First Story, a charity seeking to nurture the development of young people’s creative writing particularly in areas of deprivation and disadvantage, are behind the UK’s first National Writing Day which takes place on June 21. Joe Melia found out more about First Story’s work and what’s in store for Bristol on National Writing Day from Ellie Watson, the charity’s South West Regional Programme Officer.
What are the main aims of First Story?
Our mission is changing lives through writing. We are a national charity dedicated to reducing the vital gaps in literacy, learning and attainment via creative writing. We believe that there is dignity and power in every young person’s story.
We place talented, professional writers in secondary schools serving low-income communities. First Story works alongside teachers and students to inspire new approaches towards literacy whilst fostering their creativity and communication skills.
By helping students find their voices through fun, intensive programmes with acclaimed writers, First Story raises aspirations and gives students the skills and confidence to achieve them.
What is your role at First Story?
I am the Regional Programme Officer for the South West. I oversee the smooth running of our programmes including liaising with our partner schools and writers-in-residence, organising events and working alongside partner organisations across the region. It’s truly a privilege to witness young people finding their creative voices through writing and see their confidence build. I’m really excited about reading the forthcoming published anthologies of their work.
Which Bristol schools have been involved in the project?
This academic year we are working with Fairfield High School, Orchard School, Bridge Learning Campus and John Cabot Academy in Bristol, as well as Hans Price Academy in Weston-super-Mare. Other local schools also took part in our Regional Writing Event at the University of Bristol, which was a day of creative writing workshops for young people and a final showcase where they read their work to a large audience in the majestic surrounds of Wills Memorial Building.
How receptive have the schools and the Bristol writing community been to the project?
Schools in the South West have been really receptive to working with First Story, and we have had a lot of interest from eligible schools who work with disadvantaged communities.
Probably they can say better than I can what kind of impact the programme has had – lead teacher Jenny Patterson, who worked with acclaimed local author Sanjida O’Connell at Fairfield High School in Bristol as their writer-in-residence this year, shared with us her experience of taking part in the First Story programme:
‘I can’t recommend the programme highly enough or the benefit it has been to pupils. Giving students the chance to work in a group with an author for 16 weeks has been amazing. It is great in terms of improving their understanding of prose and poetry, but more so, it is in cultural capital I feel they have gained. They have had the chance to work alongside, question and query a local author as well as being invited to Sanjida’s book launch in the holidays. They have spoken about emotions and memories, pasts and futures and have been given festival and course opportunities as well as creating something tangible- their beautiful anthology, soon to be published! There is also the chance to have whole school activities- we had a writing competition as well as entries to design the book cover which will now be printed. It has been my favourite part of my week this year.’
We are really fortunate in Bristol to have a really strong writing community who have been enormously supportive of our work. Year on year our students, writers and teachers report that we have a huge positive impact on writing skills, confidence and self-belief. We say ‘First Story changes lives through writing’ because this is what our students tell us time and again – that their lives have been transformed for the better through the First Story programme.
Will the anthologies of the students’ work be available for the general public to buy?
Yes – our anthologies are available to buy through the First Story website, and will also be available to buy on Amazon in the future.
What’s the idea behind National Writing Day?
National Writing Day is the first ever day devoted to creative writing. We want the country to feel that writing is fun, and that writing is for everyone. We want people to feel that their stories are worth telling. We know that children who enjoy writing are more likely to write above the level expected for their age. Writing creatively can help adults feel more mindful and build self-esteem. For all of us, nothing beats the feeling of finding the words to say what you want to say.
National Writing Day is a collaborative initiative, coordinated by charity First Story. Partners across the UK have come together to celebrate having fun with words, including a wide variety of partners in Bristol and across the South West. There are ideas and tips to get people started, free writing resources for teachers, and details of national and regional talks, workshops, and events, plus research showing why writing matters on www.nationalwritingday.org.uk
What can we look forward to in Bristol on the day?
We want everyone in Bristol to be a writer for the day! In schools, workplaces, at home, we want people to get writing and share what they come up with online, using the tags #NationalWritingDay #TellYourStory. Whether you explore the view from your window, try a six-word story, play a game of writing consequences, we want to see your words!
At 7pm on the day, Arnolfini will host authors Jonathan Coe and Nikesh Shukla in conversation on why writing matters, with a chance for the audience to get writing too. It’s free but you need to register your place. See more details at: https://www.nationalwritingday.org.uk/events/national-writing-day-jonathan-coe-conversation-nikesh-shukla/
Are there plans for more First Story projects and activities in Bristol in the future?
Yes, we have a limited number of residencies still available for South West schools for the 2017-18 academic year, including week-long, term-long and year-long programmes, and we plan to work here for many years to come. We would love to hear from schools who are interested in having a First Story writer-in-residence.
In addition to our work in schools, we will also continue to run events to raise participation in creative writing through National Writing Day and other avenues, and our partners including Paper Nations, University of Bristol, Cheltenham Festivals, Arkbound, Arvon, Bristol Festival of Literature and more have a host of other opportunities available to get people writing.
Our partner schools will be invited to attend the First Story Young Writers’ Festival: A day of workshops, showcases and Q&A sessions for up to 1,000 young people at the Universities of Oxford and Hull, all delivered by award-winning writers. We’ll also be welcoming young people from across the country to participate in our National Writing Competition later this year – watch this space for more information!
For more information on National Writing Day activities and events please visit: https://www.nationalwritingday.org.uk/events/regions/south-west/