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(republished from Hayley's blog)
When I joined the Prince’s Trust back in 2015, I was impressed to learn that members of staff are entitled to two days of volunteering in another charitable organisation. I’ve spent the last couple of years quietly wondering how I would like to spend that privilege and then recently I discovered Fighting Words Belfast.
Fighting Words Belfast is a creative writing project for children and young people in Northern Ireland. Local schools and youth groups can book to attend a free creative writing workshop, where the young people will invent their own story from scratch, first collaboratively and then on their own. They leave the workshop as a ‘published’ writer, with their own story printed and bound in an attractive booklet, which the young people love!
As one of the Trust’s LLN Champions in Northern Ireland and a Programme Executive on Achieve, I thought that the opportunity to become a Fighting Words Volunteer was too good to miss.
My Manager kindly granted me leave to attend the Volunteer Training in October and then on 16th November, I spent an inspirational morning volunteering at my first Fighting Words workshop, attended by a group of 4th Years from Ballynahinch High School.
A highlight of the workshop was having one of the Patrons of Fighting Words Belfast present – acclaimed author Roddy Doyle. Inspired by creative writing workshops around the World, Roddy set up Fighting Words Dublin and later the sister organisation in Belfast followed.
As the young people filed off the bus and into the open space overlooking the City of Belfast, I think the volunteers wondered how engaged these 14 and 15 year-olds would be with the story-making. However, once they had voted about where to set the story (Africa) then the ideas started flowing and they devised a ‘drug-lord’ called Elijah as their main character, who was about to get busted by a top cop, his long-lost son! You can keep an eye out for chapter one and the live illustrator’s depiction here.
One of the joys of this style of workshop is that there are very few rules – the young people are free to write their story as they wish and this can give them a creative freedom that they otherwise might not enjoy in a school lesson. I saw a parallel with our Achieve clubs in this respect, as we aim to promote our clubs as a safe space where young people can be themselves and where they can take a little more ownership over their own learning, in a relaxed and informal environment.
I was also encouraged to see the journey that some of the young people went on – from arriving nervously, to bravely suggesting a few ideas, to getting the first line of their own story on the page and then finally seeing them leave bubbling with enthusiasm about how much they enjoyed it! It just reminded me that our young people don’t have to be top academic achievers, or full of confidence to have brilliant ideas and to express themselves in creative and powerful ways. The practical element of these workshops is also excellent, as it makes it accessible for those young people who do not enjoy a lot of hand-writing.
So now that I am ‘back to porridge’ as it were, I am hoping to use this inspiring morning as I put together our own creative-writing session plan for local Achieve clubs, in the form of a relaxed and fun introduction to poetry. On top of this, we hosted a meeting with Fighting Words Belfast to explore ideas on how to promote their work to our Achieve delivery partners – as this will benefit the LLN skills of our young people. Also under consideration is whether there might be an opportunity for our Fairbridge young people to experience something like this too.
Overall, my staff volunteering experience was really enjoyable and informative and I would really encourage any other staff to consider how they might use their interests and passion in a voluntary capacity – as everybody wins and we are fortunate to have this opportunity as staff members of the Prince’s Trust.