Dianne Blashill is the School Librarian at Co-op Academy Grange, and she has worked with First Story as School Lead for the Young Writers Programme for the last six years after several previous years of supporting the First Story whilst working in the English Department.
The Young Writers Programme is delivered by talented and experienced authors, poets and playwrights, assigned as each partner school’s ‘Writer-in-Residence’ for a year.
Dianne reflects on her experience of working with us:
First Story has always had a strong presence in our school, and this my sixth year and fourth writer-in-residence here. There have been many highlights throughout my time working with First Story.
I love hearing from the students who have been on the residential trip; their anecdotes are often a delight to hear and wide ranging.
The students tell me that they’ve made friends with other people on the residential, which makes me feel so proud that they’ve put themselves into a new situation and have blossomed.
It’s the big achievements that also stand out. A boy on the course who had written some beautiful, heartfelt work, but would never read aloud, finally took that first step. He had always asked me to read his work out; I felt I was never going to be able to give his work the delivery it deserved as it should be coming from him. On this particular day, the workshop was visited by our head teacher. He suddenly piped up “I want to read my work for you” and after that he was always happy to read aloud.
Dianne has been fortunate to see the wide range of work created over the last six years, and there are several pieces that stand out.
The best title I’ve seen was The Hope for Peace and the Fault of the White Feather by Szymon Wisniewski in the Break the Silence, Free Your Voice anthology.
Nick Ahad, a local writer, journalist and Radio 4 arts programme presenter came into the school and took the time to look at the work produced, including some inspired by Dean Atta’s poem, ‘I Come From’. Iqra Shahzad had written ‘I come from Bradford, I come from hope.’ Those words resonated with Nick, so when he wrote the document to support the successful bid for Bradford City of Culture, he used that quote as his starting point.
Dianne believes the writers get the best out of the students by ensuring every week is different so the students remain engaged.
Sometimes we’d start the workshop by all contributing to a poem, sometimes we’d use markers and large sheets of paper and draw or write out our ideas. Daniel Ingram Brown would put all the chairs in a circle and we’d pretend we were on a space craft travelling to distant planets. And I let the students eat and drink – something that isn’t usually allowed in the library!
At our anthology launch I love to look back across the year. In September all the students gather as individuals, maybe they’d come with one friend, but more often than not they’d join alone and over that following year, these singular characters have become a unit; supporting one another, working together, growing friendships, and they’ll always have their anthology in common. They’ll always be able to look back at the photographs of our trips and visits and remember their fellow writers.
First Story gives our students an invaluable experience. Not only do their exam grades improve due to learning so much about the writing process, but we show them there’s life outside of this city. There are endless opportunities waiting for them, and we’ve given them the confidence to grab them and fly.
You can find out more about the programme by visiting the Young Writers Programme section on our website.
Take a look through all the Anthologies in our Bookshop