From January to April 2024, the creative workshops took place at six local libraries: Bilborough, Dales Centre, Radford-Lenton, The Meadows, Southglade Park and St Ann’s Valley. Six incredible writers led these sessions, helping facilitate a space for the community to come together, and to try something new. Many hadn’t done any creative writing before, but this project enabled their stories to come to life. You can view the whole wonderful anthology here.

Alongside the writers, students from Nottingham Trent University’s Creative Writing course joined to shadow the process. In parts one and two, we heard from students shadowing the writers at the Dales Centre Library, Bilborough Library, and Southglade Park Library. 

For this final instalment, the writers at Radford-Lenton Library are in the spotlight: 

Radford-Lenton Library

You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that Nottingham is a city full of university students, and of nightclubs built with those university students at least partially in mind. I’m still quite new here, and that was certainly my general impression of the city before helping out with ‘Our City, Our Stories’.

When I first heard the project outline, it sparked my thoughts. Everyone around me had different thoughts on, and experiences within, Nottingham. 

To my commuting friends, it’s their school, a place full of buses and taxis that are a constant pain.

To my flatmates, it’s a home away from home. 

To all of our parents, it’s the place where we’re getting up to trouble.

I gathered a surface-level understanding that Nottingham would never be the same for everyone. It was in the little things, like noticing how many students were going into my grocery store. We were all entering the same place, walking through the same aisles, looking through the same selection of items. Yet we all ended up going home with different combinations of things.

So, internalising my grocery store metaphor for life, I went into the workshops thinking that I had a good grasp on what I would encounter. 

But I was proven wrong in the best possible way. 

I had forgotten one simple thing, a crime that a lot of us are responsible for committing: that Nottingham has a history.

A group of 15 older adults sit around tables arranged in a 'U' shape. Directly in front of the camera two old men are sitting, leaning towards each other to look at a photo. The man on the left wears a black jumper, the man on the right wears a purple jumper.

Photo by Libra Season Films

When I looked at the pictures blue-tacked on the whiteboard, I found myself surprised to see that the shops and main streets were once totally different – recognisable, but alien. It was a city for a completely different generation, with buildings looking so different yet so familiar. 

It took an hour for this realisation to solidify itself in my head. And I concluded that I would not be teaching here, I’d be learning alongside the other people.

I learned that the library we were working in used to be located near a cigarette factory. The smell of smoke was characteristic of the place, even though it’s something that none of us could fathom now. The concept of smoking was something that took up the worker’s lives as they were each given an allowance of cigarettes to take home for free.

I learned that Ocean, a nightclub known for admitting copious amounts of students in costumes on Wednesday nights, was once a ballroom, home to a host of different celebrations. However, I was also met with the reality that it hadn’t changed as much as I’d expected it to. Many people recounted the times that they danced there, meeting different people and having a good time like their modern-day counterparts.

It all gave me an appreciation for the history of the city. 

More accurately, it gave me an appreciation for the memories that the city has helped to create.

History and the memories that come with it. It’s the thing that makes all writing, when you think about it. It’s the thing that has helped create some of the most inspirational pieces of literature.

An older man is sitting down at a table, he has glasses and is wearing a white and purple striped shirt. He is leaning over a piece of white paper, which he is writing on. He leans towards the camera and the top of his head is visible.

Photo by Libra Season Films

It even inspired me to create more work of my own. I enjoy writing about fantastic worlds. Dragons and magic are the things that I like most, but my memories unlocked something else. 

By looking back, I managed to create some of my most vivid imagery. It was easier than usual to unlock all of the senses because I was there to experience them all – the warm tiles underneath my feet in Spain, the sourness that overcame my senses when I tried biting into a lemon, the sound of my friend and me when we sang along to the radio, the smell of my first attempt at baking cookies.

All of them were the little moments that I enjoyed and moved on from, yet I can describe every aspect of them.

Turn back around and look at what things once were before imagining what they could be. 

Whether you recognise an aspect of their history, or what they mean to you personally, your writing will be made better through the knowledge that things can change, have changed, and will change. 

by Tilly Hollyhead, shadowing writer Paula Rawsthorne

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 2 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.