This year marks 10 years since the launch of the charity First Story, and following another successful Young Writers’ Festival this September we asked First Story to write us a guest blog on their annual Festival and their other events.
“First Story is a literacy charity which brings talented, professional writers into secondary schools serving low-income communities. We run after-school creative writing programmes to foster creativity and communications skills.
Since 2012, First Story has partnered with Give A Book for our annual Young Writers’ Festival. Every year, Give A Book donates up to 1,000 books for us to students for £1 with the aim that every student who attends the Festival goes home with at least one book, often the first book they own themselves.
First organised in 2010, the Young Writers’ Festival is a unique event because the focus is, as the name suggests, on young people’s own creative writing. This year’s Festival took place on September 25th at Cambridge University and marked the launch of our 2018–2019 programme; it brought together 330 students and 40 teachers from 19 schools from London, Yorkshire, Lancashire and the East Midlands for a full day of creative writing.
For a little taste of the work that comes out of the Festival and programme in general, here is a poem written by former First Story student Henna Ravjibhai titled ‘My First Story Experience’, which was read at our Young Writers Festival in 2017:
Walking into the room,
Hands shaking, lips trembling, pen: not writing.
Stuffing biscuits into my face,
Mesmerised by Nick’s magic tricks.
My thoughts were like clockwork
But the cogs didn’t seem to fit.
The words threw onto the page, angry and misplaced
Images of glass cages, infinite boxes and snow globes.
“My Head is a Universe”
My illustrations flowed through my pencil, creating the front page.
Triumphant, I start again!
Walking into the room,
Hands not shaking, lips start moving and pen slowly writing.
More biscuits stuffing in my face
And now waiting for Nick to come… again
My thoughts trickling, leaking onto the page.
Poetry of rollercoasters, gingerbread men and refugees.
“Tide In, Tide Out”
Illustrations scattered like confetti on the page.
Lumb Bank: a factory of ideas.
My imagination: bursting out of the seams.
Hands never shaking, lips constantly moving and pen always writing.
I own the biscuit tin!
But Nick isn’t late
My thoughts already busy with stories and poetry
A young ambassador: a dream
A journey yet to come,
A new chapter about to start
But memories never forgotten.
Mirroring the format of a professional literary festival, the day’s programme included writing workshops, performances and a panel discussion. To kick-off the day, poet Caleb Parkin led the mass-participatory writing activity ‘The Poetry Machine’ to get everyone in the mood for writing.
Students and teachers then broke out into creative writing workshops which were led by an array of acclaimed poets, novelists and playwrights, such as Ben Faccini, Dean Atta, Francesca Beard, Malika Booker and Ross Raisin amongst others.
For the panel discussion, we were delighted to host the award-winning poet and novelist Kei Miller, Trinidadian poet whose first collection was nominated for the 2018 Forward Prize Shivanee Ramlochan, and bestselling author Stephen Kelman. The discussion brought together a range of voices from a variety of cultural backgrounds and the writers highlighted the importance of seeing the world you come from reflected in the books you read and conveyed the powerful message that every story is unique and deserves to be told.
The discussion ended with an audience Q&A, followed by the opportunity for students to purchase writers’ books and have them signed. First Story works in schools where arts engagement is low and in which more than 50% of pupils are considered deprived. We are thrilled to partner with Give A Book for the Young Writers’ Festival and each year they generously donate up to 1,000 books for us to sell for £1 to students with the aim that every student who attends the Festival goes home with at least one book, often the first book they own themselves. For many students attending the Festival, it is their first introduction to creative writing and their first interaction with acclaimed authors. Writing and reading are both vital parts to literacy that are interrelated and First Story’s partnership with Give A Book for the Young Writers’ Festival enables us to address both aspects. Being a strong reader makes you a better writer, and conversely approaching a piece of text as a strong writer, also makes you a better reader. They’re interactive.
Enthused by the day’s performances and workshops, students crowded around the book displays to purchase their books and this year more than 320 books were taken to new homes! Students also queued to have their books signed and took the opportunity to chat to Stephen, Kei and Shivanee and ask insightful questions about their writing process, how they became a writer and find out more about their work.
The Festival was a brilliant celebration of the written and spoken word and the students who attended were incredibly positive about their experience, one student remarked that the festival “taught me that I’m just as good as any other student. Dreams are possible.” By the end of the day, more than 740 pieces of original writing had been produced by students and teachers and 16 students had boldly stepped up to read their new pieces of writing in front of an audience of their peers, a challenge which even the most confident of writers can find daunting.
“I’m still buzzing from the day, it was such a brilliant gathering of positive spirits and extremely talented young people. I feel very lucky to have been part of it.” – Stephen Kelman, headline writer
Over the past ten years, First Story has championed creative writing and its benefits. Writing is a fundamental part of our daily lives – every day we write notes, send e-mails and compose Tweets, yet studies have shown that children and young people’s enjoyment of writing and how often they write in their spare time is in decline. In May 2018, the National Literacy Trust published a report which found that fewer than 1 in 5 children write for non-related school reasons, and that children outside of London are the least likely to enjoy writing. With emphasis largely placed on the technical aspects of writing in the curriculum, there is little room for young people to enjoy writing creatively.
To help tackle the decline in writing for pleasure, First Story launched the inaugural National Writing Day in 2017. Led by First Story and supported by 55 Official Partners, National Writing Day is the annual celebration of writing designed to inspire people across the UK to get writing through a programme of public, educational and online activities. The message is simple: everyone has a story to tell and sharing it can be a source of power and pleasure.
In 2018 over 84,000 young people got involved on the day and 120million people engaged via social media. The day was marked by fantastic events happening across the UK, with a programme of literary events, workshops and online activities taking place. By lunchtime, #NationalWritingDay was the top-trending subject worldwide on Twitter, with writers such as Jojo Moyes, Ian Rankin and Brian Bilston amongst those sharing original work and advice online.
This year we launched our freewriting activity Write Away! which was embraced by thousands of participants, as schools, workplaces and communities shared their pieces online. In Bath, an entire street used their pavements as a place to write responses to this year’s theme, ‘I feel most free when…’. The largest recorded mass writing event took place at a school in Lincolnshire, as part of the Priory Federation MAT. 1,000 students participated in the writing activity which was ably led by a science teacher – perfectly embodying that writing is for everyone and critical across the curriculum.
Through projects like National Writing Day, First Story aims to establish the importance of writing and creativity, especially in education, alongside reading in society. In 2019 National Writing Day will be taking place on Wednesday June 26th and we hope that even more individuals, schools, families and workplaces will join in again next year.
Find out more about National Writing Day and download writing activities and teaching resources from www.nationalwritingday.org.uk.
To find out more about First Story and the work that we do visit www.firststory.org.uk.