Lecturer has rare glimpse into private archive of Muppets’ legendary creator

L-R Karen Falk (Head Archivist), Andrea Wright, Susie Tofte (Archivist). In the background The Fraggles.

An Edge Hill lecturer has had a rare glimpse into the private archive of The Muppets’ legendary creator Jim Henson to carry out new research.

Andrea Wright, a Senior Lecturer in Film Studies, spent a week delving into the unique and largely undiscovered archive to research Henson’s connection to fairy tales.

With permission from Henson’s family through the Jim Henson Company Archive, Andrea travelled to Long Island City, New York, and was granted access to the collection.

Situated on the fourth floor of an inconspicuous office block, Andrea was able to see first-hand famous characters such as the Count and Elmo from Sesame Street. Andrea said:

“It was amazing to see such a large and varied archive, passing famous puppets, eyeballs and props to look at sketch books, photos, storyboards and letters. The head archivist Karen Falk and the Henson family have been very supportive and I was able to meet Jim’s daughter, Cheryl Henson (President of the Jim Henson Foundation).

“Despite Jim Henson’s evident influence on the screen fairy tale there is little academic work on his contribution to the genre. Henson was one of only a few innovators in the production of fairy tale film and television but has often been overlooked because of the dominance of Disney. There has been little done to cement Henson’s place as one of, if not the, most important fairy tale visionaries of the late 20th century.”

Andrea’s research will focus on Henson’s fairy tales, concentrating on those made during his lifetime and also his legacy and continued impact on the genre. She added:

“Henson’s early work in the 1950/60s was very experimental and avant garde. Right from the start of his career, fairy tales and folklore clearly influenced his work and he created pilot television programmes as well as special adaptions of classic fairy tales such as ‘Hey, Cinderella!’ in 1969 featuring the Muppets. In this Henson uses Kermit the Frog as a traditional storyteller figure and continues this in The Muppet Musicians of Breman’ in 1972.

“Perhaps his most well-known association with the genre is through his work in the 1980s with Labyrinth, which mixed fantasy with fairy tale and The Storyteller television series. The series brought traditional storytelling to audiences, retelling often obscure European folk tales using a combination of actors, puppets and innovative visual effects.

“I’m excited to have begun the project and I also have plans to interview Lisa Henson (current CEO of the Jim Henson Company) who helped her father develop The Storyteller series. I’m grateful to everyone who has helped me so far including the Paley Centre for Media whom I visited while in New York to see their extensive media archives.”


Edge Hill University named University of the Year for Student Retention

Edge Hill University has been named University of the Year for Student Retention by The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018.

The Guide praises the University for its work enabling a wide range of students to successfully complete their courses, and for its low dropout rate.

Alastair McCall, editor of The Sunday Times Good University Guide, said:

“The University is firmly establishing itself among the top post-1992 universities after a rise of 14 places in three years. It has invested more than £250m in its 160-acre campus at Ormskirk, which has helped the university to reach the top three for its facilities and campus environment in the Times Higher Education magazine’s 2016 survey.

It’s easy to see students through to the end of their degree when you play safe with your admissions policy, much less so when you take your social responsibility seriously….The dropout rate is considerably below the expected level.

An award-winning finance support package rewards achievement as well as encouraging students to complete their studies, rather than simply offering incentives for enrolling. This is just one of the measures that made Edge Hill the stand out candidate this year for our University of the Year for Student Retention award.”

Over many years Edge Hill has worked hard to widen participation and attract students from non-traditional backgrounds into higher education such as those from disadvantaged areas and minority groups.

The University strives to retain as many students as possibly through a range of measures including its popular Student Opportunity Fund which offers financial support to students to take part in activities which enhance employability and develop their transferable skills.

John Cater, Vice-Chancellor of Edge Hill University, said:

“The University is delighted to receive such a prestigious award from two global newspapers.  It recognises that we have further improved our student retention rates significantly over the past few years, meaning that a student who comes to Edge Hill to study is statistically-significantly more likely to stay at University, graduate and find their place in the labour market.  We will continue to work hard to ensure that our increasingly impressive track record is both sustained and developed in the years ahead.”

Location, location, location

Liverpool’s waterfront – one of the city’s many great film locations

Finding the perfect location is a vital part of making a film, as Television Production Management student Eleanor Fox found during a work placement with the Liverpool Film Office (LFO), which was made possible by the newly-launched Student Opportunity Fund.

As well as learning how to manage the LFO’s database of locations, crews and projects, Eleanor also got a taste of dealing with new projects submitted and how to resolve any problems filmmakers might have, including space, permissions and even parking and catering.

She said: “It was so interesting to see how the LFO works and I tried to soak all of the information up!

“This experience was very important for my future employment as it gave me information about how projects start up and get made, as well as all the things you need to think about when selecting a location, and this enabled me to identify areas that I was particularly interested in for future careers. It also gave me invaluable references for the future.”

Jacqui Rafferty, Production Coordinator at Liverpool Film Office, added:

“Eleanor’s request arrived in our inbox, among many others, and in just a few lines it was her character, clear understanding of what she wanted, as well as her enthusiasm, which really shone through in her email and impressed us immensely.

