Last month, an inspiring group of young women from Hull College staged an event to launch their new First Story group anthology, for which they chose the title We Are Strong, and in which they have voiced — with arresting honesty and creativity — the challenges faced in their lives.
Young people, perhaps especially girls, tend to feel under enormous pressure, virtually all of the time — from friends, families, school and wider society. Pressure to look a certain way, to conduct relationships in a certain way, and to perform and achieve to a certain standard. Young people in the 21st century aren’t easily able to switch off either; with the constant notifications pinging on their phones, that pressure follows them around.
An incredibly important benefit of First Story’s Young Writers programme is the non-judgemental support offered to young people. Weekly writing workshops create time and space in which students can ‘switch off’ from daily pressures. Participants are encouraged to explore and process what’s happening in their lives and how their experiences make them feel. Within the trusted, safe environment that our Writers-in-Residence create, students are able to reflect on and work through sometimes difficult things.
This year, Hull College piloted an innovative project, ‘Under Pressure’, which they designed to offer intensive support to 15 female students at risk of not fulfilling their potential. The project combined an eight-week course of boxing lessons, with a term-long First Story creative writing programme.
We wanted to focus on choices, tackle insecurities, build resilience, develop an awareness of healthy options, support reflection skills and empower the group to build a strong sense of positive identity.Hull College 14-16 director, Suzanna May, on the aims of the Under Pressure project
First Story ‘s experienced Writer-in-Residence, Christina Lewis led the weekly writing sessions. Whilst she’d probably concede, things got off to a rocky start (!), the girls’ attitudes soon changed as, each week, they built more trust in Christina and each another. The group soon opened up, revealing their vulnerabilities and discussing ways to process and express them creatively.
“I’m kind of nervous but it also feels really good because we can finally talk about things openly and no one is going to judge us.”Alice Impey, participant
There were tears, there were hugs, and there was a lot of great discussion and debate. This project proved to be a beautifully cathartic process, which none of the participants, including Christina, wanted to end.
“It’s been one hell of an emotional eight weeks, and even more so for the trust needed to be so vulnerable! I’ve had such a brilliant time working with every person that has contributed to this anthology.”Christina Lewis, editor of We Are Strong
Despite feeling apprehensive about sharing their work with their teachers, family and friends, needless to say the girls absolutely smashed their performances at their recent anthology launch event. Each stepped off the stage beaming with pride.
We never really used to enjoy English much because we didn’t really know how to write… now, because we’ve been taught fun ways to write, it’s made us more comfortable with English and enjoying writing more.Maddie Longthorn, participant
It was a pleasure to know that First Story has played a part in their journey. We hope they will carry the experience forwards with them into their lives.