Literature students engage with the local community.
27 Mar 2012
Students on the English Literature courses at the University of Brighton are able to put their creative writing practice and social awareness to good use in a number of local community projects. With creative writing a major aspect of many literature options at Brighton, along with modules like Writing for social purpose, the students are in an excellent position to reflect on and assist with the community-building around Brighton and Sussex. Work, Write Live and the Community University Partnership Programme (CUPP) at the University of Brighton support involvement beyond the campuses, bringing real benefit to the local community and the students themselves.
Our students have been working with the residents of a retirement village in Kemp Town, Brighton to share their stories and develop their creative writing, part of the On Our Doorsteps project funded by CUPP. The project aimed to help students connect with their neighbours in the wider Brighton community and engage them with broader socio-economic groups outside their degree programme.
Members of the Patching Lodge retirement village engaged in reminiscence workshops that allowed them to share and sometimes write their autobiographical memories. Some of the members find it difficult to physically write and so capturing their stories and presenting them to friends and family is potentially challenging.
Students interviewed the residents and transformed the interview data into poems, plays and prose. QueenSpark Books, the most prolific community publishers in the UK and connected with the University of Brighton's Faculty of Arts, act as consultants on the project, advising on the editing and production of a collaborative anthology with contributions from students and members of Patching Lodge.
The first workshop was a huge success with positive feedback from the students and residents of Patching Lodge. Students wrote poems that reflected the residents’ vocational experiences in post-war Brighton. Project leader Linda Raines said: "The students were really engaged and worked hard to draw out positive memories in the residents and create beautiful poems". 89 year-old resident Wallace Burnett-Smith said: "The poems the students have produced are very moving and powerful and we hope that our relationship with them will continue for years to come". Lecturer Jess Moriarty said: "Students have found the project genuinely inspiring and uplifting, it has improved their communication and writing skills and helped them to think about their roles as positive citizens".
The poems are currently on display at Patching Lodge and can be viewed by arrangement by telephoning: 01273 680744.
It's well known that students in the humanities sometimes find it difficult to make links between their studies and employability, and these projects seek to address this issue whilst also enabling students to reflect on their responsibility as social, democratic citizens. Such important considerations fed usefully into the recent Employability in the Humanities event at our Falmer Campus.
Literature students have also been leading workshops with pupils from local schools as part of an after school programme to draw out their creativity and build confidence with reading, writing and drama.
The sessions at Mouslecoomb Primary School and West Hove are an ongoing initiative to engage undergraduate students in the wider Brighton community and, as with other community projects, to help them to consider how the skills they are developing on their degree programme will be relevant when they leave university.
Feedback from the junior schools has been overwhelmingly positive. Andrew Bradstreet, a teacher from Moulsecoomb Junior School said, “It was wonderful having you all in today and I'm sure you could tell from the children's faces how much you were appreciated. It was very kind of the students to give up their time and you can see from the results what an impact you had.”
Creative writing students had a chance to treat the community to their own work in a live mic night at The Blind Tiger, Brighton, for Brighton Night, an evening of poetry, short stories, monologues and original songs.
The atmosphere was supportive and relaxed with some stunning creative pieces performed to a host of friends and peers who came to support the performers and enjoy the writing and entertainment. All of the acts were excellent, with some of the students reading assessed work from their creative writing modules.
Students are planning to hold the next event in May 2012 to coincide with the launch of The Open Mind, a collaborative anthology edited by students from the Faculty of Arts that draws on the creative work of students and staff from the universities of Brighton, Sussex, Chichester and The Open University.