Having Eleanor in the office for two weeks over the summer proved a massive help in the day to day running of such a busy time at the Liverpool Film Office. We will be keeping in touch and watching with excitement as Eleanor progresses in the film and TV world once she finishes her studies.”

The Student Opportunity Fund provides financial support to enable students to access career-enhancing projects or activities. It was a lifeline for Eleanor as she was at home in Nottingham for half of the placement and needed to travel to Liverpool and stay locally.

“The SOF helped immensely with all of the accommodation and travel costs,” said Eleanor, “so that I could comfortably get to the office every day and didn’t need to worry about the cost of this amazing experience.”



Dedicated student is changing the lives of children

Volunteering with vulnerable children who have lost their loved ones is providing Chelsea Watters with the skills she’ll need for her future career.

Second year Psychology student Chelsea, who dreams of becoming a Forensic Psychologist, volunteers with Liverpool-based charity Our Lost Love Years (OLLY) several times a week, all made possible by the Student Opportunity Fund which is covering all of her travel costs.

Chelsea found out about the charity on the Edge Hill careers website when looking for extracurricular work experience.

OLLY provides children and young people who have lost loved ones through acts of violence, and children from communities across Merseyside, with support and a range of activities designed to help have fun again and make friends following their traumatic experiences. At the moment they have around 60 children using their services.

Chelsea takes the children on trips, such as to the cinema or bowling, and spends time with them doing other activities including arts and design, music and dance, team building and drama workshops.

“My tutor told us about the Student Opportunity Fund in one of our essential skills sessions,” said Chelsea. “I have really benefitted from the Fund as it has allowed me to do something which I love, and it has given me the opportunity to gain experience for when it comes to doing a Masters in Forensic Psychology in the future.

“There are so many great people at OLLY – the staff are amazing as are the clients – and I’ve learnt lots of new skills. It has been an amazing experience and I’ll continue to volunteer with them throughout my second year.”

New research explores links between probiotics and gut function during a marathon

Trials conducted at Edge Hill University may ultimately determine whether using probiotic supplements can improve the nutritional intake of athletes during marathon running.

The study is part of an ongoing collaboration between Edge Hill and the internationally renowned Sports Nutrition Research Group at Liverpool John Moores University. Edge Hill’s Dr Andy Sparks, who facilitated the University’s partnership with the group, is leading on the project alongside LJMU researchers Jamie Pugh and Professor Graeme Close.

Dr Sparks said: “Running just one marathon, or in fact any prolonged running bouts can damage the permeability of your gut. There’s some evidence that ingesting probiotics may improve general wellbeing but more importantly gut function. We are trying to determine if this can reduce the damage during running, because that might lead to increased fuel intake, which could prove very useful indeed for runners.”

The trial took the form of a track marathon, which saw a broad cross-section of runners take to Edge Hill University’s international competition standard running track for the 105-lap race, which was funded by Aliment Nutrition, and supported by Science in Sport and Contest Sports Network Ltd.

The 26 athletes who took part underwent a 28 day supplementation period. Half of the athletes took a probiotic and the other half were given a placebo. The athletes then consumed a standardised breakfast before the race started. The 18-strong research team took blood and muscle samples before and after the race to test metabolic function and stress.

Dr Sparks said: “We look forward to analysing the results of the blood and muscle samples, so that we can determine the effects of the probiotic supplement and hopefully move on to further stages of this novel applied research. We hope to show that using probiotics can limit gut damage caused by running and therefore have a positive effect on running performance.”

Academic works with leading charity to raise the profile of sexual abuse in sport

An academic from Edge Hill University has collaborated with a national charity to develop training to raise awareness of child abuse within sport.

Dr Mike Hartill, Reader in the Sociology of Sport and part of the current FA inquiry into non-recent allegations of sex abuse in football, has teamed up with the National Working Group on Child Sexual Exploitation (NWG) to develop a one day course designed to provide a greater comprehension into the issue of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in sport.

The CPD accredited course, which draws upon Mike’s research with ‘survivors’ of CSE in sport, will explain why and how child protection in sport has developed since the 1990s, including developments in policy that have been put in place to safeguard children. It is aimed at anyone working in sport who wants to broaden their understanding of CSE in sport but will also be of benefit to those with responsibility for children and young people’s welfare in other sectors.

Mike has arranged for a member of the NWG to visit Edge Hill in November to speak to students about CSE in sport and discuss the opportunities of working in this field.

The NWG is a charitable organisation formed as a UK network of over 14,000 practitioners who distribute information to professionals working on the issue of CSE within the UK.

The training course will take place on Wednesday 11th October at the NWG in Derby. Find out more here.

Friends and collaborators of Gil Scott-Heron unite for tribute gig

Malik & The OG’s perform at Liverpool’s St George’s Hall.

A tribute to one of the most iconic musical figures of the 21st century, Gil-Scott Heron (1949-2011), will take place at Edge Hill’s Arts Centre on 4 November 2017.

