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Impact Report 2018 – 19

The 13,000 km2 that make up our region – from Ledbury to Lichfield, Stoke-on-Trent to Sandwell – are home to some 5.2 million people and a broad range of communities. We want all individuals and communities in the West Midlands to have access to good writing, and the opportunity to create it. We are proud of the relationships we have built up in the region; in the last year, we worked with over 200 writers, providing more than 2,000 hours of intensive professional development. Delivering over 3,800 hours of training to young people this year alone, since their beginning our educational programmes have enabled thousands of young people to develop their creative writing practice, guided by established writers.

But we understand that there is still so much work to be done to ensure that more people get to make and share great writing. Our aim is, and always has been, simple: to support writers in the West Midlands, and to grow and inspire audiences for their work.


Sandwell Walsall




Telford & Wrekin

Solihull Staffordshire


Worcestershire Herefordshire




Writing West Midlands is the literature development agency for the West Midlands region. Our work encourages, supports and inspires writers, and develops their skills and talents to make the West Midlands a region of sustainable creative writing excellence. Writing West Midlands has changed considerably from its early years as the Birmingham Book Festival, and as this document demonstrates our activities in 2018/19 were particularly varied and exciting. Our work promoting new writing, through the Birmingham Literature Festival and in other ways, continued, and we built on our reputation for independence and free-thinking. Our support for emerging professional writers was of considerable importance, not just to those writers who had some notable success this year but for the many who quietly honed their writing skills. And our work with young writers grew apace and was an unalloyed joy. To add to this we connected with writers beyond our region, proudly maintaining our links with other literary cultures. My thanks to our staff, trustees and the many other individuals and organisations who have helped make our work possible.

Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive, Writing West Midlands


Young Writers Writing can be a fantastic way for young people to navigate the world around them.


Our young writers’ projects are crucial to the impact we have across the region. We work with young people - from 8 to 18 years old - to develop their creative talents as writers. With the right kind of support we can help young people cultivate confidence in themselves and their writing, whatever their background or level of ability. This year we reached nearly 2,000 young people, delivering over 3,800 hours of training. 38% of Spark participants are from a non-White British background. 100% of young people said the Spark Summer School was Excellent or Good.

Spark Young Writers groups

Spark Summer School

The Spark Young Writers groups provide a supportive and diverse network for young writers throughout the region. From Worcester to Warwickshire, Stoke-onTrent to Shropshire, we run 20 dynamic monthly creative writing groups, each led by a professional writer. Through these sessions we enable young people to develop their creative writing skills outside the school environment, helping to nurture talent, foster collaboration and encourage independence

Our young writers receive expert advice from two professional writers during five days of inspiring, thought-provoking and entertaining writing activities designed to give them the opportunity to play with words, meet other budding writers, and begin to craft themselves into the writer they want to be.

This year we also facilitated three training sessions for the Lead Writers to support our Spark participants on the Autism Spectrum.

Spark Young Writers Magazine Three times a year we publish work produced by young writers from across the region in our online Spark Young Writers Magazine. Edited by a published writer and with a professional submission policy, the magazine provides young people with valuable experience of the publishing world: how to make their work stand out, how to work with an editor, and how to revise and develop their writing.

“Since Freya has been attending young writers she has been placed on her school’s gifted and talented register for reading and writing. […] So I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful opportunity this group provides.”

READ ON READ ON is a Creative Europe Community Programme designed to reignite a passion for reading in young people across Europe, whilst actively exploring different ways for young people to experience, share and create literature. Working with vlogging experts and creative writers, we led five YouthCast workshops to train young people to write, film and edit vlogs based on their own creative writing. The videos were shown at our annual Spark Young Writers Awards Ceremony and at the Birmingham Literature Festival. Young people in four schools also had the exciting opportunity to work with professional writers in a series of workshops on plot, character and story line development. This initiative saw writers create an incredible selection of short stories for an anthology of new writing for young people called After Summer & Other Stories. The anthology brought together writing from Norway, Portugal and Italy and was published by local publisher, The Emma Press. Under the tuition of an experienced broadcaster and writer, we ran a series of Young Presenter workshops designed to help young people develop skills essential for hosting events and handling guest speakers. The Young Presenters then put these skills into practice by introducing an event during the Birmingham Literature Festival, giving them invaluable experience of what happens behind-the-scenes at a festival.

Parent of young person at the Spark Summer School


Festivals & Events

Birmingham Literature Festival The Birmingham Literature Festival plays a pivotal role in our city’s cultural calendar, promoting open discussion and the importance of literature for the past twenty years. As the region’s leading writing event, we bring together established names and rising stars to celebrate the power of words, books and ideas. In April, our Spring Edition provided a platform for discussions and enquiring minds: a space to learn, challenge and be inspired. Our festival hosted important conversations inspired by the #MeToo movement, including much-needed discussions around the gender bias in publishing, the stories of the secret ‘swimming suffragettes’ and A History of Britain in 21 Women.


The October 2018 Birmingham Literature Festival was our biggest yet. Some highlights included a National Poetry Day event featuring poems written in response to the First World War, a discussion on the beauty industry with Lauren Laverne and Sali Hughes, and a night of disruptive and provocative poetry, performance and music celebrating all things Dada. Beyond the headliners, there was an array of workshops, networking events and even a walking tour led by urban birder, David Lindo. This kind of varied, ambitious programme keeps our loyal and growing audiences coming back year after year.

“Birmingham Literature Festival was documenting a moment of change. This event provided a safe space for women and men to listen to others’ stories and tell their own.” Review of the Spring Edition in Redbrick

Year-round Events Our annual festival is supported by a range of one-off events throughout the year. This year, we supported the launch of Deborah FrancesWhite’s new book The Guilty Feminist, a refreshingly honest – and very funny – book about 21st century feminism, to a sellout audience of 400 people - many of whom had never attended our events before.

