MakeBelieve Arts philosophy is to reimagine learning...

The Unique Power of Story

At MakeBelieve Arts we believe in the power of story to re-engage children with learning. This is based upon our understanding of the pioneering work of Vivian Gussin Paley, through her storytelling curriculum, and of our experience, since 2002, delivering programmes that incorporate a narrative framework.

Kendal Haven in his book Story Proof discusses how, for over 100,000 years, humans have relied on story structure to communicate key facts, beliefs and attitudes. By gathering evidence from 16 fields of scientific research, Haven draws the conclusion that this has evolutionarily rewired the human brain to automatically think, understand and remember through stories.

At MakeBelieve Arts we have seen first hand the value of narrative to enable children to both problem find and problem solve, to understand and evaluate their experiences from a new perspective and to develop their creativity, imagination and belief in the importance of their own thoughts and fantasies.

Kieran Egan in his book Teaching as Storytelling purports that you can teach anything through story, even mathematics. This was the challenge that drove MakeBelieve Arts to begin developing our narrative mathematics programmes in 2003, and that has influenced the direction of the company exponentially ever since.

By using stories we are able to help children and young people reimagine their world and examine it from another perspective.

This is one of the key qualities that Sir Ken Robinson ascribes as the benefits of a creative education.

The Benefits of Creative Education

Imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value.
— National Advisory Committee on Creativity and Cultural Education led by Sir Ken Robinson in 'All Our Futures; Creativity, Culture & Education', 1998.

MakeBelieve Arts puts this definition into practice through our narrative based programmes that are designed to support children and young people in developing their skills as creative thinkers.

Sir Ken Robinson argues that education has three core purposes...

  • economic – to support children in becoming economically independent, and being able to enter an increasingly complex workplace.
  • cultural – to support children understand where their values have come from and to explore and understand shared values and cultural complexity.
  • personal – to support individuals to perceive the value of their education and to invest them in the process of  their learning.

Life in the 21st Century  is increasingly complex. In a recent IBM survey of the challenges faced within the workplace, 3,000 CEOs identified three key priorities.

  1. Dealing with complexity.
  2. Adapting to a rapidly changing environment.
  3. Thinking creatively and innovatively.

Through creative education MakeBelieve Arts believes that we can fundamentally change the way children engage with learning, allowing them to develop their abilities to deal with an increasingly complex world, to become more adaptable and able to think creatively and innovatively in an environment that is rapidly changing.  A creative education enables children to realise their strengths and achieve their full potential.

The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed, it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardise education but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.
— Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

Promoting an environment of creativity

MakeBelieve Arts believes that promoting an environment of creativity and supporting all children to develop their creative abilities must start at the earliest opportunity, hence our work in the Early Years through our Helicopter Stories curriculum.

We regularly observe children of all ages engaging readily in the numerous creative activities we deliver.

Through our workshops, participants are pushed to think, act and discover in new and imaginative ways. Often this work has the power to surprise and delight teachers, who know their children so well, giving them the opportunity to see their classes working in a new way, taking on different roles and responsibilities under the guidance of MakeBelieve Arts workshop leaders, watching as each child is given their chance to develop as an individual.

It was really useful and lovely to see MakeBelieve Arts actually work with a group of children to demonstrate the whole process. It is refreshing to be able to watch someone else and reflect.
— Nursery Teacher, Tower Hamlets

At MakeBelieve Arts we do our best to ensure that our programmes are designed around the differing learning styles and needs of each individual learner within the classroom.

This approach is influenced by the work of both Howard Gardner through Multiple Intelligences and VAK (Visual, Audio and Kinaesthetic), and Daniel Goleman and his work around Emotional Intelligence. We have also been inspired by the work on multiple intelligences shared by Ian Gilbert, through Essential Motivation in the Classroom.

Michael Rosen is MakeBelieve Arts UK patron and his passion for creativity in children’s education, his belief in the importance of stories and poetry in all our lives, alongside his entertaining and poignant BLOG PAGE is the reason he has become a key influence in the work of the company.

In 2008 MakeBelieve Arts made a commitment to becoming a Restorative Approaches company because we believe that in order for children to learn effectively they need to be housed in safe, caring and considerate environments where we address challenging and harmful behaviour in a restorative manner.

Having received training from Belinda Hopkins of Transforming Conflict we began the process of incorporating a restorative approach into all aspects of our work. This means that we believe that the people best placed to resolve a conflict are the people directly involved in the situation. As a company this is an undertaking to listen to each other and to the children and young people we work with, and to believe in the ability of these children and young people to take responsibility for their choices.

Since 2011 we have become passionate about incorporating digital technology and social media into many aspects of our work, believing that where story is the tool that children use to make sense of the world, technology is the tool they use to connect to the world.

As a result of this, MakeBelieve Arts has set up a multi-blog site enabling young people struggling to engage with literacy to post their creative writing on a global platform. It is also there to support our other on-going funded programmes.

Our Work is Underpinned by a range of Educational Philosophies

Some of our key influences are:

Vivian Gussin Paley
Author: The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter,  You Can’t Say You Can’t Play, and numerous other publications and keynotes about her Storytelling and Story Acting curriculum.
Patron to MakeBelieve Arts.

