Newcastle firm's 'Attenborough documentaries' help understanding of child development

Newcastle-based Siren Films has been producing child development films for the last 20 years

Left to right: Wendy McEvoy, Siobhan Weatherstone, Katrina McEvoy, Suzi Robinson
Left to right: Wendy McEvoy, Siobhan Weatherstone, Katrina McEvoy, Suzi Robinson

The films of a little-known Newcastle business - described as David Attenborough-style documentaries with children as the subjects - have been leading international understanding of children’s development for more than 20 years.

Charlotte Square-based Siren films have become renowned within their industry as suppliers of films for the study of child development - selling to nurseries, schools, universities, parents and academics, in the UK and Australia, Japan and the US.

The small Newcastle company, which employs four people, has recently won a Gold Award at the Practical Pre School Awards and is now eyeing further growth in the sector.

Wendy McEvoy founded the company in the 1980s after producing a well-received film for Channel 4 charting the development of children who lived in her street.

The former zoology academic turned her research and analytical skills from animals to children and honed Siren’s filmmaking niche in the area of child development.

Her daughter Kat, who is now a director at the firm, said: “My mum was delivering a lecture one day and thought how useful it would be to show the audience a video to demonstrate the process she was trying to get across.

“She held on to the idea and pretty quickly discovered there weren’t many people producing this type of film, and there was a gap in the market.”

Advances in science and media focus on children’s behaviour has developed interest in the development of children, and now Siren not only provide to trainers and academic institutions, but direct to parents.

Ms McEvoy added: “Our films are a very subtle approach. We’re not like the supernanny-type method - to come in and dictate what should be done. Child development practitioners need to use aids, and these films can help people to make the link between theory and practice.”

Siren’s staff travel around the UK to put together their films, which can take up to a year to produce.

Filming children in a non-intrusive way to accurately capture their activities is a challenging exercise, not least due to the legal implications.

Ms McEvoy explained: “A lot of the films in the marketplace simply put a voiceover on some rather stilted footage. Our technique is to really demonstrate the processes at work, so we let the children demonstrate in a totally natural way.

“Sometimes their actions can reaffirm the theory, and sometimes they don’t - but we have to keep it true to life and unorchestrated. We turn up with a view to film a particular process in action, but sometimes that doesn’t happen and we have to go with the flow.”

Last year a study from the Department for Education showed that only half of reception-age children achieved a “good” level of development, and even fewer in the North East. Siren spotted an opportunity to address this with their films, and have since been speaking to the government to establish how their products could be used to address the shortfall.

Wendy McEvoy added: “We are very proud of the films and documentaries we make.

“They are akin to the popular nature programmes we sit and watch on Sunday evenings but our subjects are real children going about their days, learning, experimenting and developing as they go.

“To win a Gold Award for our new film ‘The Power of Physical Play’ is a great achievement and timely given the recent report into how children are being failed in the early years.

“We know that our products work and have great hopes that when more practitioners and parents use them that these UK statistics will increase considerably.”

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