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These children’s drawings are lighting up their communities for Christmas

From Scotland to Soho, children are designing Christmas lights at the heart of their communities.

The Big Issue Christmas cover isn’t the only festive tradition to feature artistic child prodigies. In Scotland and in London the skies are lit up with artwork created by local schoolchildren.

In Newburgh, Fife, Christmas gets started early. As soon as the school term begins after Easter, local schoolchildren enter a competition to design a Christmas light for the town’s display – a tradition which has been running since 2002.

Last year, financial difficulties and school closures due to Covid meant that the town wasn’t able to put up a new light – and considered not running the display at all. But when local Poppy McKenzie Smith’s tweets about the display went viral, the crowdfunding page was inundated with donations.

This year, to make up for lost time, two designs were chosen: a rainbow drawn by Lois Murray, aged 11, to commemorate the NHS during the pandemic, and a fairy-light-clad dinosaur drawn by Arlo Nicol, aged 6. The display is once again being supported by a crowdfunding campaign.

Inspired by the Newburgh lights, architect Antonio Capelao asked children from Soho Parish School in London to design a light to represent what the festive period means to them.

Supported by Hannah Peaty, art lead at Soho Parish School, and Joao Rocha of Storm Flowers London, Capelao hosted two Zoom workshops for the school. Three winners from each year group – 21 designs in total – were chosen for the display.

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The children helped to curate the installation, but only got to see the winning designs when the lights were switched on by the Mayor of Westminster on November 8.

“Everybody was cheering, really happy and clapping, it was really exciting. They couldn’t believe them,” said Capelao, who has already been asked to run the workshops again next year, when a few more lights will be added. “That’s a sign of how well received it was.”

Capelao regularly runs workshops in schools and emphasised the importance of engaging children in the design process.

“In this country we have one of the most sophisticated design and creative industries in the world. It’s a really big business for the UK,” he said. “So I think engaging kids with conversations about design from a young age gives them a better option of understanding what’s out there in terms of choosing future careers.”

“I’m hoping that they can find solutions to problems by a project learning approach to education, and therefore have the opportunity to be more creative in what they do, and how they learn,” he added.

The school’s headteacher, Louise Ritchie, said: “We’re delighted to be taking part in this innovative project. The children are so excited to see their art in lights, and we hope their contributions will illuminate the school’s place at the heart of the community.”

Next winter, Capelao hopes to run a simultaneous project in New York, and in time to run an exchange of displays between the two locations – showing the London students’ work in New York and vice versa.

Shona Gray, from Newburgh, said: “I just think it’s amazing. A little town like Newburgh has inspired other people to do the same as what we’ve done over so many years.”

Visitors to the Soho display can download a map of the lights and see the children’s original designs here.

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