The ESOL programme at the Old Royal Naval College started in 2013 following a special project with two classes at Greenwich Community College. As part of a conservation project in the Painted Hall funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, students responded to the art work and conservation and produced content for an exhibition in the Painted Hall and Woolwich Centre. 


Brave Imagination:  

Young artists’ visions of the Painted Hall


In summer 2017, the Old Royal Naval College invited six young English language learners from Lewisham Southwark College to explore and respond to the symbolism, drama and history illustrated in the Painted Hall. These young people are making new lives in south-east London for many reasons and come from countries all over the world: the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, the Gambia and Peru.

The Old Royal Naval College is committed to making our site relevant to ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) learners and we are proud to present this exhibition. It celebrates the brave imaginations of these young artists, for whom the baroque grandeur of the Painted Hall, its characters and stories have become more familiar and fascinating. 

Our six participants worked with artist Michelle Butcher, who has a decade of experience in art teaching for young ESOL learners and is based in south-east London. Michelle enabled the students, who had no prior experience with art materials and techniques, to relate their stories and aspirations using methods and styles of art inspired by the work of two contemporary artists, Damian Le Bas and Joyce Treasure who have each explored journey and dislocation in their work.

Repositioning, reinterpreting, even repurposing elements from the ceiling’s paintings into new and often surprising arrangements, these young people have drawn upon their experience of leaving their home countries and finding themselves in London.

Making my Mark

In 2015, a class of 16 - 19yr E1 learners at Lewisham and Southwark College took part in a special six week project exploring mark making around the site, from the symbolic art work in the Painted Hall to traditional craft techniques such as stone masonry, to historic examples of graffiti etched into the buildings. The group visited Building Crafts College in Stratford to try stone carving and wood work, and found out about courses and careers. They also worked with a street artist to produce a shared art work about personal and group symbols, now on display at college.

Animation project

In 2014, a class of 16 - 19yr E1 learners at Lewisham and Southwark College explored stories and art work in the Chapel and worked with animators to produce their own animation:

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