Autumn highlights

Greetings! To say it’s been a busy few months would be a bit of an understatement. As is usual this time of year, things have been pretty full-on and I’m looking forward to a December break. That said, it’s been a really productive and fulfilling time, so here are some of the highlights!

In October I delivered a series of creative writing workshops in acute psychiatric wards at Sheffield Hospitals. I loved it and am really hoping it’s something that can be possible more regularly. The patients and nurses were absolutely lovely and the art facilities are pretty ace. One unit even had a gorgeous art room with a kiln that makes you feel like you’re in a maker’s studio.

Also in October, we celebrated ten years of the Youth Word Up as part of Off the Shelf Festival of Words. I’m proud to have brought the project this far, and we even got a shout-out on Twitter from Benjamin Zephaniah himself (its original founder). As part of his guest curation at Off the Shelf all those years ago, Benjamin came up with the YWUp to give young people, particularly those from backgrounds and groups often marginalised, the opportunity to have their voices heard alongside an established poet. Over the years that’s extended into yearly print publications, a digital installation and a lockdown podcast.

It was an emotional event for me remembering all the brave young people who’ve written and performed through the project, and lovely to have young people who’ve been involved over the years come back for the special occasion.

One of the original young people from the first year (and subsequent years), who wasn’t able to come because her daughter was poorly, send a lovely piece to read out about what the YWUp meant to her. She got involved via Sheffield Youth Justice because of what she was getting up to. She spoke about the difference it had made at a crucial time in her life.

Many others spoke or messaged about what they’d got from the project including Hyphyn, who has since become an artist/rapper in his own right (check out his YT here), and Stevo B whose words on what it’s mean to him (below), as you might imagine as a fellow dyslexic, meant the world to me. Encouragement is a superpower we can all give easily and freely and hell yes can it change a lot for the person we’re giving it to.

We also published a ‘10 years of the Youth Word Up’ book with a selection of work from over the years. It even made me tearful putting it together! And it was painful trying to choose a range of work from across 10 years with so many great pieces and so many people I wanted to see represented.

Then in early November, 30+ care-experienced young people took to the iconic Leadmill stage in Sheffield to perform songs, raps and poems (the latter written in workshops with myself and the mighty Dominic Heslop (akaThe1Devotion) Dom is another young person I’ve had the pleasure to work with for many years who is now a pretty amazing creative facilitator and artist in his own right. I’m mega proud of him and excited for what he has got panned for young people in Sheffield in the pipeline. Dom hosted and they all rocked the Leadmill. It was pure poetry; dancing and chanting in the audience and cheering each other on. A really special night. Even people we thought weren’t going to make it appeared out of nowhere and felt supported enough to get on the stage. Many of them spoke frankly about their experiences of care because they felt they could and that was everything. And it was such a lovely team running the event led by the brilliant Clare and Tanja fro the Care Council (picture of us all to the right in which Max has photoshopped the word Squad above us!) I’m looking forward to collating another book of work from the Care Council some time in spring.

What else!? Hive groups are back up and running and buzzing in the real world which is nice and there’s plenty in the pipeline. Think that’ll do for now! Oh, a last thing. I had a few poems in a new Greenteeth Press anthology called Over Yonder. Thanks Greenteeth folks! It’s about all things Yorkshire!