We have also been supporting the Diverse Histories project, working with the literature organisation Speaking Volumes to collect stories from Birmingham residents who emigrated to the UK in the 1960s from across the Caribbean. Working with a group of people in Handsworth over four weeks – all in their 80s and 90s and none of whom are writers – journalist, historian and award-winning author Colin Grant encouraged the group to conduct their own interviews, talk about their memories and write their stories in whatever form they like. With the support of local creative writer, workshop facilitator and performance poet, Sue Brown, their stories were transformed into a short film and collected into an anthology, Homecoming, which featured over 100 Caribbean voices.


In Numbers

BLF Spring Edition 2018




writers brought to the region



writers from the region

tickets sold


podcast created 8


hours of volunteer support


film screening

BLF October 2018



46 124


networking events



writers brought to the region



tickets sold


one-to-one fiction surgeries


had never attended the Festival before


of people would recommend the festival to a friend

(more than ever before)


writers from the region


BSL interpreted events


guest curator (Sathnam Sanghera)


BBC Radio Show (Any Questions? Radio 4)


hours of volunteer support


reader in residence

(Nikki Bi, from the West Midlands Readers’ Network) 9

Writer Development Short Courses

Room 204

Carving out a writing career is no easy matter. But it can be done, and it needn’t be done alone. Writing West Midlands is committed to supporting talented writers, giving them the confidence to keep going and the skills to construct a living from their words.

Room 204 is our writer development programme which enables writers from across the West Midlands to develop their skills through mentoring, networking, performances, and one-to-one career support.

One of the ways we do this is through our varied calendar of short courses, which are now well-established in the creative calendar of the region and often sell out months in advance. From ‘Pitching Your Work’ to ‘Writing a Page Turner’ to ‘Mindfulness and Creative Writing’, we offer writers from all walks of life the opportunity to hone their talents. Through our extensive professional development programme we delivered over 1,000 hours of adult training this year, frequently in collaboration with national partner organisations like The Literary Consultancy.

National Writers’ Conference 9 8% of attendees rated the overall quality of National Writers’ Conference as Very Good or Good. The National Writers’ Conference connects a vibrant network of writers from across the region to help them find opportunities, create new work and sustain a creative career. This annual networking and discussion event includes workshops, breakout sessions and information sharing events with industry experts, including the British Council, Granta, the BBC, and the Arvon Foundation.

Each year 15 new writers join a cohort now made up of over 130 poets, short story writers, novelists and playwrights, all of whom receive ongoing support. We have a stellar track record in helping writers make connections, access funding and find work, all the while developing their own creative talents.

Once Upon a Time in Birmingham: Women Who Dared to Dream To commemorate the centenary of the first women to get the vote, we worked in collaboration with Birmingham City Council and local, female-led publisher, The Emma Press, to publish an accessible, educational and downright inspirational book that brings together an empowering collection of creators and innovators, activists and changemakers. Complete with vibrant illustrations from a host of upand-coming female illustrators, Once Upon a Time In Birmingham is about 30 women who made, and are making, Birmingham the great city it is today. This book led to a new legacy fund being launched to help the next generation of fearless females to pursue their ambitions, set up by Birmingham City Council and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham’s Charity to support people in training or education.

1 00% of Room 204 participants rated the scheme Excellent. 100% of Room 204 participants rated the support on the scheme Excellent and Very Good.

Common People Written in celebration, not apology, the Common People project was inspired by a shared concern that working-class voices are increasingly absent from the pages of books and newspapers. Working with award-winning writer Kit de Waal, other regional writer development agencies and the international crowd-funded publisher, Unbound, we supported the creation of a collection of essays, poems and memoir written by working-class writers. This collection brings together 17 wellknown writers with the same number of unpublished writers, including Room 204 participants Emma Purshouse and Lynne Voyce, and Writing West Midlands Patron, Stuart Maconie.

“One of the very best courses I have been on. Stretched and challenged me in so many ways that have enriched and improved how I think about poetry.” Advanced Poetry short course attendee


We facilitated four Regional Networks: Independent Publishers, Literary Translators, Literature Festivals, University Creative Writing Courses. We mentored local publisher Nine Arches Press, and assisted with recruitment for their Dynamo Poetry Development Scheme. We attended Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters in Kerala. We attended a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Poetry. We facilitated a Latvian literary exchange project in partnership with the British Council.

We worked on a project with Royal Holloway on the contemporary relevance of George Eliot.

We supported the process for selecting the Birmingham Poet Laureate and Birmingham Young Poet Laureate. We managed the applications for The Literary Consultancy Free Read’s Scheme.

We ran a Creative Writing Careers Seminar at four universities in the region. We assisted with recruitment for The Asian Writer Magazine’s The Middling Way Writer Development Scheme.

We worked with B-Arts on their ‘Little School of Improbable Cooking’ project with young people.

We helped Stokeon-Trent Libraries to develop their first children’s book festival.

We edited Spake, a book on the contemporary impact of accent and dialect, published in partnership with Aston University.


Photo credits: Lee Allen Paul Stringer Patrons: Liz Berry Stuart Maconie Sathnam Sanghera Kit de Waal Board of Trustees: George Bastow Nikki Bi Lisa Blower Olwen Brown (Chair) Maeve Clarke Hannah Clifford Helen Cross Professor Gregory Leadbetter Dr Ceri Morgan Professor Femi Oyebode Carol Phillips John Roberts Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive jonathan@writingwestmidlands.org Researched, written and edited by Matilda Blackwell, funded by Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership.

writingwestmidlands.org @writingwestmids


Profile for Writing West Midlands

WWM Impact Report 18/19  

WWM Impact Report 18/19