Fighting Words Belfast celebrates its 1st birthday

One year on from its launch at Queen's Univeristy during Belfast Children's Festival 2015:

  • The project has delivered creative writing workshops to 1,300 children and young people aged 6-18 at Skainos, and at the Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts.  School groups have travelled from as far afield as Bushmills on the north coast to take part, and workshops have also taken place with community groups from North, East and West Belfast as part of youth club and summer scheme programmes. 
  • Over 100 volunteer mentors from all walks of life including newly arrived citizens of Belfast have been recruited and trained. An ongoing relationship has established with Deloitte as part of their CSR commitment.  Through the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's creative writing PHD students can now gain credits as volunteers with Fighting Words Belfast, and from the autumn a similar arrangement will be extended to MA students at the SHC.   

Results from workshop monitoring forms for both teachers/group leaders consistently show that levels of engagement are high and that the work is valued.  Here are some recent comments from one inner East Belfast primary school group - Nettlefield Primary School P7s.

 

Teacher feedback: 'The less able writers had great exposure to language and modeled writing and they could see how to edit work.  The children who usually sit back got the chance to get their say and in engaged with story telling. All of the children took part and had an input in the story starter. Then they got to finish their own ending. It was fantastic'.
 

Children's feedback:  I learned that…

'I’m able to get lost in my stories because I can write what my mind wants'.

'To be confident about your ideas – it’s not anybody else’s story, it’s your story'.
'Sometimes the most unsensible ideas can make the best stories'.
'To blast out ideas!'
'Writing stories isn’t scary!'
'It was really fun and we could just say all our ideas. It was amazing!'
'A story is just imagination on a page'.
'To let my imagination take control'
.

 

Anecdotal evidence gathered from teachers bringing groups to workshops indicates a lack confidence in their ability to teach creative writing, and in order to maximise the impact of exposure to Fighting Words steps have been taken to secure seed-funding to identify how teachers can be supported through accessible Continuing Professional Development training materials.  To do this partnership bid has been brokered between the ground-breaking Write to Read project at St Patrick's, Drumcondra (now part of DCU) and the Education Department at Queen's, and an application submitted to SCoTENS (the Standing Conference on Teachers' Education North South).

 

The aim of Fighting Words Belfast- in Glenn Patterson's words - is to enable children and young people to become the authors of their own lives.  Workshops with secondary school age young people have proved to be a place where participants can explore topics of conflict between communities safely through the creative writing process.  The development of cross-community projects is an essential part of our work and funding from the Dept. of Foreign Affairs will facilitate project starting after Easter that will see 2 schools in inner East, 2 in inner North Belfast and a school in Balbriggan, work together digitally to create a sustained piece of work and then all come together to celebrate their achievements.  This pilot project will provide the project will lay the groundwork for the development for further cross-community initiatives. 

Since Christmas, with some start up funding from Belfast City Council, weekly after-schools Write Clubs have been operational both at Skainos and Duncairn.  At Skainos, working in partnership with East Belfast Mission, the Club caters for children of primary school age to create a space where they can engage in a range of informal creative-writing and story-related activities including regular contributions by the Co-ordinator of literature and reading activities at the Duncairn who comes to Skainos to introduce children to a range of prose and poetry.  The aim of the Write Club -both at Skainos and Duncairn- is to give children and young people a sense of ownership of the space, as somewhere that they choose to go.  The Duncairn Write Club is for teenagers from 13 years up who are into creative writing and want to meet others with similar interests from the large number of secondary schools within easy reach of the Centre.  The Duncairn provides a space for young people to 'hang out' and to pursue their own writing projects.  Staff at the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's have signed up to volunteer at the Duncairn Write Club as 'Writers in Residence and I am hopeful that a piece of writing from the Duncairn Write Club will be included in this year's Irish Times Fighting Words supplement (being co-ordinated by our colleagues in Dublin) to be published in May.

 

Relationship building continues strongly across a range of interests, including the corporate sector.  In February Ruairí de Búrca, Joint Secretary of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat, hosted a very successful dinner for us at Notting Hill.  We were very fortunate that Jennifer Johnston and Roddy Doyle were both able to join funders, friends of the project and business people in an evening that cemented existing relationships and paved the way for new partnerships with business, academia, and others.  Other opportunities that have arisen to raise awareness of the project to an international audience include a presentation that Glenn and myself made to British American Project delegates in November, and looking ahead a visit to Fighting Words Belfast will figure in the programme for the Belfast Homecoming conference this October.

 

The position of Fighting Words Belfast as part of Young at Art has provided the project with valuable opportunities for exposure, particularly during the recent Belfast Children's Festival (4-9th March).  A strong literature strand to the Festival programme included authors' readings at Eason's flagship store in Royal Avenue (as part of their three year sponsorship of Fighting Words), the showcasing of work written by children and young people in our specially constructed portable Library of Stories which went on show in a city-centre shopping mall, and The Longest Story Ever Told, a family-friendly activity that challenged children and adults to make their contribution to the never-ending story in 60 seconds that traveled across the city to several Festival venues. 

 

To find out how you can get involved with the project CLICK HERE.