In addition to my professional training as a writer (Universities of Bristol and Birmingham 2009) I have a Certificate of Credit (2013) from Staffordshire University in ‘Mentoring Through Intentional Relationships.’ This has enabled me to specialise in working with young people and vulnerable adults over the past few years.
Birmingham Young Writers (2016-17)
From Summer 2016 through to August 2017, I really enjoyed being part of Writing West Midland’s Spark Young Writers programme – monthly creative writing groups for children and young people as part of a region wide initiative.
I helped professional author Garrie Fletcher run a group for 11 – 15 yr olds that met monthly on a Saturday in the Community Hub, John Lewis – housed in Birmingham’s iconic Grand Central.
The focus was on all aspects of creative writing, with individual writing time and the chance to work collaboratively. This enables young writers to develop their creative writing skills and improve their confidence in a friendly arena outside of the school environment.
It was a diverse and talented group who took particularly well to a poetry workshop where they explored a William Burroughs/David Bowie/Garrie Fletcher inspired exercise for ‘found poems’.
The group had to select key words in a pattern of their choice from existing literature and then make it their own, even creating artwork from the pattern of words.
There were some imaginative results…
Voices from the Ashes Project – 2014
In 2014, I was thrilled to be funded as a Writer/Storyteller in residence by Arts Council England for a creative project devised to specifically engage with people with mental health illnesses who were service-users at The Phoenix and Forward House in North Birmingham. Both venues were part of Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health NHS FoundationTrust.
Through a series of workshops, group discussions and one-to-one sessions, participants were encouraged to explore telling their own stories.
The result was the publication of a popular anthology of poetry and stories and a mini-documentary.
Click here to see more detail and a film of the project
Speaking Out & Time to Change 2012-14
From 2012 – 2014, I was regularly involved in Speaking Out...an original project devised by Polly Wright and Mandy Ross of the Hearth Centre for Time to Change – a national charity. It was a project aimed at ending the stigma that can be faced by people who experience mental health problems.
The project involved supporting people with personal experience of mental ill-health to work with mainstream reading groups in libraries and other community settings in the North Birmingham and Lichfield area of the West Midlands. They were encouraged to read aloud from a story or poem that had a special connection for them and then facilitate group discussion about their own experiences of mental illness, referencing subjects raised in the literary text.
We spoke to various community groups, businesses and charities around the region, including Lions Groups, the Rotary Club and Soroptimists and were often guest speakers at their monthly meetings. This increased awareness of the subject amongst the men and women attending the meetings and built up the confidence of the speakers I was mentoring for the project. It was a chance to empower them to speak out about their struggles and victories with a condition that is often a taboo subject.
The Time to Change programme is run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and funded by the Department of Health and Comic Relief.
Write to Be Heard – 2013
Through the Write to be Heard project for The Arts Alliance in 2013, I had the opportunity to work in collaboration with Geese Theatre Company leading a one-day workshop in scriptwriting at an open prison for men in the North.
The aim was to encourage the prisoners to express their imagination through creative writing and enter a competition for National Prison Radio Broadcast. I chose the subject of Masks, looking at Identity (Behind the Mask) with an introduction to Writing for the Solo Voice and writing monologues for the radio.
Geese theatre members performed scenes from my short play Under The Stairs and audio play Blind Jump.
Then the challenging part – leading the prisoners through the strucure of writing story for more than one voice – and in the afternoon we looked at Hidden Lives,Writing Story for More Than One Voice – dialogue in plays – exploring what generates energy and momentum in plays.The response from the men was very enthusiastic. They were a diverse group – some had written novels, others struggled to read or write – and many were in between. All participated and it was extremely rewarding for me to hear the monologues that they produced at the end of the day.
Result: After the workshop the group put in 10 submissions to the National Prison Radio competition.
inspire2be – All Starz
I have worked freelance for several local and international charities using my speaking and performing skills to help motivate young people who most need it and have been involved in various challenging projects.
One of the first was in 2010 – at Spurgeon’s Academy in Kibera in the vast and visiting and sprawling slum area that is an integral part of Nairobi, Kenya.
I went out there with a team, visiting a school which caters for those orphaned by the Aids virus and where my husband and I sponsor the education of two children we have adopted on a sponsorship program.
I ran daily workshops teaching drama and improvisation to large groups of children aged between 8 – 10 years and their intense willingness to learn and give a hundred per cent commitment made it a very rewarding project. No mobile phones to distract here. The poverty was great but the heartwarming times we shared were rich. There were stories of joy, and deep pain too, that left their mark long after we had left.
One such encounter inspired me to write the story Slum Songs in the Sun broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in June 2014.
(For more on that see under My Writing).
All Starz – here they are…
These children all loved drama and inspired me with their hard work, joy, hope and community spirit.
They were true stars. I will never forget them.