We’ve grown up from the seed of an inspirational idea to an established charity championing creativity through a sustained programme for young people across England. Over fifteen years so many young people have told us First Story changed their lives. Our teenage years are a real milestone for us too.
When the idea for First Story was conceived back in 2007 by founders William Fiennes and Katie Waldegrave, a huge amount of imagination and energy was put into starting up the charity. We garnered support from leading writers including Julian Barnes, Zadie Smith, Louisa Young, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Mark Haddon. Everyone involved shared a belief in the power of a writer’s voice.
It’s a person’s way of seeing, they way they notice things, their sense of humour, their sensibility. Finding a voice, Seamus Heaney said, is a way of putting your own feeling into your own words, it’s finding words that have the feel of you about them.William Fiennes
Each of us has a unique voice and First Story was founded to give a voice to young people who might not have had the opportunity to work with a professional writer. First Story was also founded on the belief that everyone’s experience is valuable and that writing from that makes for better writing. “The strange thing about stories is that the more specific they are the more universal they become“, said Frank Cottrell Boyce. You can hear these voices loud and clear in the 535 anthologies First Story has published to date.
From a pilot in Cranford Community College, where Katie was a teacher in 2007, we’ve grown to deliver our Young Writers Programme in schools across London, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Manchester, building our students’ confidence, creativity and writing craft. Looking back, it’s incredible to see all the writers who have worked on our programme. Many have established great careers. A huge thank you to all the writers who helped grow First Story and shared their writer’s eye with so many young people. Our Young Writers Programme is not a drop-in, light experience. Uniquely, it is sustained over six months and leads to publication. Consequently our students develop the rigour and experience to become more able and confident writers. They discover and develop their own voice.
The moment I remember with most pleasure from those early sessions came when a girl named Houda – who had never before had the courage to read aloud – gave a description of a hospital entirely in questions. It was pitch-perfect and powerful. At the end there was silence; Houda looked at her lap. Then the rest of the group burst into applause – Houda raised her head and beamed, and has not looked back since.Katie Waldegrave
Along our journey to fifteen, we’ve continued to add value to our provision, often in partnership with prestigious organisations like Folio, the BBC and universities, opening more doors for our students. From the first summer residential at an outdoor centre in Derbyshire, to our established annual partnership with the Arvon Foundation, one week in July has become something incredibly special for so many students. Since 2011, our annual Young Writers Festival has brought together thousands of fellow young writers from across the country. We’ve grown our work in Alternative Provision settings, reaching some of the most marginalised young people and hearing how important their voices are. For hundreds of teachers, learning alongside a professional writer has contributed to a higher standard of creative writing teaching in their schools. During the pandemic we developed our digital CPD offer for teachers, so that many more can benefit in future.
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 taking our stories seriously. And 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 it.Zadie Smith
Of course, a small charity is only the energy and commitment of all the people involved, whether they are trustees, staff, writers, young people, teachers or our incredible funders and supporters. Everyone involved saw a brilliant idea and together made it happen. Fifteen years later, so many people belong to First Story. We are looking forward to celebrating together this year — throwing a party and publishing more stories from people for whom we’ve made a difference.
A new short film about our work has been produced too, thanks to the Media Trust’s Volunteer Films scheme — a brilliant opportunity provided by one of our funders, John Lyon’s Charity. Look out for the film, Miles’ Story, on our YouTube channel and social media platforms.
During 2023 we are also aiming to raise £15,000 in honour of our milestone birthday. By donating to First Story you are helping to nurture a new generation of diverse young voices, not always heard. Please give as much as you can to our appeal at firststory.org.uk/donate.
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