TRCH Dracula

Gareth Morgan on the Importance of Reading

27 September 17 interview: LP Mills
illustrations: Natalie Owen

Gareth Morgan has been working in Nottingham’s education, literature and theatre scene for yonks. Now, he’s about to take his hard work across the pond as part of the Nottingham Roosevelt Scholarship programme. We got him in for a chat about what he’ll be doing stateside...

First off, could you tell us a bit about the scholarship?
The Nottingham Roosevelt Scholarship is an annual opportunity for young people who are living, working or studying in Nottingham to visit the United States for up to three months to explore a topic of their choice. It was founded in 1946 by Lord Mayor of Nottingham, Francis Carney, as a “living memorial” for the late Franklin Roosevelt. This year, there are three of us receiving the scholarship: I’ll be exploring primary-aged literacy projects; there’s Miles, who is looking at the use of innovative technology in older people’s homes; and there’s Angelena, who is looking at species reintroduction specialising in bats. She is, quite literally, Nottingham’s Batwoman.

What will you be doing on your travels around the states?
I’ll be heading to New Mexico, in part, to follow in the footsteps of DH Lawrence, who famously lived there for a time. I’m hoping to connect with some of the experts at the Lawrence Ranch, and act as a sort of “ambassador” for City of Literature. I’ll also be visiting Iowa City – our sister City of Literature in the United States – and I’d like to visit Arlington Cemetery just outside of Washington DC, plus the memorial dedicated to the 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, who were all based in Wollaton Hall during the Second World War.

I’m also planning on seeing as many innovative literacy projects across the country as I can, including hopefully working in a pirate shop in San Francisco, and elementary schools to talk to children about reading and Robin Hood. The idea is to go over there, connect with people, explore my specific project, and promote Nottingham for the brilliant place it is.

You’ve described yourself as an informal “ambassador” for Nottingham. Are you interested in acting as a representative for the city while in the US?
Absolutely. It was a very strenuous interview process to attain the scholarship, and a great deal of that process involved grilling me on my understanding of Nottingham’s history and culture. I’m currently reading Emrys Bryson’s book, Portrait of Nottingham, which is all about the city and how we’ve been seen throughout history. There’s a section dedicated to Nottingham being described as “like hell, getting beastlier and beastlier” which seems a bit unfair to me. We’re a great city. We invented the MRI scanner, HP Sauce, Ibuprofen, the lot. And we’ve got the world’s greatest football team in Nottingham Forest. I was telling some people yesterday that the first ever railway was built in Nottingham. It didn’t have a train, but it definitely had a track.

I’m painfully proud to be from Nottingham: my nana was born on St Matthias Road in St Ann’s and has since moved to Porchester Road, a stone’s throw from where she grew up, but she’s at the top of the hill now. Now that’s Nottingham social mobility in action.

What inspired you to explore primary-level education programmes while in the US?
There’s a publication the City Council released called Education: Everyone’s Business, and I totally prescribe to that ideal; education is everyone’s business, because it makes everybody’s life better. It’s been proven time and time again that the best catalyst for education is a love of reading. So many child psychologists have found that if a child loves reading, they read more, which helps them improve their own development across a range of subjects.

Nottingham North and East have been identified as areas with some of the lowest literacy rates in the country, and I really want to engage with organisations in Nottingham to promote reading. The great thing is that these organisations are very open-minded and are willing to listen to new ideas, so when I come back from my trip with all these new projects, we can work together to find new and exciting ways to get kids reading and learning.  

Are there any organisations or charities that you‘re working with right now?
I wear quite a few hats. I currently work as one of the project officers on a program called Opportunity Notts which is funded by the City Council’s education team. It’s designed to help children across the city find new things to do in and out of school and get recognition via certificates and rewards. Through the website, they can be more aware of what’s going on in Nottingham, try new things and develop useful life skills.

I’m also working with FOSAC, the city’s Festival of Science and Curiosity, ChalleNGe, which is our new Cultural Education Partnership, and I’m an Associate Artist at Nottingham Playhouse. Most of these programmes are designed to help us work out exactly what engages young people the most and ensure they have a wide and varied education experience, meaning they want to go to schools and enjoy their time learning. If we’re being honest, most of us would fail a SATs test if we had to do one now, so it’s important to make sure children can enjoy learning to stand a good chance.

We’ve talked a lot about how education affects the lives of young people. Is there anything else you’re going to be exploring, either at home or abroad?
I’m especially interested in the idea of what culture and heritage means and is now. I think we’re at an interesting point, especially since the Brexit vote, where lots of this stuff is bubbling up; schools are now made to teach “British values” – terminology I have a real issue with – in the National Curriculum. I love places like Nottingham where there are high levels of integration within communities, like Berridge, where I live. I was walking around Forest Fields not long ago and saw a little girl, no more than seven years old, live-translating a letter from school for her granddad; her literacy levels in two languages were amazing, but it reminds us that we need to work with everyone to improve literacy.

I’m also keen for people to come together and see our similarities, not our differences, and nothing works better than food. If you get a bunch of people sitting together, it’s immediately awkward. Add a plate of samosas, and now we’ve got a conversation going. That’s the kind of thing I want to celebrate.

Any words of wisdom for our readers?
You should always find ways to make a change in your community. We all have lives which variously include jobs, partners, friends, children, and ill, elderly relatives, but I think we’re also publicly spirited and I’m lucky in my jobs that my work, I feel, makes a difference. Anyone can make a difference: from donating to a food bank, to supporting community events or volunteering at something like Literacy Volunteers. Just keep doing it and do as much of it as you feel you can. Nottingham has such a wealth of things we do well and much of this is down to the people doing it. With more readers getting involved, perhaps we can do more.

Gareth will be travelling across the United States throughout late 2017. Applications to take part in the scholarship in 2018 will reopen in January. To find out more about the scholarship, or to keep track of Gareth’s journey, visit Gareth’s blog.

Gareth Morgan on blogspot

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