Back in 2017 a crucial part of Nottingham’s bid to UNESCO to become a City of Literature was a commitment to improving literacy in Nottingham, especially amongst our young people. Since being awarded the honour, the City of Literature team have been working to deliver on that promise. Just part of this long-term commitment is the ‘My Voice’ project which is specifically aimed at children and young adults and includes the initiatives, ‘Young Ambassadors’, ‘Big City Reads’, ‘My Voice Competition’ and now the ‘Young Voices’ programme. More on their projects here.
I’m one of seven writers and poets working on this latter programme. Some of us are working with teenagers in conjunction with Nottingham and Notts Youth Justice services and others, like me, are working with Year 6s in their school setting.
Over five weekly sessions we want to help pupils build their confidence in writing and expressing themselves. We want them to have a creative output where their voices can be heard and valued and where they can learn about themselves and others using prompts from various stories, poems and songs.
The class size is small so that pupils feel comfortable talking in the group and can have fun experimenting with creative writing without the pressure of being graded, tested or judged.
As a writer of novels for teenagers my author visits are usually in secondary schools, so this is my first experience of primary and I’m delighted to be working with a lovely group of Year 6s at Forest Fields Primary. As part of the programme I’m also mentoring a teacher (who attends the sessions) and I’ll be focusing on her own creative writing, as well as passing on workshops and ideas to use with pupils in the future.
We also want to instil a love of reading, so in our first session the Forest Fields Young Voices Group told each other about their favourite books and their local library.
It was encouraging to discover that some pupils were already writing short stories, poems and song lyrics. We discussed how we all have stories to tell and the group were given notebooks to take home and jot down anything that inspired them as they go about their lives.
For our first workshop we did an exercise entitled ‘I come from’. It seemed a perfect place to start our writing journey as it involves exploring who, what and where has played a significant part in our lives so far. After reading a poem based on this concept, I was impressed that everyone in the group contributed to a conversation discussing family, memories, food, pets, first day of school, our heritage and friends. This workshop, and the poems subsequently created by the pupils, illustrate that not all stories need to be on a grand scale with high drama about life and death situations: It’s often using the minutiae of everyday life that allows us to write stories, poems and lyrics that express ourselves and connect with others.
I was delighted with their poems and that they felt comfortable sharing their work with the group (something many adult writers aren’t brave enough to do). Watching the group encourage each other with applause and smiles said a lot about them as individuals and the bonding nature of writing together. I’m already looking forward to our next session!
Below are the first lines of one of the fabulous poems written by the student group…
‘I come from a busy house, in a crowded neighbourhood where everyone knows each other.’