Jurassic Coast Teaching School Alliance: Beer Quarry Caves INSET Project, May '14

In 2014 the Poetry Society worked with Woodroffe School of the Jurassic Coast Teaching School Alliance to develop a Spring/Summer INSET programme for a total of 12 schools (9 Secondary and 3 Primary) from Dorset's Jurassic Coast area.

The project was set up to empower and inspire teachers with exciting and effective ways of using poetry in the classroom, drawing on the ancient Beer Quarry Caves as inspiration. The Poetry Society brought in experienced poet-educators Mandy Coe and Paul Hyland to develop a range of teaching resources and to lead the INSET workshops, whilst commissioning local poet Greta Stoddard to write a poem as a celebratory legacy for the programme at large. 

Prior to the day Paul and Mandy developed a range of bespoke teaching resources, aimed at different key stages and abilities, ready to workshop them with teachers on the day. On the 2nd May 2014, more than 30 teachers from across the 12 schools gathered for the INSET. The event launched with a plenary session led by Paul and Mandy on the value of poetry in schools and the rich possibilities of using geographic sites as stimulus.This led to a series of intensive workshops culminating with teachers sharing their own poems at the end of the day. 

Over the weeks following the INSET, all participating teachers took their pupils to visit the Beer Quarry Caves to gather inspiration before, returning to the classroom to implement the creative techniques and lesson ideas developed with Paul and Mandy. Through these lessons pupils all created their own poems in response to the caves.

As students wrote their poems poet Greta Stoddard worked on her own poem exploring the caves and their place in local heritage. Greta's poem was a tangible example to all involved of how poetry can come out of workshops like this, and will be part of the celebration of the poems created on the project which will take place at Exeter Cathedral in January 2015. 

To find out more about bespoke INSET sessions from the Poetry Society, please contact us.

Some pictures from the INSET sessions


Feedback from teachers: 

 "I can’t remember the last time I have felt such a buzz of excitement from students about my subject. The Cave project seems to have triggered of a real passion for creative writing... I have had actual goose-bump moments in the lessons following Cave day where I’ve seen people who have struggled all year to engage with imaginative, figurative and descriptive writing, suddenly draw on the experiences of the day and produce"

Andy Brown, Head of Year 8 Woodroffe School

"I came away from the afternoon with lots of ideas for teaching creative writing and poetry. In fact, I have already tried out one of the techniques for writing poetry with my Year 7 group and they were amazed at their own abilities! "  

Teacher, The King's School, Ottery St. Mary, Devon

"They struck the right note between pragmatic approach and encouraging creative thinking. In addition, the course provided a rare and welcome opportunity to share ideas with other teachers on teaching creative writing. Thank you. "

Teacher, Colyton Grammar School, Devon


The Commissioned Poem -  Nothing for Light by Greta Stoddard


Nothing for Light

In 1758 the owner of the Beer stone quarry tried to 'blast' chalk out of the frozen ground above the quarry to make lime. The explosion caused some of the quarry roof to collapse killing 48 men including a boy who had been sent down to warn them.

We all came bawling out of our mothers
into small dark rooms with nothing for light
but a tiny window, a weak fire in the grate.

The dark was what we knew – from when we stepped
into the black dawn, down the moony lane
towards the quarry, into its gaping mouth.

Hey little boy, what you doing here
with your thin little face and your eyes bright and black,
why you stood like a ghost in the lane?

Mid-winter. A hard lid of a winter.
The Axe a sheet of ice. Birds tip-toeing across.
And the earth not giving a thing.

Above the quarry the chalk’s frozen deep
in the ground – like trying to dig metal, they say.
No chalk, no lime – can’t build without lime.

Hey little boy, got something to tell us
about chalk and lime and time passing
and Master grim-faced in the lane?

But down in the quarry we keep cutting the stone,
down in the dark where we’ve nothing for light
but a taper’s thin twist of a tongue.

Down in the dark you could almost believe the sun
had gone out and the earth a hunk of rock
and us here picking and hacking away at it.

Hey little boy – got something to say
about lime and work and money not flowing
and Master pacing the lane?

What does it do to a man’s heart
when all he sees of the sun is the moon?
But this stone can light up a room!

Lights up a quarryman’s lungs too – sows them
with sickness, a bright galaxy of dust.
God’s light, they say, the way it glows.

Run, little boy, with your something to say
about men up top hammering holes
in the ground above the lane

What are they doing up there to the earth,
what does the Master think we’re worth,
’cause we’re here in our hundreds hunched on the scaffold,

crouched in the shadows, pressed to the stone,
axing and sawing with hours to go yet,
soot-smeared, exhausted and freezing with sweat

Come, little boy, with your word to get out
about holes filling up with powder and black
and Master no more in the lane

But none can hear for the clanging din
and none can see ’cause we’ve nothing for light,
we’ve nothing for light, we’ve nothing but –

this bright blinding ringing light – brighter
than any thing – heaven blasting hell
from this place to let us, darkly, in.

Greta Stoddard

A Woodroffe School Commission in collaboration with the Poetry Society © Greta Stoddard 2014.


If you are interested in organsing a similiar project in your school please email us or call on 020 7420 9892

The Poetry Society's wider  Education Programme supports educators, poets young people and their parents and carers. Find our more about our full education programme or email us for more information

"Well-embedded CPD provides much-needed time for tireless teachers to refuel, to share experience and the buzz of enthusiasm. The Jurassic Coast Teaching Schools Alliance is an excellent example of planning and collaboration between a wide range of partner schools. When good teachers light up like this - when they are supported in discovering their own creativity – it's so clear that education is powered, not by tests, but by inspiration and the sheer enjoyment of learning."

Mandy Coe, Poet Educator


"The great thing about using the Quarry Caves, as a stimulus for both CPD and students' creative writing, is that they provide a sensuous, all-embracing experience, together with geology and tangible history; the marks and structures left by Roman, Saxons, Normans, medieval and modern quarrymen give students a handle on industrial history, together with some delightful and scary smugglers, ghouls and bats along the way. Lots of facts and findings with scope for fun and fantasy too. Altogether a fine project."

Paul Hyland, Poet Educator