I have been offering work experience to Kingston College students for 2 years now, and I have to say I surprised myself with just how much I enjoyed it. I normally stop working with children when they turn 5. At a push, I'll work with them until they're 7, but if there is any chance they could be growing body hair I'm normally running a mile.
Yet working with the students of Kingston College has opened my eyes to a whole new world, and it turns out quite a fulfilling one.
One of the groups I work with is the DT students, headed up by the amazing Clare Frost and Gary Scholes, both artists in their own right. We started working together last year when I needed a house for my theatre show, The Three Little Christmas Pigs. To be fair, I'd already stolen the house I needed off my 5 year old daughter, but the students need work experience to complete their course, and it never hurts to have a pretty house on stage! They came up with designs for how it could function way beyond anything I could have done myself, and then made props and painted cloths which meant that the look for the show was way beyond my initial expectations. And I had a ball. The students were fab, and Clare and Gary and now firmly in my Instagram favourites!
We started to talk about the Christmas Crocodile at around the same time as Pigs, when I jokingly said 'I'll need a full size plane for my set next year' and Gary replied 'I can build you one of them.' He wasn't joking. He then showed me a full size tank that he had created and exhibited and it was impressive. He literally could build me a plane.
But the plane needed to be a Sopwith Camel, the most successful fighter during WW1 which was designed and built right here in Kingston.
Cue David Hassard.
David is part of a large community made up of Kingston's aviation workers. The factories are gone, but the people and their stories still remain here in the town. Although David never worked in the Kingston factories, his career was in aviation and his passion for flight had continued into tracking down the stories and technical details of Kingston Aviation history, and he also heads up The Kingston Centenary Project. He and his team send out a weekly newsletter as it would have been sent to the workers at the Sopwith Factory 100 years ago. It's an amazing read, and you can find out more on their website https://www.kingstonaviation.org/
David volunteered his time in exchange for a donation to the Kingston Centenary Project, and spoke to the DT students about the history of the factory, and the technical aspects of plane manufacture 100 years ago. I had pre-warned him that they were teenagers and may not listen - I was so wrong. They listened, asked questions and generally did us all proud. We then gave them more materials to review and set them about the task of furthering their knowledge with research into how the Sopwith Camel was made.
After a time, they designed and built the aircraft which we went on to use as the set for our show. But the interest for this project spread further than those immediately involved. Images of the Sopwith Camel being built generated interest from local schools, and one school even organised a school trip to come and see it! David once again generously volunteered his time to tell the children the story behind the plane, and little bit of aerodynamic theory!
The whole 'building a Sopwith Camel' was inspiring. Show sets normally get thrown away at the end of the run, but this one hasn't been. We're hoping to find a home for the Sopwith Camel, so that the people of Kingston who showed such an interest in it can come and visit it. I'm also hoping I'll get the opportunity to dust it down and get it back on a stage so that even more people can hear the amazing story of Sopwiths, and Kingston's hidden aviation history.
If you can help us to find a home for the Sopwith Camel please do get in touch. We're open to all suggestions!
The Sopwith Camel replica was built as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project to research the story behind The Kingston Crocodile, a toy made at the Sopwith Factory 100 years ago by the munitionettes when the guns fell silent. There are other blogs on this subject, and for more info you can check out the real story on our website by clicking HERE