Thanks to everyone who came to our first annual open meeting on Saturday. It was a remarkable turn out on such a hot day when England had a World Cup quarter final to play shortly after we finished. Over half of our new collaborative board were present, which Sandy and I really appreciated.

At the meeting in the Mechanics, I spoke about what we are, how we attained our UNESCO accreditation and why we set up the collaborative board. I paid tribute to our funders and my vice-chair, Victor Semmens, who is also the chair of Bromley House Library, where this project originates, and where we still hold our board meetings. Victor steps down at our next meeting. Our meetings will miss his sage advice, based on voluminous experience. It’s good to know that I can still call on him, though, as a member of the collaborative board.

Sandy gave a wide-ranging, twenty minute presentation on what we’d been doing since she became our director, nearly two years ago. You can download the powerpoint for this presentation here. We then had 45 minutes of questions and discussion. Topic included how we’re funded, whether the new Nottingham Castle project is pushing literature to the sidelines, making better use of literary archives and extending NUCoL’s literacy mission (we are, remember, an educational charity) to prisons, especially young offenders and potential young offenders. It was an excellent first meeting and we hope to repeat it annually, but preferably not when England are playing! Here’s Carol Williams with her perspective as a new Collaborative Board member. David Belbin, Chair, Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature.

On a sweltering summer afternoon (not unusual this year for once), with World Cup fever in the air (England would beat Sweden later that day), a group of people gathered in a room at the Nottingham Mechanics Institute. 7th July was the date, and we were all there to support Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. Called by David Belbin, Chair of NUCOL, who welcomed us to the meeting, this was the first meeting of the Collaborative Board, a chance to find out what has been going on, but equally to have some say in the future.

The meeting was in fact open to the public, so while some of us were on the Collaborative Board, others were also there to support or find out more.

Originally bid for in July 2015, NUCOL was formally set up in September 2016, so will soon be celebrating 2 years of existence. And the amount that has been achieved in that time is mind-boggling, as we saw in the presentation given by Director Sandeep Mahal. The organisation has little direct funding, and with a small but dedicated staff, is particularly good at attracting money from who knows where, and enabling all sorts of literary initiatives to happen in Nottinghamshire. Sandeep’s presentation highlighted the variety and depth of achievement.

To take just a few examples, there is:

  • The Nottingham Young Poet Laureate scheme. Laureate Georgina Wilding recently performed in Lowdham alongside Carol Anne Duffy, Jackie Kay and the like, as well as working with youngsters, writers’ groups, and writing a poem for a certain royal couple visiting the city!
  • Links with other UNESCO Creative Cities: poets travelling from Nottingham to Estonia and Spain are memorable examples
  • The 2019 global gathering of UNESCO City of Literatures to be held jointly in Nottingham and Norwich
  • The annual lecture (this year from Turkish novelist Elif Shafak)
  • A vibrant and ever-changing website and What’s On pages
  • Workshops like Storysmashpoetry festivals, competitions for adults and youngsters, the artist in residence for the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, opportunities for writers like Write Now , a Left Lion takeover….. the list goes on.

It was also rewarding for us volunteers to have such appreciation expressed (myself and John Baird were both at the meeting). That is never the reason for volunteering, but it is certainly good to be recognised. You can find out more of NUCOL’s activities by browsing the website and signing up to the newsletter.

After Sandeep’s presentation, the floor was open, and we saw the range of people who were there to support the organisation. There were some revealing questions, but equally suggestions for which direction NUCOL should go in the future. These covered outreach to children, with the Read On Nottingham Literacy Hub, work with older people, opportunities for local writers, and so on.

The Collaborative Board is part of the City of Literature constitution. The Trustees, a smaller group, are involved in a more hands-on decision-making role. The Board has been set up “to ensure that the organisation remains inclusive of the whole city, to recognise the huge, diverse group of people it is working with and create a conduit for communication with the City of Lit.” to quote David Belbin. It includes representatives of both universities, Nottingham City Council, local writers, booksellers, publishers, librarians, journalists, volunteers, educators, Broadway Cinema…. You can see a full list of members here: https://nottinghamcityoflitera…

A broad, representative group, and one which as a body has strong, if divergent, opinions on the way forward for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. Just what is needed to support but also challenge in a positive way, and make sure that Nottingham makes the most of having such a vibrant organisation in the city.