As part of our Young Voices Amplified project, on 23 February 2024, we invited Year 9 students from three secondary schools in Nottingham to join us for our Authors’ Day at Lakeside Arts, an immersive literary experience. The event was a collaborative effort between Nottingham City of Literature, Lakeside Arts, The University of Nottingham Museum of Archaeology and First Story.

Throughout the day, students engaged in different captivating activities to stimulate their creativity. The session at the Museum of Archaeology encouraged students to handle archaeological artefacts supported by Dr Clare Pickersgill, and gain an insight into ancient civilisations and the mysteries of the past.

Students also visited both the Djanogly Art Gallery and the Angear Visitor Central Gallery, where they immersed themselves in Saad Qureshi’s “Conversations Before the End of Time” and Claude Cahun’s “Beneath this Mask” exhibitions, and engaged with the thought-provoking artworks on display to inspire their writing later on.

Linda Mapfaira, English Teacher and Literacy Coordinator at Nottingham Samworth University Academy, said:

“My favourite part was the museum and the exhibitions because this was the first time some of my students had been to an art gallery or a museum. I just loved their interest and enthusiasm at this first experience. The students were fascinated by the different paintings of ‘the devil’.”

Afterwards, writers Paula Rawsthorne and Ty Moran-Healy delivered creative writing workshops that truly ignited the students’ passion for exploring storytelling and self-expression. Paula and Ty empowered students to relax and use their creativity, guiding them as they explored the power of words and music to express their thoughts and emotions.

Paula said: I’ve been a First Story writer in residence in various schools in Nottingham for over nine years. I’ve seen, first-hand, the positive impact of having writers working in schools with students of all abilities. Just last week, I was told by the Head of Literacy that a particular student’s reading age had rocketed; she attributed this fact to his involvement in the writing workshops. However, it’s not just reading and writing that improve from giving students creative writing opportunities – I witness students’ confidence and self-esteem flourish.  The workshops help them to ‘find their voice’, express themselves and feel part of a writing community. The Authors’ Day provided an opportunity for students to leave the confines of school and the curriculum and think ‘outside the box’ as they explored their creativity stimulated by the exhibitions. This kind of ‘out of school’ opportunity is often energising, fun and can have longer term benefits as students often surprise themselves with their creativity (as witnessed in the quality of writing in the sharing event).”

Both Paula and Ty emphasised the importance of nurturing creativity and self-expression out of the classroom. They spoke passionately about the power of storytelling and the role it plays in empowering young minds, fostering empathy, and building confidence.

Ty said: Many of the children I teach tend to relate to me as a sort of representative of bridging of the gap and so I can make creative writing relatable which feels like that’s what the young minds tend to latch onto. It’s important to make art, history, etc relevant to the now as attention spans appear shorter and the future is advancing at a rapid rate. It’s up to us as creatives to offer different opportunities to keep the children engaged.”

The day ended with a final sharing: a collective poem written by students, read by Ty, and some students reading the work they produced throughout the day. When asked about their favourite part of the day, Paula said it was: “listening to the music with the lyrics the students produced with Ty and the poignant, witty pieces read by students from my prose workshops”.

Similarly, Ty added: My personal favourite part of the day was by far the end performance part; I was really happy to see the children feel confident enough to get in front of all their peers and not only recite the brand new pieces of work but also want to have a go at hosting and introducing their classmates. It was interesting because they only had a few hours to write and memorise their work and I guess the fact they enjoyed the day, by the end they were all amped up to show off what they created. It was definitely a successful day.”

After a day full of creativity and inspiration, students left with newfound ideas and confidence. It was a day many of them will never forget and a demonstration of the power of words and literary experiences.