Sir Ken Robinson            
Renowned educationalist, chair of the 1988 National Advisory Committee on Creativity and Cultural Education that produced the All Our Futures report.
Author: Out of Our Minds and The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Kendal Haven                
Author: Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story.     

Kieran Egan                   
Author: Teaching as Storytelling, Primary Understanding, and many other publications about the power of story in children's learning.

Ian Gilbert                
Founder of Independent Thinking Ltd, one of the UK’s leading providers of people, knowledge, ideas and inspiration to help make a genuine and lasting difference to education.
Author: Essential Motivation in the Classroom, and Why Do I Need a Teacher When I've Got Google amongst other publication

Michael Rosen
Author: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Don’t put mustard in the Custard, and numerous other publications for children and adults. He was also Children’s Laureate in 2007 – 2009.
Patron to MakeBelieve Arts

Belinda Hopkins
Founder of Transforming Conflict, an organisation that is pioneering the application of restorative principles in school settings.
Author: Just Schools amongst numerous other publications.

Howard Gardner
Author: Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice.  

Daniel Goleman
Author: Emotional Intelligence; Why it can matter more than IQ.

Research and Training

There is a growing body of evaluation of our programmes, either in-house, or as part of M.A/PhD research or via independent consultants brought in to analyse our efficacy.

We have completed our largest analysis of the methods and impact of our work undertaken by the Open University and supported by The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Over an 8 month period The OUresearched the impact of our Foundation Stage and Early Years programme,  Helicopter Stories: Letting Imagination Fly.

As MakeBelieve Arts develops and learns so do our Creative Associates, the pool of freelance practitioners who work alongside us to deliver many of our creative programmes.

All our Creative Associates are introduced to the principals of Multiple Intelligence and trained in Restorative Approaches, and in this way, everyone we send into the classroom has experienced the same philosophical ethos that underpins our approach. Investing in this team is a vital aspect of our work, ensuring that the quality of our programmes is maintained and that the relationships we have with everyone we employ is recognised and valued.

Creative Associates also have the opportunity to delve further into various educational philosophies via our in-house educational library and access one off training programmes offered by visiting or in-house educational consultants.


Over the past 15 years we have worked with approximately:
18,000 children aged under 5
102,000 children aged under 11
13,000 secondary aged children
26,000 teachers
11,000 parents and adults
10,000 schools

But we are as concerned with the depth of engagement as we are with the quantity of children we have reached.  Through our involvement in our previous home borough of Lewisham and into Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Greenwich and now our new base in Wiltshire, the age span of our programmes we have been able to take many young people on a creative journey through their school careers, re-connecting with them through various programmes at differing stages of their development.

Also by placing an importance on INSET teacher training, and by publishing aspects of our process, we ensure that we support sustainability in all areas of our work.

We believe MakeBelieve Arts truly makes a difference in the lives of the children and young people we come across. Our work has been recognised in a number of ways, from funders to awards to individual recognition of company members.



Over the years MakeBelieve Arts has received recognition from various funders including:

Arts Council England: who support for our Autumn 2012 First Theatre tour, Giant Tours and our Spring 2014, First Theatre tour of Journey to the Centre of the Brain.

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation: commissioned a robust evaluation by the Open University of our Helicopter Stories: Letting Imagination Fly based on the Storytelling and Story Acting curriculum of Vivian Gussin Paley. This evaluated the impact of this work on children and adults who are engaged with it, and explored how the model could be further improved and made more sustainable in schools and settings.

The Wellcome Trust: supported a new approach to incorporating story as a way to teach the human biology aspect of the science curriculum to children aged 7- 10. This resulted in an evaluation, by Professor Daniel Davies of Bath Spar University, of the potential of this story to embed knowledge of the names and functions of various internal organs in children’s minds.

Paul Hamlyn Foundation: have funded a three year secondary transition programme - Times of Transition, connecting three secondary schools from Lewisham, Kent and Essex in a series of creative workshops, peer mentoring and blogging / digital media approaches.

The Ironmongers' Foundation: To develop our use of technology within our literature alive programme, specifically with the creation of our boys blog site. This has been very successful with boys demonstrating commitment to blogging and a drive to write and share their stories, videos and podcasts outside of school hours, in their own time. In addition to this boys are consistently showing on average, rises of 2 sub levels or more in both reading and writing across just two terms of engagement. They are also supporting us in Kent and Wiltshire.

Individual and Company Recognition

Between 2007 – 2010 Artistic Director Trisha Lee received national recognition on the strength of the business model of MakeBelieve Arts by being invited to become a Cabinet Office appointed Social Enterprise Ambassador. In November 2010 Trisha was invited to 10 Downing Street and had the honour of speaking to the then prime minster Gordon Brown. Trisha's book 'Princesses, Dragons and Helicopter Stories' published in 2015 was shortlisted by UKLA for the Academic Book Of The Year.

In 2010 MakeBelieve Arts were shortlisted for:
The Enterprise Achiever Award at the Lewisham Business Awards.
The Everyday Impact Award – Long term Enterprise at the Directory of Social Change awards.

In 2013 we were shortlisted for:
The Early Years Award at the Children & Young People Now Awards.

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