We’ve published our annual Impact Report for the year ending June 2019. I joined First Story as Chief Executive at the end of the academic year, but I’m no less proud of all that was achieved in 2018-19. I’m excited to lead this dynamic and effective organisation, with much great work to build on in the coming years.
Intensive writing workshops
First Story’s flagship Writer-in-Residence programme continues to be based on the successful model piloted by our founders, Katie and William, a decade ago. In 2018-19 First Story delivered our programme across four major regions of England: Greater London, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the South West. Our professional writers delivered more than 1,300 hours of workshops, working intensively with 1,565 students and their teachers, in 69 schools.
Over 50 per cent of our provision last year was delivered at Key Stage 3. Schools often choose to target First Story’s intervention toward Years 8 and 9 (12 to 14 year olds) as a part of their creative enrichment offer. Our programme nurtures a particular set of skills and attitudes, including resilience, confidence and independence, that support learning as well as personal development, in line with what the new OFSTED Education inspection framework looks for schools to provide.
Weekly writing workshops work towards and culminate in the publication of a printed anthology, edited by the Writer-in-Residence. First Story published 71 anthologies of new writing by young people in 2018-19, each one beautifully produced and with its own ISBN, qualifying for inclusion in the collection of the British Library. Celebratory book launch events were held for almost all the anthologies last year. Although usually held at schools, more launches are being staged in collaboration with arts venues, theatres or bookshops, engaging local communities.
During 2018-19 we reached nearly 6,000 young people through extended activities, including our two national writing competitions, Six Word Story and 100 Word Story, and our regional and national events.
We organised 10 regional events for First Story students during the year. Through our relationships with six universities — Leeds Beckett, Bristol, Hull, Huddersfield, Loughborough and University College London — we were able to bring our students into higher education spaces, expanding horizons and encouraging aspirations. We also staged writing events in partnership with regional arts organisations —Hull’s Big Malarkey Festival, the Writing on Air Festival with Leeds FM, and London’s Migration Museum — encouraging First Story students to access and participate in culture in the communities where they live.
Our flagship national event, the Young Writers’ Festival took place at the University of Cambridge in September 2018, where we welcomed 330 students and 40 teachers from 19 schools across England. Featuring workshops, talks and readings, the packed one-day event was supported by 26 writers and 25 volunteers. The YWF brings together young people from diverse backgrounds and communities, inspiring young people to write, read and collaborate. The festival promotes a feeling of belonging to a shared community of young writers and strengthens participants’ sense of identity.
In our 2018 survey of teachers:
- 93 per cent reported that the festival made their students feel more confident.
- 81 per cent felt that attending the festival improved students’ writing skills.
- 100 per cent believed the festival encouraged creativity and introduced students to new writers.
Working in partnership helped us to extend our reach and impact in 2018-19. We continued to work with the Arvon Foundation to offer our summer residential programme. In July 2019, thanks to the generous support of teamArchie, 16 First Story students spent a week at Arvon’s writing retreat, Lumb Bank, in West Yorkshire. We also continued our partnership with the BBC and Cambridge University on the Young Writers’ Award, which received almost 500 entries last year, and the Student Critics’ Award, which encourages students to develop their skills in literary criticism. We were delighted that four more First Story alumni benefited from Rathbones Folio Prize Mentorships in 2019, through which our mentees were paired with acclaimed Folio Academy writers. We were also grateful that both Oxford University Press and Avon Dataset continued to support our publishing in 2018-19.
National Writing Day
Our third annual National Writing Day took place in June 2019, again supported by Old Possum’s Practical Trust. In 2019 we worked with 40 partners, an increase of 28 per cent on 2018. The campaign promotes writing for pleasure and aims to get the whole country giving it a go. Thousands of people took part in our national call to action, a seven-minute free writing exercise inspired by our ‘In this place…‘ prompt. Meanwhile, our free teaching and learning resources were downloaded 4,427 times, reaching an estimated 156,000 students, an increase of 47% on 2018. Through partnerships with the BBC and local media, press and PR reached an estimated 4 million people, while combined social media reach was 1.23 million.
Supporting writers and teachers
In 2018-19 we employed 54 professional writers — providing a vital source of income to support UK creative talent. Our Writers-in-Residence shared their expertise with teaching staff through complementary training sessions, which are included with our intensive programmes; at least 135 teachers in state secondary schools across England directly benefited from our Continuing Professional Development (CPD) provision in 2018-19. We also ran 17 skills-sharing sessions, through which writers and teachers were able to share expertise and best-practice. Regular skills-sharing meetings also help us to ensure high-quality, consistent programme delivery across each region and nationally.
Evaluating our impact
We piloted an entirely new evaluation model during 2018-19, based on our theory of change, which sees participants in our intensive programmes move along three outcome pathways: increased confidence, enhanced creativity and improved writing skills. Results from our start- and end-point surveys were very positive overall. First Story clearly has an impact in several areas, including:
- young people’s attitudes to creative writing and whether they find writing outside of the curriculum a fun and fulfilling activity;
- their confidence and competence in reading aloud;
- students’ range of writing techniques and skills, and their confidence in using them;
- their persistence when writing;
- students’ confidence in experimenting with writing;
- their ability to review and reflect on their own work; and
- young people’s self-belief in their ability.
Our first year of this new evaluation model also provided some areas to think about, including whether our programme in its current format positively showcases the possibilities for a creative career, and also whether there is enough emphasis on planned versus free writing. We are carefully considering these questions during 2019-20.
Three years of major funding from Arts Council England came to an end in 2018-19. First Story’s Creative Writing in Schools grant enabled our expansion into East Yorkshire and the South West. However, in Spring 2019, we reviewed what had been achieved over the period and concluded reluctantly that it would be most effective to move provision away from the South West. By the end of 2018-19 we had shifted 52 per cent of our work to the East Midlands and further north into East and West Yorkshire, where we are reaching many more young people in areas of need.
Looking ahead, First Story will be focusing investment into consolidating two main hubs; one in London and the other spanning the East Midlands and Yorkshire. We’ll continue to maintain the good relationships we have already in those areas, as well as extending into new schools. We will also be researching areas of need across the North of England, in order to extend our offer into new towns and communities.
First Story was delighted to secure three years of funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation in 2019, specifically to develop an enhanced programme model, working with eight pilot schools outside London. We want to maximise the value of our intervention, both for schools and the young people we serve. We’ll be prioritising how we can engage and benefit whole school communities; how we can develop progression pathways for our alumni; and how we can create a sustainable legacy.
The evidence indicates that social mobility is stagnating and the achievement gap is widening for young people in too many communities in England. We are committed to working through our programmes to increase young people’s life chances.
Young people need to write – and not just because the ability to write well, with clarity and confidence, is an essential skill for further education and work. More than that, we know that writing can be both a source of pleasure and a source of power. First Story’s work with young people, teachers and writers across the country is proof of this, and with your help we hope to go on spreading the word. Thank you to all of the many writers, teachers and supporters who make our work possible.
Download our Impact Report 2018-19 here.