Young Writers’ Festival 2019
University of Cambridge
10 December 2019
Headlined by Juno Dawson
First Story changes lives through writing
Our flagship programme places professional writers into secondary schools serving low-income communities, where they work intensively with students and teachers to foster confidence, creativity and writing ability.
Our programmes expand young people’s horizons and raise aspirations. Participants gain vital skills to help them thrive in life and education.
… Your potential is infinite and what you put in is what you get out. Doing First Story helped me to realise that.
First Story is an inspiring initiative. Having attended a school with a lot of talented kids who didn’t always have the opportunity to express that talent, I know what it would have meant to us to have real-life writers dropping by and taking our stories seriously. What an opportunity for writers, too, to meet some of the most creative and enthusiastic young people in this country. It’s a joyful project that deserves as much support as we can give.
First Story is all about getting young people to understand how rich they are, that their stories are already inside them. It’s wonderful to be around when this most important lesson starts to work its magic. The first time they read out their work to the group, students discover what it means to have a voice. When their work is published that excitement becomes permanent. It’s a simple formula that with a bit of courage and patience works every time.
The impact that First Story has had at our school has exceeded my expectations. In the creative writing workshops I have seen a side of the students that they keep hidden during class time. It is as if they are freed in some way, to explore this skill on their own terms, and by setting the agenda themselves — with the guidance and encouragement of the Writer-in-Residence — they start taking themselves seriously as writers.
First Story is a fantastic idea. Teenagers are under increasing pressure to tailor their work to exams, and to value themselves in terms of the results. First Story offers young people something else. It helps them find a voice. Creative writing can change people’s lives: I’ve seen it happen. It’s more than learning a skill. It’s about learning that you, your family, your culture and your view of the world are rich and interesting and important, whoever you happen to be.
First Story not only does an invaluable thing for young and under-heard people, it does it exceptionally well. Their books are expertly edited and beautifully produced. The students featured within are wonderfully open and candid about their lives, and this is a credit to First Story, whose teachers thoroughly respect, and profoundly amplify, their voices. The only problem with First Story is that they’re not everywhere — yet. Every young person deserves the benefit of working with them.
First Story is a very exciting idea. Having been a teacher myself, I know how writing – real writing, not the artificial exercises produced for tests and examinations – can liberate and strengthen young people’s sense of themselves as almost nothing else can.
It is wonderful to see our Year 10 students who attend get so much out of the experience. The launch of the students’ anthology is always widely celebrated and has a high profile in our school. The whole experience not only develops their creative writing skills, under the guidance of a published author, but the impact upon their confidence and public speaking is a joy to see. First Story has been a real success for us at Willowfield.
First Story fills me with hope: for new books, new poetry, and an inspirational authorship of the future. The role of the writer and the reader is more vital than ever, and the nurturing of new voices more important and compelling than ever. In the anthologies’ pages are the beautiful dreamers, the writers that will document our today and tomorrow, our hopes and dreams. These are the writers that narrate our time here and now, and our hopes for the future.
Our students are on free school meals, live in tough areas, and have really challenging lives. First Story has been a wonderful chance for them to develop a love of language and of writing, to enjoy reading and the process of expressing themselves, in a way that is so safe and so freeing. It has enabled them to discover themselves and develop this incredible talent. I am so proud of them and really grateful to be involved in First Story.
It has been fantastic to see the students working with a professional writer and developing their poetry. This has had a positive impact on their literacy, as well as improving their wider communication skills and self-confidence. Our Writer-in-Residence has been a real inspiration to the group throughout the project and we are delighted that their work will be documented in the form of a published book, thanks to First Story.