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Walking in to HS2

IATL Blog & Reports | Leon Sealey-Huggins | Pedagogic Intervention | 12 June 2018

This short piece explores the aims and outcomes of two IATL Pedagogic Interventions awarded for two courses on the Global Sustainable Development programme: a first year course GD107: Global Sustainable Development (GSD) Project, and the second year GD304: Food Systems: Sustainability, Security and Sovereignty module. Both interventions facilitated the embodied learning experiences of students through a walking tour in the first instance, and an interactive theatrical ‘Food Journey’ in the second.


Walking in to HS2 was a one-day intervention involving Ben Waddington, Director of Birmingham’s Still Walking’ Festival, as part of a first year undergraduate module in Global Sustainable Development (GD107: Global Sustainable Development (GSD) Project). The IATL Pedagogic Intervention funding enabled Ben to commission a bespoke sustainability walking tour of the area around Curzon Street in Birmingham where the new HS2 station will be located.

The walking tour accompanied the first-year Global Sustainable Development Mini-Project module. The Mini-Project is a creative research methods module of 80 students taught using the practical case of HS2 rail expansion in the West Midlands. Designed by then Director of Student Experience, David Beck, the course is currently taught by me, Leon Sealey-Huggins, and current Director of Student Experience, Rebecca Stone.

In the module’s first iteration last year, a key learning experience was a fieldtrip to Kenilworth where students were able to get supervised, real-world research experience. This entailed a walking tour of the proposed HS2 line, including through an ancient woodland adjacent to Warwick campus, a meeting with the Mayor of Kenilworth and his staff. For the module’s second incarnation, Rebecca and I decided to shift the location of the fieldtrip to Birmingham, the cite of major development around a HS2 rail station.


The aims of the fieldtrip were to support students in gaining valuable research experience through them conducting survey questionnaire interviews, and undertaking a visual sociology exercise. Following students’ positive feedback on the walk in 2017, commissioning Ben’s involvement seemed like an ideal opportunity. Ben’s interests in combining participatory walking tours with investigations of changes in architecture, and the connections of these to social, environmental and political processes, spoke well to aspects of the aims of the fieldtrip and module.

As Ben described it when we spoke in advance of the fieldtrip:

‘The whole city feels like it is scrambling to get ready for the royal visit that is HS2, with two public squares being torn up, tramlines going down, walk ways sealed off, public art removed and put in storage. Public land being sold off to private companies. There are economic factors at work other than HS2 but I feel it’s part of the same story.’

The walking tour supported other activities on the fieldtrip, including surveying members of the public, and a ‘visual sociology scavenger hunt’. Of particular interest to us was using the walk as an opportunity to help students experience a geographical area directly impacted upon by HS2 by adopting a pedagogical form not very widely deployed in other areas. We hoped that this would help to lead to novel reflections and insights vis-a-vis the various social, economic and environmental sustainability implications of the project.

Director pointing out features in the landscape
Students adjacent to the famous Bullring Bull at the end of the walking tour
Students adjacent to the Bullring in Birmingham
Pointing out an often missed feature of the landscape

The walking tour allowed for an embodied, place-based exploration of the sustainability issues thrown up by the development of HS2’s new Curzon Street station. Ben Waddington’s approach complemented IATL’s Open-space Learning methodology as it took place in the public streets and parks of the Birmingham city centre Curzon Street area. Moreover, the intervention supported the development of students as researchers because the mini project is centred around empowering students’ leadership of their own investigative projects.

While we are yet to receive the formal feedback from students, the anecdotal communications suggest that these intended aims were met.