When we launched the Young Ambassador’s Pilot programme in autumn term 2020 with our Paul Hamlyn Foundation schools, we had no idea what lay ahead. With year group bubbles being sent home periodically across the country and students oscillating between digital and in-person learning, we knew that our well-laid plans were set to be tested!
To begin with, we only engaged with our Young Ambassadors (YAs) in small ways which we knew could be achieved remotely: we commissioned them to write poems for National Poetry Day 2020, we asked them to judge our competitions and to create First Story displays in school. All of these things were lovely ways to stay in touch, but we we wanted to step it up and get more directly involved with these enthusiastic alumni.
That’s where the fabulous Rachel Connor came in! Lecturer in Creative Writing at Leeds Beckett University and former First Story Writer-in-Residence, Rachel is also a leadership coach whose passion is for developing the leadership skills of young people. Rachel worked with us to schedule a series of workshops that would build our YA’s skill sets while working towards a project for National Writing Day 2021 – and that’s exactly what we delivered to five of our Paul Hamlyn Schools: Landau Forte College (Derby), Haven High Academy (Boston), Priory Witham Academy (Lincoln), Hull Trinity House Academy (Hull) and Co-op Academy Grange (Bradford).
The first session delivered by Rachel was about motivation and dreaming big: what sorts of leaders do our YAs want to be? Why do they want to be leaders? How do they think planning an event will help them develop leadership skills? What skills did they hope to develop?
In our second session we were lucky enough to welcome the fabulous Katy Cattell from Hachette Kids who spoke to our YAs about the importance of media engagement and promoting an event. This, Katy informed us, takes leadership because it’s all very well planning an exciting creative writing event but how do you get people to come? Good leaders must have faith in their plans and be able to effectively communicate that plan in such a way that make other people excited!
In our third session, two weeks before National Writing Day 2021, our Young Ambassadors pitched their plans to a panel who gave them in-depth feedback about what was brilliant and unique about their plans, and how they could improve upon them. The YAs also shared their thoughts on one another’s plans, offering practical tips and praise. It was a wonderful session which left us brimming with pride about what our young people wanted to achieve.
And achieve they did! The Landau Forte YAs planned an ambitious year 9 poetry slam event, featuring workshops from YA Priya Gill herself and four local professional writers (Jamie Thrasivoulou, Sophie Sparham, Tamika Steadman, Emteaz Hussain and Sian Tower) who led workshops on a range of writing forms. The Haven High YAs planned an exciting whole school creative writing event in which each English class in each year group was given a scroll with a single word prompt on it to start. Someone in the class had to write a sentence starting with that word and then pass the story on to another student who would then write a sentence starting with the previous students’ last word. Much hilarity naturally ensued! The Priory Witham YAs planned an intriguing picture-based writing activity during which students from all year groups were given a happy image and a dark/sad image. The catch was: if the image was happy, they had to write a dark/sad story, and vice versa! The Hull Trinity House YAs planned a silly sentences activity aimed at all year groups, in which every student in every English lesson would write a sentence on an agreed theme and place their sentence in a hat. The English teacher would then randomly select sentences out of a hat and type them together to make a story – a very silly and fun activity indeed. And last but not least, The Coop Academy Grange YA planned an event based around the results of a survey which asked each year group: what is your preferred writing format? Whichever writing format was the most beloved by that year group would become the focus of the English lesson on NWD, with activities prepared by the YA.
The fourth session was a regroup and review, where students came together and shared their successes. Not just in terms of their events (though it sounds like each event was absolutely brilliant), but in terms of their skills development. What kinds of leaders had they proved themselves to be? What life skills had they accrued by virtue of taking on such a massive project? Rachel led the session and, in one of the activities, even got the YAs to write reflective, personal poems on the theme of leadership and what it means to them.
There is much, much more to come in our work with this year’s crop of YAs and we are very excited to share with you what they will be getting up to in autumn term 2021 and spring term 2022, before handing over to a new cohort of keen alumni in the summer. For now, though, let’s just revel in these brilliant poems written by our YAs which tell us everything we need to know about what they have learned about themselves so far on this YA journey.
I Am a Leader
I am Jodie.
I am a leader who believes
that you need chaos in order
to become collected.
I am a leader who wants people
to tell me straight
if I’ve made a mistake.
I am a leader who needs someone there
to bring me up when I need it.
I have learned to be more picky
in my choices.
I am a leader who commits
to having a good time all the time.
I am a leader who will always try
I am a leader who believes in equality
I want you to know that it’s okay
okay to be flamingo among pigeons
okay to be an ant sometimes
lost, seemingly small, but ready for teamwork
whenever your team needs
okay to be the lion among sheep.
I am a leader who needs confidence but demands respect
who has learned to project my voice
(literally, year 9s can be incredibly opinionated)
who has learned to inspire
who has inspired to learn
who commits to a promise: the promise to commit
solace through the thick and the thin
who will match your grin and attract your win.