Writing West Midlands Impact Report 2021-22

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The literature development agency for the West Midlands

Impact Report: Emerging after a crisis 2021–2022

Writing West Midlands is the literature development agency for the West Midlands region of the UK, and is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. Our work encourages, supports and inspires creative writers of all ages and develops all aspects of literature and creative writing in our region. The 2021/22 year was remarkably successful for Writing West Midlands, given the issues thrown up by having to emerge after a crisis. The activities described in this Impact Report took place against a background of changing Covid-19 restrictions and changing attitudes amongst our audiences and participants. This required us to be dynamic in planning and adjusting what we offered, mindful always of wanting to give maximum access irrespective of location and personal situation. By autumn 2021, we had begun to run inperson events while maintaining our on-line offer. The in-person events were delivered outdoors when possible, and with various social distancing restrictions when delivered indoors. This included successfully running the BBC Contains Strong Language Festival in Coventry, which took place entirely inperson in many venues.

We generated over £750,000 of income and investment in writing in the West Midlands. For every £1 invested in Writing West Midlands by Arts Council England, we generate £3 of income and further investment in the writing ecology. 2

The challenges we faced during 2021/22 were largely overcome and Writing West Midlands continued to offer magnificent support for creative writing and creative writers. This would not have been possible without the skills and dedication of our staff, our Trustees and our volunteers and the understanding and patience of our audiences and participants.

Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive, Writing West Midlands

The 13,000 square kilometres that make up our region – from Ledbury to Lichfield, Stoke to Sandwell – are home to some 5.7 million people and a broad range of communities, some marginalised by location, education, race or class. We want all individuals and communities in the West Midlands to have access to good creative writing, and the opportunity to help create it. Stokeon-Trent


Sandwell Walsall

Telford & Wrekin

Dudley Birmingham








As a staff team, we have embraced hybrid working, and on average staff are working 1 or 2 days a week in the office – which allows for staff meetings in-person where that’s valuable – and 1 to 2 days a week at home. Running meetings online, via Zoom, particularly the intensive one-to-one work we do with our Room 204 writersin-development, allows us to reach more people and not be limited by geography or travel times.

We ran 50 online events and writing workshops and commissioned 15 new podcast episodes as part of the 2021 Birmingham Literature Festival, which were released weekly through the autumn of 2021. Finally, we developed a project as part of the Commonwealth Games 2022

celebrations in Birmingham encouraging young people to write creatively about their experience of being from Birmingham, and what the commonwealth means to them. They will turn their writing into films which will be screened in various locations during the Games in July and August 2022.

In the year April 2021 to March 2022, we worked with 92 writers on a 1-to-1 basis, providing more than 132 hours of intensive professional development. We delivered over 1,735 hours of training to young people this year, via Zoom training sessions, YouTube video writing prompts, Instagram weekly prompts, and the postal Spark FunSheets with writing activities for our youngest young writers. Our educational programmes continued with virtual sessions in schools, small groups, genre specific workshops and a conference for young writers interested in a career in writing. Our work has enabled more than 20,000 young people to develop their creative writing practice, guided by professionals.

Birmingham Poet Laureate Casey Bailey


Young Writers Uncertainty about how young people were expected to learn continued in the summer term of 2021, and to an extent into the academic year of 2021-22. Although we were able to have two of the Spark Young Writers groups go back to meeting in person from September 2021, uncertainty about venues and Covid-19 restrictions meant that the majority remained online. This appeared to suit our older young writers (teens) more than the juniors (age 7 to 11 years) to whom we continued to send our monthly FunSheets in the post as well.


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. This year we reached over 193 young people, delivering over 1,735 hours of training. With all Covid-19 restrictions now removed in the UK as of April 2022, we intend to go back to predominantly meeting in person from September 2022, with two groups remaining online permanently so that access due to disability or location is not a barrier to being part of Spark Young Writers.

Spark Young Writers + Spark Magazine + Summer Writing Challenge The Spark Young Writers Groups provide a supportive and diverse network for young writers throughout the region. From Worcester to Warwickshire, Stokeon-Trent to Shropshire, we run dynamic monthly creative writing groups, each led by a professional writer. After a year of meeting online, we invited all our Spark Young Writers to submit their favourite piece of writing, created as a result of one of their writing workshops, to be printed in an Anthology. We received 58 submissions in a wide range of genres from the whole spectrum of ages (8 – 18). We felt it was important for them to have something tangible at the end of a year that had been so virtual. For many, it was the first time they saw their own writing in print form.

READ ON EU: end of project 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. Writing West Midlands was the UK partner. The 4-year project came to an end in December 2021. We were delighted to work with the Coventry City of Culture team in a collaboration to celebrate their special year by creating a special anthology of short stories written by local authors, commissioned by groups of Coventry school children. We printed and distributed over 13, 000 copies of the book The Long and The Short of It to all secondary school pupils in the city, as well as to Coventry library.