Known as a ‘The Godfather of Rap’ a ‘Bluesologist’ and jazz poet, a musician, author and teacher, Gil’s lyrical content concerning social and political issues, connected to the hearts of millions of people – both in America and abroad. He has authored several books and his recordings have received much critical acclaim, especially the composition The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

This showcase will feature friends and musical collaborators of Gil himself, including Washington D.C based pianist Kim Jordon who toured for 30 years with Gil and remembers him through his magnificent repertoire. Kim features on many of Gil’s albums, including Spirits, Tales of the Amnesia Express and Gil’s last album I’m New Here. Kim is joined by fellow Amnesia Express members, Rod Youngs on drums and Ebo Shakoor on flute and percussion, as well as an ensemble drawn from fellow Scott-Heron protégé Malik Al Nasir’s band – Malik & The O.G’s. Liverpool poet Malik Al Nasir, is joined by Canadian songstress Rita Carter for this unique tribute.

The showcase is the brainchild of Malik Al Nasir along with Cathy Butterworth, Arts Centre Manager at Edge Hill, who was inspired to contact Malik after programming two days of events remembering Gil Scott-Heron with artist Alan Dunn, which will take place in October, also art the Arts Centre.

Malik Al Nasir said: “Gil educated me and so many others. The difference for me between success and failure was education. That’s why we’ve teamed up with The Arts Centre at Edge Hill University to bring this showcase to the UK and we’ll be doing a series of workshops with the students there whilst we’re here and I’ll also be lecturing at Cambridge University during the Cambridge Jazz Festival.”

Cathy Butterworth, Arts Manager at Edge Hill University said: “It’s a real privilege to be working with artist, writer and producer Malik Al Nasir to bring this amazing music event to The Arts Centre. To have musicians and artists of this calibre and stature not only playing live at our venue, but also working with students to create an original new track is fantastic and is firmly in the spirit of Gil Scott Heron’s work and philosophy. This is a real highlight in our autumn season.”

The Revolution Will Be Live! Kim Jordan Plays Gil Scott-Heron plus Malik & The O.G’s Ft. Rita Carter is debuting as a showcase in the UK for a series of exclusive 1-night only performances, alongside a series of other events. Find out more here.

To book tickets click here

Historic train journeys recreated in 3D for first time

Historic UK train journeys from iconic locomotives are being recreated for the first time in 3D thanks to Edge Hill University.

A team of academics and students, working alongside volunteers from local primary schools and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Society, have plotted the routes of locomotives as they were around 100 years ago using Bradshaw’s 1906 railway timetable, travelling across the country through current and long forgotten stations.

Initially focussing on lines across Liverpool, Lancashire and Yorkshire, the project will be rolled out creating the possibility of virtual journeys across the UK’s entire train network.

Professor Mark Anderson, Director of the Research Centre for Data and Complex Systems at Edge Hill, who is leading the programme with Honorary Research Fellow Brian Farrimond, said:

“This is really exciting as it has never been done before.

“Our 3D parametric modelling programme allows us to use the power of 3D graphics to bring our industrial heritage to life. By using Bradshaw’s timetables we’re able to visualise heritage railways operating as they did in their heyday.

“The computer software can be used by children and adults with very little tuition to create complex, dynamic models and visualisations.

“Using these timetables, alongside original documents and photographs, we’re able to accurately recreate locomotives, stations and scenery such as bridges and buildings.”

He added: “We’ve also used old engineering plans to bring legendary trains such as the Aspinall 0-6-0 and the Atlantic Highflyer to life, alongside models of engines that were planned but never built including the Flamme.

“This computer programme allows us to create whatever we want, buildings, scenarios, objects including things which never existed or just made it to the planning stage.

“We can take these locomotives apart visually and view them from different angles and perspectives allowing users to view the journey from unique perspectives.”

The University will now create an online 3D parametric modelling community environment to enable schools and volunteers to showcase their work and collaborate online.

This online platform will help volunteers link up sections of railway track creating virtual journeys across the UK.

This latest programme builds on the success of earlier versions of the 3D modelling tool launched including ChurchBuilder, software to create tours and video of churches; ThingBuilder, to build animated models of ships, coaches and wagons and ScenarioBuilder to create and visualise scenarios such as paddle steamers on the River Mersey in 1909.

Anyone who would like to volunteer should email brian.farrimond@edgehill.ac.uk

University accommodation wins another top national award

Edge Hill University has won yet another coveted accommodation award being crowned the Best Value for Money Student Accommodation in the UK.

Record numbers of home and international students, over 34,000, voted in this year’s National Student Housing Survey Awards 2017.

As well as scooping the top spot Edge Hill was also named in the top three universities for the overall Best Student Accommodation.

The award comes in the wake of Edge Hill being named the Best Accommodation at the Whatuni Student Choice Awards.

Kate McAdam, Edge Hill’s Head of Accommodation Services, said:

“We’re delighted our accommodation has won another top award. This award is particularly special as it’s voted for by students, there are no nominations and no expert judges.

“Our halls of residence are at the heart of our vibrant campus community providing a safe environment for students to live, study and socialise.

“We strive to provide the best accommodation in terms of facilities and design at the best possible price for our students so it’s fantastic they’ve recognised this commitment.”

The National Student Housing Survey Awards run by Red Brick Research and University Business has been running since 2008.