Writing Our Selves

This is the final post in a series of three blogs from our Evolving in Conversation partners – Photoworks, New Writing South and South East Dance. Find out more about the project from their perspective.

New Writing South was responsible for coordinating the second strand of Evolving in Conversation, inspired by participants’ photographs from the first strand run by Photoworks.

Dozens and dozens of pieces of excellent, new writing have been created throughout the project, responding to the question of how individuals can change society. Some were commissioned –John Agard, winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2012, wrote his beautiful poem, The Voice; emerging writers David Sheppeard, Alessandra McAllister, Steven Lancefield and Rosy Carrick wrote pieces for performance and provocation at the second showcase day in Jubilee library. Others pieces were written by aspiring writers in workshops run by local author Lindsay MacRae in libraries across the length and breadth of our city. All of them can be heard reading their own work on the Writers page.

In this blog, I would like to explain what it meant to some of the people who took part, and a bit about what we at New Writing South learned from the project as an organisation.

In asking “How Can Individuals Change Society” it seems that this project has actually managed to do that exact thing. That is – it HAS changed society. It’s done that by empowering individuals and making new communities. The overwhelming feedback from participants has been about the life changing experience of forming new communities out of the project. It has brought people from diverse backgrounds together with different stories and different views on life. People who might never otherwise have collided have shared their stories and their views. They have become friends. Several of them continue to meet as a group and write together, long after the writing workshops ended.

Best Group Shot

Picture by Duncan Andrews

This could never have happened without the library. In our super-connected, one-click digital world, these people were strangers. Their only common denominator was their local library. So they started out as anonymous neighbours and now they are part of their neighbour­hood. They have embraced and celebrated all the diversity and differences that make us interesting to each other, instead of being indifferent or nervous of each other.  They are energised, inspired and they are writing!  They are old and young, men and women, middle class and working class, retired and working… and they are all being creative and that is where they are all equal.

More than being insp­ired during this project, the participants were also inspiring. In a world where it is near impossible for emerging writers to receive commissions, the consistent response from the young writers involved the project was not “how good it was to be paid for their writing”, but how inspiring it was to meet the groups of participants, how enlightening it was to hear the wide range of personal experience and meet people from backgrounds that were often polar opposites to their own. This group of emerging writers has gone away refreshed and thinking in new ways about their own practice. Evolving in Conversation has been a valuable and enriching professional experience for them.

If a healthy society is one where individuals are nurtured, where we are all treated equally but celebrated for our differences, where we are valued and valuable in our neighbourhoods, and where we all have the opportunity to be creative, then this project is a brilliant example of how that might be achieved.

That might sound a bit lofty, and possibly a bit self congratulatory, but the ambition was pretty grand, so ideally the outcomes should be too.


Picture by Giovanny Estrella

For New Writing South, the Evolving in Conversation experience has been positive, inspiring and, in the long term, will help our organisation grow.

I think that every single person working in the arts believes passionately in the value of creativity in our lives and in its power to change society. But all too often, arts organisations “preach to the converted”. People come to Photoworks because they are already interested in photography; they come to New Writing South because they are already interested in writing and South East Dance to pursue their interest in dance.

But everyone comes to the library. It is a place of equality and incredible reach. Through the libraries, this project has enabled us to work with people from a range of backgrounds and locations, many of whom would never have considered that New Writing South might have something for them. Partnerships between arts organisations and libraries are, it seems, a kind of marriage made in heaven.

We watched as the creative partnerships helped broaden participants’ outlook, opening them up to new ideas and new ways of being creative in their community (the writers, for example, loved the opportunity to become photographers). This has inspired us at New Writing South to look more closely at new ways of working across artforms in future projects.

In addition to improving our reach and encouraging new ways of working, it has also been genuinely inspirational to witness the way professional development has been completely embedded in this project. We all work under enormous pressure in this 21st century and it can be hard to maintain motivation or take any joy from the place we spend 5 days out of every 7. This project has demonstrated the value of disrupting the mundane, everyday routines of our work, and of trusting our people to rise to new challenges and really stretch themselves. The library has lead an exemplary project in this respect and I salute and thank Kate, Lucy and the entire libraries team for sharing that with us all.

I also want to thank Photoworks and South East Dance for their generous cooperation throughout the project.

I will end with a quote from the wonderful John Agard from the second showcase day who said ‘In writing, you’re communicating with the best of yourself so it must change you in some way. That pervades your entire life.’

John Agard 1 copyright Scarlett Langdon

Picture by Scarlett Langdon

So can individuals change society? I think Evolving in Conversation proves that we can and, by running these creative projects, we do.

Lesley Wood

Creative Learning Manager

New Writing South

Visit www.evolvinginconversation.co.uk to find out more about the project.

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