In 2017 we were excited to trial a special dual-site Young Writers’ Festival. We returned to Oxford University’s Lady Margaret Hall College, and also premiered at the University of Hull, as a part of the BBC’s Contains Strong Language festival.
At both sites writing workshops were led by First Story poets, novelists and playwrights, including Ben Faccini, Roland Chambers, Paula Rawsthorne, Sai Murray and Francesca Beard. Other groups were treated to inspiring performances by Michael Symmons Roberts, Jacob Polley, Malika Booker, Zena Williams, Rebecca Tantony, John Berkavitch and Juno Dawson.
YWF17 IN NUMBERS
- over 600 students attended, aged 11 and 17, from 30 schools across England
- supported by more than 50 teachers and 40 volunteers
- More than 600 books bought by students
- 100% of teachers rated the festival experience as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’
- 78% of students said they felt inspired to write more
- 66% of students said they felt more confident to write after attending
- 70% said they were now more interested in applying to university
On both days, we opened the festival with programme graduates sharing their experiences of taking part in First Story. Vinnie participated in our year-long programme at Fairfield High School in 2016-17. He also attended our 2017 summer residential.
I think it’s easy to think that this power of writing is not accessible to us as younger people, or maybe we think only the cleverest and most trained people can do it. But First Story has proved me so wrong on that count. They taught me that all young people – anyone in this room – is able to express themselves through creative writing.Vinnie, First Story graduate
Meanwhile in Hull, another First Story graduate, Henna, opened the day with an empowering poem, penned purposefully for the festival, to inspire her peers to get writing.
Walking into the room,
Hands shaking, lips trembling, pen: not writing.
Stuffing biscuits into my face,
Mesmerised by Nick’s magic tricks.
My thoughts were like clockwork
But the cogs didn’t seem to fit.’
An excerpt from Henna’s poem, ‘My First Story experience’
In Oxford, award-winning poets John Agard and Grace Nichols performed together, enthralling the packed main hall. In Hull, Simon Armitage and Joelle Taylor performed and also took part in a Q&A session — where the students asked excellent questions, such as: ‘What is slam poetry?’ ‘Does all writing have to be true?’ ‘Where do you go in your mind when you write? What does that space look like?’.
‘Your imagination is the most powerful muscle you possess. And you need to exercise it!’Performance poet, Joelle Taylor
Both events closed with students invited to take to the stage and share their own stories. Over the two days more than 40 students read their work in front of a new audience — a challenge even the most confident of writers.