Through working with our project partners, some of which were schools and some who were literature or arts festivals in other cities in Europe, we picked up some incredible ideas on how to engage young people with reading, through creative writing and other means. The Writing West Midlands Read On Project lead, Emma Boniwell, joined delegates in Portugal to speak to professionals (teachers, librarians and others working with young people) about how we worked to engage with young people online. We hope to work internationally in the future and are exploring like-minded organisations to partner with. This project has now come to an end and sadly, due to the terms of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, we are unable to participate in future Creative Europe funded activities.


Writer Development Room 204

Short Courses All our short courses, workshops and training sessions took place online via Zoom until March 2021, when we started meeting in person again in very limited, controlled locations.

From April 2021 to March 2022, we: Offered 2 types of online learning for adults: 5-week live teaching; 2-hour writer training sessions (both via Zoom); and self-led online lessons via Teachable Commissioned 10 short courses Delivered 1,187 hours of writer training Employed 8 writers to run online short courses Trained 46 writers to run online writing sessions via Zoom and Teachable

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. Each year 15 new writers join a cohort now made up of over 160 poets, short story writers, novelists and playwrights, all of whom receive ongoing support. Between April 2021 and March 2022, we have: Delivered 122 hours of one-to-one development with writers Offered 3 workshops and training sessions online exclusively for Room 204 Welcomed the 15 writers of the 2020 cohort entirely online Recruited the 2021 cohort of Room 204

2021/2022 saw a rush of exceptionally good news from our Room 204 writers: Liz Hyder, Susan Stokes-Chapman, Ania Bas, Shahed Yousef and Elizabeth Lee all found publishers for their books and took part in festival events, book shop tours, and publicity events around the country and online. Susan Stokes-Chapman’s PANDORA became an instant Sunday Times number 1 bestseller.

National Writers’ Conference 2021: back in person Our 2021 National Writers’ Conference was presented in-person, a decision made at relatively short-notice at a time when there was still much uncertainty about what would be possible or practicable. The programme of speakers was up to our usual high-quality, with Professor Thomas Glave of Binghamton University (State University of New York) giving the keynote presentation and Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, participating in the keynote discussion.

After a one-to-one:

Numbers were limited for reasons of Covid 19 safety, but with over one hundred attenders there was a palpable sense of relief at being back at an in-person event. Those attending commented not only on the value of the speakers they heard but as importantly the opportunity to be with other writers, to buy books at our bookstall and to simply be a visible part of an often invisible community of writers.

“Thank you again for all your help and for the work you do at WWM – you must do an awful lot to give a voice to many and you have certainly supported me in using my voice.” 6

Susan Stokes-Chapman, Room 204 writer:

“You have all been massively supportive of me, even before getting on to Room204, and I want to thank you for that so very much. But as a Room204 member it gave me more faith in my abilities and that confidence really has made all the difference. Who knew that 12 months could bring about so many changes in my writing career?” We facilitated regular meetings of four Regional Networks: Independent Publishers, Literary Translators, Literature Festivals, University Creative Writing Courses.

We mentored local publisher Nine Arches Press. We managed the applications for The Literary Consultancy Free Reads Scheme.

50 writers, most of them new to poetry, attended the Poetry Toolkit in Coventry in October 2021, delivered in partnership with Nine Arches Press as part of the development work of the BBC Contains Strong Language festival and Coventry City of Culture.

We advertised, recruited and supported the Birmingham Poet Laureate and Young Poet Laureate, and created the new Coventry Poet Laureate scheme in partnership with Coventry Libraries. We ran a Creative Writing Careers Seminar at Birmingham City University

We ran 10 Birmingham International Literary Salons online via Zoom

2021 cohort of Room 204 © Paul Stringer


Festivals & Events Between April 2021 and March 2022, we ran events online (live), released podcast episodes throughout the autumn, participated in live and prerecorded online events, and ran a day of events in-person in October 2021 as part of Birmingham Literature Festival. In September 2021, we ran the BBC Contains Strong Language festival with Nine Arches Press, as part of the Coventry UK City of Culture celebrations. Accessibility remained key to every event we delivered, so we ensured that BSL interpretation and a free livestream was available wherever possible, so that disability, transport or location were not a barrier to experiencing and participating in events. Running events with everchanging Covid-19 restrictions in place was challenging, and meant that planning was almost impossible. In the end, in-person events in the autumn of 2021 were delivered outdoors where possible, and when indoors, with social distancing imposing


partial capacity of venues as well as mandatory face coverings. Audiences were, understandably, mixed in their reaction – some choosing to limit their exposure, and stay away, with others only too delighted that some events were taking place in person again. It has proven a very tricky time to be event managers, and even at the time of writing in April 2022, it is still unclear whether our audiences will return in the number and with the enthusiasm of prepandemic. Our 2021 festival programme was truly international, reaching an audience of nearly 1775 people in the UK, USA, India, South Africa and beyond, making the festival the most accessible it has ever been.

