Up in the trees at the City Hospital’s Hucknall Road end is an amazing place. It’s Nottingham’s Maggie’s cancer centre, a venue that provides practical, social and emotional support for people that have been affected by cancer. Architect Piers Gough’s distinctive green building with its Paul Smith designed interiors provides a safe place to heal mentally and physically, with cancer support specialists on hand.
Maggie’s user Ivory Longley says: “Maggie’s is an emotional embrace that creates that wonderful feeling of not being alone in our cancer journey. The whisper of love, the strength of that gentle emotional hug: it’s a place where I can be the real me.”
Open 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, there’s a busy programme of free activities (most of which are drop in) including relaxation groups, expressive art, and creative writing.
The creative writing group began eight years ago, soon after Maggie’s opened, with Sheelagh Gallagher leading the first group. Their inaugural writer in residence Jo Weston says: “Although everyone in the group has been affected by cancer, the focus is on an interest in reading and writing.”
The current writers in residence Bridget Swinden and Sue Byrne explain how the group has helped them. “Maggie’s is my safety net, where I can go for continuing support from staff and other centre users in the same situation, to deal with the physical and mental effects of having cancer, which have lasted long after the treatment ended,” says Bridget. Sue adds: “Overcoming the death of my husband has been the biggest challenge of my life. The creative writing group has helped to process that grief and opened up an interest in poetry which I may not have developed without Maggie’s.”
Members of the writing group find it beneficial to share their work and receive supportive feedback. It’s not only a safe place to read work aloud, it’s the ideal environment to express emotions around cancer.
The writing group has also welcomed along many local authors and poets with Mark Barry, Paula Rawsthorne, Beth Moran, Jane Armstrong, Cathy Le Surf, Anne Goodwin, Helen Cross, John Baird and Shreya Sen-Handley among those who had led a group session. The group also embarked on a literary tour of Nottingham.
On arriving at Maggie’s you might notice poems displayed on the walls, or a basket of scrolls on the kitchen table each with a piece of prose or poetry written on it. There is also a library with a selection of books picked for their relevance to the centre’s users, including two collections of writing produced by the group. These are Between The Lines – published in 2015 and launched at Bromley House – a book of poems, short stories, memoirs and letters; and Missing Pieces published 2017 and launched at Waterstones. As you might expect, these collections include experiences of cancer and how it affects how the world is subsequently seen. The books are both entertaining and thought-provoking.
The current tutor of the creative writing group is Clare Stevens who took over in 2015. Clare is a former journalist (Nottingham Post group) and government spin-doctor. After passing her MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University, Clare has seen the publication of her debut novel Blue Tide Rising. Clare used the book as a basis for her dissertation. It explores mental health issues using an otherworldly narrative thread. With both an urban and rural setting (including some Nottingham scenes) it skilfully handles dark themes.
Maggie’s creative writing group meet fortnightly on Fridays 1.30pm-3.30pm. If you’ve been affected by cancer then think about going along. It can be useful to put feelings and experiences onto paper, in an environment in which hopes, fears and joys are cheered and comforted.
Maggie’s Magic Moments, a poem by Ivory Longley
With friends around to hold me,
With a softness made of need,
You wipe away the tear drops,
And grow a loving seed.
On my path you hold me steady,
Holding hands so very tight,
You guide me through the darkness,
To a warm and shining light.
I see the love you offer,
As I stumble on my way,
Your words so soft with kindness,
That brightens up my day.
I see you as a fountain,
Spreading love and care,
We feel the warmth around us,
Just knowing you are there.