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Ohannes

WritiN Words on your Street

29 March 08 words: James Walker

"The aim of WritiN was to create a new Nottingham poem, written by young people, about their Nottingham"

Gareth P Dicks is an infectious young man. Driven by an almost inhuman enthusiasm, he has been placed in charge of the WritiN Words on your Street project, a project which follows on in the tradition of other collaborative multi-authored projects such as Trace. Group sessions were held under the supervision of Rosie Gardner and former graffiti artist Richard ‘Popx’ Baker, who, when not winning awards for his art, has worked tirelessly with the communities of Radford and Hyson Green… 

What is Words On Your Street?
Quite simply, it’s a new poem. The aim of WritiN was to create a new Nottingham poem, written by young people, about their Nottingham. It was a chain poem, created over a period of three weeks by many unheard young voices across Nottingham.

Where did you get the idea for the project?
When I started at Creative Room, which is part of the Youth Service of the City Council, I was blown away by the legacy that stood before me. There was a multitude of interesting projects that had preceded me, and one that stood out was a two-year project called ‘Words on Your Street’.

So you took over the project?
Well, I was over the moon when I was asked to manage and revive this project, and instantly my mind began churning out ideas of how to get the city creative again. One of the necessities was to create a publication of the many pieces that created the original project which was released on Friday March 28th at the Council House. But it is so much more than just a book launch; it’s the fulcrum of many creative titbits that preceded the event.   

Such as?
Well, there’s so many to choose from. An ICON photography exhibition, creative writing during half-term and a TXTIN event. The poetry produced at the workshops was showcased on banners, billboards, stands, trams and buses.

Have you worked on projects like this before?
I have worked on many projects with young people over the years, but none as visionary or as youth-led as this. 

Why is the project important for Nottingham?
The project is truly important on many levels.  It’s about Nottingham - important in itself - and it’s about young people, which is equally thrilling. To make sure we could maximise WritiNs’ impact I came up with a series of working objectives. I was very aware that, like Nottingham itself, there is a stigma attached to some of the young people here, displaying itself in negativity. I wanted to challenge this, to nurture these minds to achieve. So this project aimed to encourage young people to be creative - and more importantly, give them a voice.

What type of poem is it?
It’s a chain poem in homage to Nottingham. The idea being that many different young voices are heard in a creative and eclectic manner. Each verse was written by a different youth group, from a different area of the city. The final line of each of these verses was then given to the next group, with the hope of inspiring the next verse. Rosie Gardner and ‘Popx’ Baker had the unenviable task of giving these fractured expressions unity and cohesion. 

Can you tell us more about the sessions?
The sessions were all under three hours long. None of the workshops were strained or forced upon participants. They were free to write what they wanted and were encouraged to be open about their feelings. The only real pressure was meeting deadlines, that being getting the verse, or six lines, finished by the end of the session. But we – they - did it.

How did the kids react to the sessions?
As the sessions were hosted at the specific bases of the groups, they felt safe and comfortable in a familiar environment. The perfect conditions to get the creative juices flowing. We then issued contributors with a WOYS notebook and pen to encourage them to keep being creative beyond the sessions.

Will it be read as a whole in public?
There is no ‘performance’, so to speak, at the moment, apart from the official unveiling at the Council House. The important thing was for the contributors to read it out as a team and finally meet each other.

How did you choose the themes and locations for the poem?
I wanted a great cross-section of the city.  That was the only fair way to create a diverse and inclusive piece.  I knew I couldn’t go everywhere or get everyone involved, so I decided to follow the path of the original project and work with people at the City Hospital, the refugees at Castle College and the Deaf Youth club. But I also wanted to look at the city demographics, so I chose a youth provision from the North, Centre and South of the City and added them to the pot. I then looked at the other underrepresented areas and felt the homeless and LGBT communities needed to be included. And so these groups make up eight areas and eight verses.

So what is Nottingham to you?
Nottingham is home to me. Ok, I’ve only been here three years but it felt ‘right’ from the moment I arrived. Although Nottingham has a ‘reputation’ and statistics are freely quoted, I still feel safe, and a place that makes me feel safe is somewhere I intend to stay. I love the history, the architecture, the culture and the nightlight. It’s a great city, but not so big that you feel overwhelmed. That’s why I think many people connect with the place. I can see the efforts the City Council are gearing towards to create a new identity and I like feeling part of that, part of the history, part of a unit. That is why I am so passionate about this project.   

Is the poem about Nottingham in the past or present?
I never stipulated about its context, but I can assure you it’s about the past, present and future. I have encouraged the artists, Rosie Garner and Popx Baker, to simply address ‘Nottingham’ with the young people they worked with. Typical themes included; their experiences, what they liked about the city, their dreams, changes, how Nottingham affects their lives. Everything and anything.

And your hopes for the poem?
At the end of the day, it’s about and for Nottingham as a City, as a community, so my dream is that it reaches every neighbour, as it’s meant for every neighbour.

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