This summer the Bluecoat will open a new heritage exhibition The Bluecoat’s Looked After Children, examining the history of the building as a charity school and the unheard voices of the children it housed.
This exhibition brings archival material relating to the school together with contemporary art, including documentation of past Bluecoat exhibitions and performances that have interrogated this history.
The Bluecoat has worked directly with a group of adults with experience of the modern care system, along with creatives, to research some of the individual children identified in the school’s archive. Under the guidance of Liverpool writer Margy McShane the participants have creatively reimagined the lost voices of these children.
The work produced by this adult group will be featured in a new installation commission from interactive design studio Stand + Stare, which will form the centrepiece of the exhibition, and bring to life some of the stories of the children from the Bluecoat’s past.
Liverpool-based dance artist Paula Hampson has collaborated with a second group of participants, young people from Kinship Carers, to further explore the day-to-day life of a nineteenth-century Blue Coat pupil. Kinship Carers are an organisation supporting children looked after by family members and friends.
The Bluecoat building was originally a school, known as the Blue Coat Hospital or simply The Charity School. Founded in 1708, it then occupied larger, purpose-built premises - the current Bluecoat building - dedicated in 1717 to ‘train destitute children in the principles of the Anglican church’.
The Bluecoat was a boarding school for boys and girls, many of whom had been orphaned. The pupils led a harsh life, working in a ‘manufactory’ - making pins, spinning cotton and picking oakum – alongside their lessons. At the age of 14 or 15, many of the boys were apprenticed to merchants for a further seven years, while girls often were employed in domestic service. Some girls stayed on at the school, employed as assistant teachers for younger girls, or as laundry assistants.
After nearly two centuries, the school moved to larger premises in Wavertree, where it continues today, and the Bluecoat building became an arts centre, the UK’s first.
Looked After Children is part of the Bluecoat’s Echoes and Origins project, exploring the eighteenth-century origins of the building through an engagement with local people. The first strand of this project, ‘Colonial Legacies’, involved young people interrogating the contemporary ramifications of the transatlantic slave trade that many Liverpool merchants who funded the school, notably its founder Bryan Blundell and his sons, were involved in.
A Family Day on Sunday 17 July from 11am-4pm will celebrate the opening weekend of the exhibition. This event will feature spoken word performances in the Bluecoat’s garden, craft activities and a special performance from young participants working with dance artist Paula Hampson.
A full programme of events will accompany this exhibition in September. Details will be announced nearer the time on the Bluecoat website.