How do partnerships evolve and flourish?

Helen Reynolds, Development Director
at The Writers’ Block, Cornwall talks about how they have developed a successful partnership with Penryn College.

The Writers’ Block is the Writing Centre for Cornwall, and we are one of the cultural partners in the Penryn Creativity Collaboratives programme. But our history with Penryn goes back far beyond the current work, and is an example of a mutually beneficial partnership which has grown with each of our organisations.

Originally funded as an arts education agency, we have worked consistently with primary and secondary schools for over 20 years. From CPD supporting best practice in arts in schools, to cross curricular arts projects, to being part of the Creative Partnerships Cornwall programme, we have developed relationships based on trust, quality and creativity.

In 2014, funded by Arts Council England and led by Director Amanda Harris and writer Anna Maria Murphy (Kneehigh, Radio 4), we created The Story Republic – an immersive installation focussing on creative writing and the arts in schools. Its aim was to capitalise on the impact of transformation of space from a normal school classroom to a place of wonder celebrating the written word. To fire children’s imagination and creativity, and to celebrate their work alongside that of professional writers. And where do you go to test a new idea for the first time? To a friendly partner of course!

 curious cupboard in The Writers' Block. Image by Neal Megaw
Curious Cupboard in The Writers' Block. Image by Neal Megaw

Working with Penryn College and the Penryn Partnership over a term, our writer and artist team delivered creative writing and visual art workshops in all schools on the theme of Charles Causley’s poetry. Schools also responded with their own activity, creating dance and music inspired by the theme. And for one week at the end of term, we transformed a classroom in Penryn College. The Story Republic had arrived. The week was full of writer led workshops and tours for all the schools, performances of the children’s writing alongside that of Charles Causley and other Cornish writers. The children saw their creations exhibited and celebrated.

Huge improvement in the quality of our writing - Isaac - "Her eyes were as blue as the ocean was deep" Totally immersed in the idea of themselves as film-makers and writers of the future.’ Goonhavern Primary School.

The support we received from the senior leadership team at Penryn College, as well as the head teacher, their willingness to take a risk based on the trust we had already developed, and their understanding of the importance of creativity across the school curriculum, were major factors in the success of The Story Republic. We were able to test and refine the work, taking it to many more school clusters across Cornwall.

‘The whole year group shared performance poetry and now see poetry as a performance art - a lovely step forward! Our year 9 boys especially our 3 autistic pupils, grew hugely in confidence’ Penryn College.

Book house sculpture by artist Tony Crosby. Image by Neal Megaw
Book house sculpture by artist Tony Crosby. Image by Neal Megaw

In 2017 we created The Writers’ Block. A unique, immersive, artist made space dedicated to imagination, to curiosity and to writing. This was the culmination of our learning through delivering The Story Republic in schools, shops and galleries, hosting two immersive installations from Discover Story Centre, and the publication of A Space to Write, a book exploring the importance of the spaces in which writers choose to write. But it isn’t just a place to write, it is also an approach.

So many children experience barriers to writing – fear of getting it wrong, lack of experiences and ideas, or simply having no enjoyment or motivation to write. Our approach, developed by Amanda Harris and Anna Maria Murphy, alongside novelist and creative literacy expert Wyl Menmuir, with input from all of our writer team, puts firing imaginations at the heart of our work.

Letters to inspire stories in The Writers' Block. Image by Steve Tanner
Letters to inspire stories in The Writers' Block. Image by Steve Tanner

An essential feature of our way of working is that, from the very beginning, the students are encouraged to see themselves as writers. They are trusted completely and allowed freedoms that would not normally be possible at school. In return, they are expected to behave as writers, in particular to see language as a tool, as a thing of potential beauty in their hands, the hands of a writer. Through group activities and individual support from the workshop leader, who themselves are professional writers, the students immerse themselves in free-writing activities, sharing only when they feel it appropriate. The lead writers do not mark or grade, no correction of spelling or punctuation. In this way, students are given confidence to take risks, to allow their imaginations to fly, and to tell their story.

‘We deliberately selected students who lacked the motivation to write or did not believe in their own abilities. Within a matter of weeks, these students were inspired and excited about writing and are now willing to take risks and to share their writing with others. Students who struggled with 'blank page syndrome' are now taking pen to paper and really crafting their writing.’ Laura Hocking, Head of English, Brannel School

In our next blog we’ll be talking in more detail about how we help children and young people to build skills, confidence and enjoyment in creative writing, how we have developed this work through Teacher CPD for the Penryn Creativity Collaboratives programme and the impact this has had on classroom practice and school curriculum delivery.

To find out more about The Writers Block and the work they do head to their website

You can read more about Penryn and the work of their Collaborative here.

    • Type
    • Blogs

    • Source
    • Helen Reynolds, The Writers' Block

    • Interest
    • Ideas Exchange

    • Creativity Collaboratives