It was fantastic to see the children enjoying themselves, being creative, and thinking about an active future. I was really inspired to hear their ideas – and will definitely be taking them forward into my own work. At the moment, my team and I are developing programmes to ensure young people live happy, healthy and active lives…and so the perspective of these intelligent and imaginative children is incredibly useful!

Our next session will offer colour as we continue to think together about how to inspire movement and good health.

Can you help me out?


A Future Reactive update

Dr Helen Brown from CEDAR started her session this week explaining that, although she was in the equivalent of year 24 of her schooling as a research fellow, she still needed help.

Helen described some of her work as an epidemiologist to the children and invited them to think about what might impact on their health. Here’s all the information and questions she shared with the children. The main challenge for the session and our work together is because of this: 

The children began to think about where they could be active and who you can be active with. Ideas included an activity school, taking away TVs, a game of dodging and a kids Olympics. Abbie, Kyrah and Keira suggested they could play with their pets.  Sally gave each child a long piece of paper to record a way that they could be more active this week and we’ve gathered up these ‘springy’ sentences to help plan our first creative session next week.