New Writing North produces projects and residencies in a variety of different community contexts and with a range of partners. Generally our work in this area aims to provide a creative context for often unheard voices, and to find audiences for creative work by ordinary people. We are also interested in providing people with the inspiration and support to develop their own creative ideas, especially those who may not usually have access to the arts.
The NWN Writers in Communities blog at http://nwncommunities.wordpress.com
provides space for us to profile and value the often unseen work of our writers working in participatory settings. It provides a learning space for our writers to share ideas and, get feedback about their work. This will focus not only on their practice in participatory settings, exploring the challenges and success of working directly with our diverse communities, but also their own creative writing. We hope you find it interesting, useful and thought-provoking. We’d very much like you to contribute to help us make it so, to share your ideas and questions which will hopefully mutually inform and inspire our learning.
These are some examples of our work:
Writing residency with the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture
Poet Gillian Allnutt worked with people who were being supported by the Medical Foundation, which provides torture survivors with psychological treatment and practical support. Most of the people Gillian worked with had suffered unimaginable ordeals in their home countries; many are living in the UK in limbo, constantly aware that they could be sent back to their home country at any time. Gillian worked on a one-to-one basis with participants, to encourage them to write. Inspiration was drawn from sounds they remembered from childhood; food from their home country; books they were reading; impressions of the UK since they arrived, and occasionally touched on their own harrowing stories. The project which took place over eight months culminated in the publication of The Galloping Stone, a collection of writing by participants, staff from the Medical Foundation, and Gillian herself. The book was launched at an event in Newcastle at which participants talked about the residency and read their work
Thank you to all those who made yesterday’s event [the launch of The Galloping Stone] happen. It was a wonderful occasion. It is a rare privilege to be in a place where there is an almost tangible sense of warmth, love and goodwill. It was extraordinary to feel the hope and vitality that you at the MF and Gillian had enabled those clients to find. To know something, in a general way, of the awfulness of their stories and yesterday to see a blossoming and growth of self [was] awe-inspiring and beautiful. I experienced them as speaking so movingly about the strength of the human spirit.
A counsellor colleague writing to the Medical Foundation, North East manager
The Unit was a film-making project aimed at young people, many of whom were ‘hard to reach’. In a project which was funded by Mediabox, we created two film-making units in Newcastle and Stockton. A team of film professionals, including writers Rachel Mathews and Fiona Birkbeck and directors Ashley Horner and Ian Fenton, professional producers, camera people, editors and art directors mentored the young people in various aspects of the film making process. The result was two high quality short films which were presented at a professional cinema.
[The project] was a serious business; our contributions were fully taken on board and at the end of the first week, an idea was chosen and a few days later, the script written. The original script had an amazing amount of potential, and upon being announced as the director I was initially thrilled; little did I know the extent of the hard work that lay before me!
Directing for the first time was a surreal experience. Being relied upon to motivate a team of people, of virtual strangers, was certainly a challenge which I had not anticipated but certainly relished. However, the journey which I embarked upon took me through a range of emotions, from frustration to joy, inadequacy to confidence and then to relief and happiness when we had a finished a moving piece of film.
Steph, director of Her Latest Flame
Working on Her Latest Flame with all of the crew was like discovering a new part of yourself. Not always a good thing, but the whole experience changed us. All of us, in more ways than one. We all had different views on film-making: the glamour and the prestige. Actually, we found the stress - along with the fulfilment - that film-making brings… Our film, Her Latest Flame, was a real opportunity to express our views creatively, and getting what we wanted to say out there to people. It’s a better use of our time than being in bed.
We got an amazing location for our film, which we found ourselves, and it was really refreshing to be treated as adults and given the responsibility and the respect we deserve.
Sarah, production manager on Her Latest Flame
North Tyneside Creative Centres
North Tyneside Creative Centres was a year-long project which involved a writer in residence in two communities in North Tyneside: Longbenton and Killingworth. With a long period of time to make relationships and a flexible budget to bring in other arts professionals and create ‘products’ when appropriate, a series of high quality projects were created by a range of different groups from within the community. The project became more than a sum of its parts and had an impact across the community. Projects included:
Betty The Butterfly, a new book for children, written by a group of mothers who meet at the White Swan Community Centre in Killingworth. The women commissioned beautiful illustrations from talented young illustrator Phillip Marsden. Following the success of Betty, which sold over 1000 copies, the women formed their own community group which specialises in creating arts projects for very young children. Other projects included Max Wall, a 390ft piece of public art, along West Farm Avenue, in the heart of Longbenton. The artwork featured a composite poem generated by people who live in Longbenton, the text was illustrated by images of people who live in the neighbourhood, and became a real talking point within the community.
“When I think about what we’ve all achieved with this book, I get very emotional. It’s not every day you get the chance to be part of something this wonderful. Seeing my child’s name on the dedication page gives me a lump in my throat.”
One of the Betty the Butterfly authors
TEXTtiles was an exhibition by a group of older women who used their craft skills to create a series of self-portraits inspired by their own personal histories. Other projects included songwriting and video-making projects with young people, a new film projected onto the side of a community centre inspired by the ancient and modern history of Killingworth, and the publication of a new novel by a local older person.
We have continued to work in North Tyneside: in a project called Walk The Lines, we launched a series of community-created billboard posters in Dudley and Newbiggin. We are currently working with a group of girls to make a documentary in these areas.
Consulting with communities
We have also used creative projects to consult with communities or encourage engagement with aspects of local life. In 2008, Couple, by Sean Henry, was launched at Newbiggin by the Sea. This was the UK’s first offshore sculpture and was part of a major reclamation programme to re-establish the beach in this once thriving Northumberland seaside town. We developed a project which encouraged the town to write. A specially designed postcard was sent to every household in the town, encouraging people to send in a poem inspired by Couple. The winning entries were published in a pamphlet alongside specially commissioned photographs by local photographer Jason Thompson. Alongside this, writers were in residence at two older people’s homes in the town, the two primary schools, and the local arts forum. Writers also ran open access workshops for local people to introduce them to writing. A total of eight writers worked with local people in the town during the summer of 2008. Work was read by participants at the launch of the sculpture.
Writing and heritage
The Museum of My Life was a project which aimed to engage local people with museum collections, while creating a series of exhibitions which reflected the lives of ordinary people. Writers worked in six museums in the North East. During the first phase of the project, each writer worked with two local groups, to encourage them to write about the artefacts in the museum. A visual artist joined the project for the second phase, and their role was to work with the writer to encourage participants to think about their own lives, and to create a ‘museum’ of their lives, something that visually represented their personal history. For more information about the project see the evaluation report