We delivered: 6 free online Regional Writer Meet-Ups for new writers to network with more established writers and meeting the WWM team 13 podcast episodes on the new Birmingham Lit Fest Presents… podcast feed, released weekly from October to December 2021, involving 33 podcast guests 9 monthly podcast “shorts” from writers commissioned by BLF to reflect on the experience of over a year of the pandemic in our Monthly Writers’ Blog 4 online writing workshops in the festival period in October 2021 Over 40 events in person across Coventry as part of BBC Contains Strong Language festival, which was also broadcast across BBC radio A day of 6 Birmingham Literature Festival events in October 2021 BBC Contains Strong Language, September 2021 In the UK City of Culture, Coventry

With our partner Nine Arches Press, we worked with the BBC and Coventry City of Culture to present the BBC Contains Strong Language Festival 2021 in Coventry. This project also involved many other partners, including The Belgrade Theatre, the British Council and Jerwood Arts. The project delivered a four-day festival in September 2021, featuring programmes broadcast or recorded for future broadcast across most of the BBC’s national radio networks. A key element of the project was developing emerging poets and engaging with communities who had not previously participated in contemporary poetry events. A group of locally and regionally based poets were selected to participate. These poets worked on a series of participatory programmes, ranging from an audio poetry trail to a commissioned performance with a local brass band. Schools were involved through the BBC’s Radio Club scheme and four poets were in residence in ‘green’ areas of Coventry, including the London Road Cemetery. We launched the search for City of Coventry’s first Poet Laureate and Young Poet Laureates, and appointed Emilie Lauren Jones and Hawwa Hussain during the BBC CSL Festival in September 2021.

We helped the West Midlands Readers’ Network to run The Librarian’s Toolkit Conference online in June 2021, with over 200 librarians from across England watching via YouTube and many hundreds watching after the live event.

We were partners with colleagues in Ukraine in a project to bring together writers from the Black Country in our region with writers from the Donbas region of Ukraine, through two podcasts and an online conference.

“That was one of the best lit events I’ve been to this year - incredible! How can a person be so young and so articulate?!! Both Caleb and Casey were really, really impressive. Thank you!” 9

Developing the West Midlands: a great place to be a writer Nationally:


We continued to participate in the national network of literature development agencies, sharing knowledge particularly pertaining to the upcoming Arts Council England funding applications.

We continue to participate in the Culture Central More than a Moment pledge, created as a response to the Summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, to tackle anti-Black racism and increasing access/representation of Black creative professionals within the arts

We offered informal and formal mentoring for literary publishers in the region, alongside our regular networking meetings.

We continued to manage the West Midlands Readers’ Network, running a successful conference (The Librarians’ Virtual Toolkit) and commissioning short stories for readers’ groups 10

We liaised closely with universities in our region teaching creative writing, offering a range of opportunities to their staff and students.

We generated over £750,000 of income and investment in writing in the West Midlands. For every £1 invested in Writing West Midlands by Arts Council England, we generate £3 of income and further investment in the writing ecology. We advertised, recruited and managed two Poet Laureate Schemes: Birmingham Poet Laureate and Young Poet Laureate, in partnership with Birmingham Libraries, and the new Coventry Poet Laureate and Young Poet Laureate, in partnership with Coventry Libraries.

We developed all of our websites to ensure that, as far as possible, they were accessible to writers with visual impairments, dyslexia, or who use Alt-Text readers. We continued to work as a lead partner with the BBC Contains Strong Language Festival and developed the new SkyLines festival of poetry and spoken word. The first festival is in July 2022.

We gave over £1,500 in bursaries so that writers on low incomes could attend workshops and training opportunities and further their writing careers.

We hosted events with live BSL interpretation and live captions on the livestream feed.

We helped 20 writers in our region to successfully apply for Arts Council Funding for their writing work (DYCP and LPG), attracting over £227,000 in arts development funding to the West Midlands. 11

Patrons of Writing West Midlands: Liz Berry Stuart Maconie Sathnam Sanghera Kit de Waal Board of Trustees: George Bastow Nikki Bi Olwen Brown (Chair) Maeve Clarke Rob Elkington Thomas Glave Professor Gregory Leadbetter Ceri Morgan (Associate Board Member) John Roberts Laura Willis Staff: Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive jonathan@writingwestmidlands.org Emma Boniwell Olivia Chapman Shantel Edwards Faduma-Zahra Gure Peggy Long

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