Over 4 months, local libraries Bilborough, Dales Centre, Radford-Lenton, The Meadows, Southglade Park and St Ann’s Valley hosted workshops that enabled attendees to explore their creativity and tap into a craft that many hadn’t tried before. The pieces of work they created were absolutely brilliant, and have been collated into an anthology which you can view here.

Alongside the writers, students from Nottingham Trent University’s Creative Writing course joined to shadow the process. In part one of this series, we heard from students shadowing the writers at the Dales Centre Library and Bilborough Library. 

This time we’re headed to Southglade Park Library to hear what the experience was like: 

Southglade Park Library

‘Our City Our Stories’ ran across six Nottingham city libraries and opened my eyes to the importance of these institutions.  They are now so much more than the stuffy places I remember from my childhood, filled with old books and enforced silence – they now play a vital role in our communities, accessible and welcoming to all and providing a lot more than just book rental. Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I took up the opportunity to shadow a writer over an eight-week period with writing workshops as part of a project ran by Nottingham City of Literature. I had been paired with Thom Seddon and placed at the Southglade library – and it all sounded very exciting, but I’d never done that sort of thing before. 

Each week, the small working space was crammed with people, some eager some nervous, all willing to listen, learn and write. Each session, we became a more focused community, sharing, and putting words on paper. The children’s sessions were filled with boundless energy and laughter. They threw caution to the wind and wrote with abandon, leaving me in giggles at their imaginative pieces. At the opposite end of the age spectrum, we had an initially reluctant knit and natter group, some of whom were at first convinced they ‘didn’t have a story,’ and that they ‘couldn’t write, dear’, but they proceeded to recount wonderful tales of their past and the history of the city that had laid dormant within them until the workshops. Some even returned each week with pieces they had written many years before and forgotten about, and with renewed confidence they were willing to share them. 

A woman with dark hair and glasses sits sideways in a large wooden chair against a grey background. She is wearing a pink jumper and black leggings.

Laura De Vivo, the shadow writer for Southglade Park Library

I looked forward to seeing their smiles each week, and as the weeks rolled on, they gained confidence and filled the seats around one small table. Their poems were heartfelt, inspiring and amusing. Many tales came filled with good advice that I will carry with me forever, and some made me look at things differently. The whole experience was enriching both for me as a Creative Writing student, and for them as members of the local community, and I was as sad as they were when our sessions came to an end. 

All that remained was the celebration day at the wonderful new City Library, and I waited for it in earnest. I skipped to the city on a light, bright day in June, many weeks after our last session, eager to see the faces I’d missed. I was on my way to meet friends, to celebrate their achievements and rejoice over the project’s success. I felt a sense of personal pride as Amira, a wonderful little girl, made the last-minute decision that she would in fact read one of her pieces on stage in front of a supportive adult audience. Afterwards, she happily told me her technique; close your eyes, take a big breath and pretend no one is there. Sound advice from one so young.

A young girl is sitting down and leaning against a table, writing on a white piece of paper with a black pen. She has dark hair, in a ponytail with a pink scrunchie, and is wearing a white shirt and blue jumper.

Amira in the process of writing – Photo by Libra Season Films

The workshops offered more than an opportunity to put words on paper. They had been an opportunity to come together as a local community, and then also as a wider city community. In a world where our differences are used to pull us apart, it was exciting to affirm that we aren’t all that different really. During the after-show get together, I mingled among our writers, sharing memories of the sessions and drinking tea. Later, we gathered to watch the small film that had been made, all trying to spot ourselves. It left me with a little pang in my heart. We also shared in the disappointment that it was all over. 

For Nottingham City of Literature, the project has been a resounding success, in my opinion. They have instilled a sense of city pride in all of us who took part and sparked much inspiration. We all have a city to be proud of, all have stories that should be told, and our libraries need to be supported: they are valued assets to our communities.

by Laura De Vivo, shadowing writer Thom Seddon

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 1 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.