From January to April 2024, creative workshops took place at six local libraries: Bilborough, Dales Centre, Radford-Lenton, The Meadows, Southglade Park and St Ann’s Valley. Through this project, six incredible writers helped facilitate a space for the community to come together to speak, and listen to one another create.

You can view the whole anthology here: Our City Our Stories

Alongside the local writers, students from Nottingham Trent University’s Creative Writing course joined to shadow the process and learn more about collaborative creation within the community. 

These students were asked to write a piece about their experiences working on the project, and this is what they had to say:

Dales Centre Library

When I started university, I was excited about the endless variety of opportunities that would be opened up for me, and could hardly wait to explore them. One particularly rewarding instance happened recently, when I woke to discover, from one of my tutors, that Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature was opening a project called ‘Our City Our Stories’ and wanted NTU Creative Writing students to shadow a writer throughout the process. With excitement drilling into my fingers, I straight away typed an expression of interest and sent it over as soon as I could. 

I was fortunate to participate in this project, and to find myself working with Sonya Hundal. Sonya was exceptionally welcoming and fun to work with, and I enjoyed watching her lead the workshops and helping her in any way I could.

Six squares of coloured paper (in gradients of yellow to pink or pink to blue) are laid out in two rows of three. Every square features a child's drawing of a family member surrounded by pink hearts. The drawings read 'Big Brother', 'Sister and Me', 'Little Brother', 'Mum and Dad', 'Uncle' and 'Chachy'.

Created as part of the Dales Centre workshops.

Throughout these workshops, in Dales Centre Library, we tried a variety of activities with different groups of people, such as picking from a box full of random items and getting the participants to write freely about them. We also tried drawing around our hands on a piece of paper and talking about our likes, dislikes, memories, happy or sad thoughts, and then put it into a piece of writing, and all sorts of other creative activities that were accessible for anyone. We worked with people from all different backgrounds and ages and were gifted with extremely talented, willing and brave people. Some participants had not initially thought themselves as keen writers, but they gave everything a go and exceeded our expectations when reading out their creative pieces.

Overall, being a part in this project helped me to see why writing is, or could be, so important for people. Writing can help you to express your thoughts creatively, and can inspire others. It can also be fun! I hope to have further opportunities to work with a variety of people creatively again.

by Leah Jackson, shadowing writer Sonya Hundal

Bilborough Library

As a student on the Creative Writing MA at NTU, I value every opportunity to grow my skills and gain real-world experience. If I’m honest, I am still not clear where my career with words will take me. I do know that sharing my love of writing is likely to be part of it.

The Our City, Our Stories project appealed to me on a number of levels. I am not from Nottingham, but I have made it my home for over a decade. I have worked here. My children were born here. I found the writer in me here. I am also currently exploring my childhood in a military family as part of my dissertation, how moving around shaped my childhood and my adult view of the world. I am shaping my story in poetry, so the “telling a story” element resonated strongly with me.

The author I was shadowing, Peter, couldn’t have been more welcoming. We had been in contact prior to the start of the project and discussed the plan for the day and how I could help. Still, I arrived at the library full of curiosity. Who was going to turn up? Would anyone turn up? Would I be helpful? Imposter syndrome is a vexatious bedfellow, and I was determined to shake it off. I reminded myself that I had been offered this opportunity because I had valid skills to bring. 

On the first day, we had several participants. Some had come because they were curious. Others had stumbled in almost accidentally because they had friends crafting in the room next door. Like me, no one knew quite what to expect. We welcomed them all. Over the sessions, the number of people attending varied, although two ladies attended every session, and it was wonderful to see the work they produced, given their doubts at the start.  What became apparent initially was reticence – not reluctance to write, or share, but fear of the unknown. Peter was encouraging and gentle and welcoming, and reassured everyone there were alternatives available if they didn’t want to write. His warm-up exercises were fun and had us creating journeys on paper with wool and chalk.  I was able to bring to bear the full force of a skill developed through years of nursing— having a good old natter.

A person is sat down at a table which has a blackboard with coloured writing on it. They are writing on a white worksheet titled 'Bilborough Story Poetry Wheel', which features a circle split into eight sections, each with writing in them.

Photo by Libra Season Films

I was surprised and heartened at the honesty of the group. Some had never written a story before. Others felt held back by fear of spelling mistakes or their handwriting ability. All were quickly reassured that these were things we could overcome, and the group quickly began to get involved in the activities. Over the weeks, those who came regularly shared their work. Poems were written, much to the surprise and delight of the attendees. Stories were told. Some were based on real experiences; others had dragons. Some began at the end; others manifested from random objects. All were listened to and enjoyed.

 My fondest memory, of many fond memories, is from the first day. I worked closely with one lady who wanted to take part in an exercise but didn’t feel confident writing. We worked together and, by the end, she had developed a vivid story that she was proud of. She read it to the group with gusto, embellishing as she went. I felt very emotional to be a part of helping her. In fact, I was very proud to be part of this whole project. Peter was supportive and encouraging to me, too: he involved me in modelling the activities and supporting the writers, and welcomed my feedback, and I felt able to share my observations with the group during the sessions. I have taken away so much about working with a diverse group of individuals to create work I know they are proud of.

by Sarah Smith, shadowing writer Peter Rumney

Thank you to all of the students who took part, and to Rory Waterman and Nottingham Trent University’s Department of English, Linguistics and Philosophy for supporting the students throughout the process.

Read parts 2 and 3 of the student’s experiences!

To find out more about the other workshops, head to our YouTube channel, and listen to each writer recounting their time being part of Our City Our Stories.

Thank you also to Nottingham City Libraries and Arts Council England for supporting the project.