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Engaging your local community with workshops and projects during your studies


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Here at AUB, we’re a creative community that thrives on what we make. But what’s equally important is the world outside our campus, and how people interact with art-based experiences.

Sometimes, the greatest source of inspiration can be found right on your doorstep. Local communities are great for showcasing your practice and introducing others to it too – you might even end up being the reason why someone pursues a creative interest.

Our BA (Hons) Creative Writing course began in 2017 and since then, it’s been building a solid reputation. Students and alumni have won awards and been consecutively featured in the AUB International Poetry Prize, as well as anthologies like AUBSU’s 2022 Somewhere Beneath The Surface and the yearly course publication, sent out to industry professionals.

There’s a unique part of this course too: final-year students host workshops for their local communities, and in doing so, form great connections and opportunities for future work.

Students have brought writing workshops, feedback support groups and performance nights to all kinds of local spaces, from nature reserves and classrooms to online spaces, care homes and even prisons. Creative potential can be found in anyone – all it takes is a little inspiration.

But where to start…

For her own community project, 2023 BA (Hons) Creative Writing graduate Naomi McClaughry knew she wanted to undertake her community project back at home in Northern Ireland.

“Growing up in a rural area, I didn't always have the opportunity to do things like this. I wanted to create a project that offered that to children from my area so they had a memento to look back on.”

Arguably, the biggest part of a community project isn’t carrying out the workshop – it’s the planning. For Naomi, she realised the importance of creating fun-filled sessions and an expressive anthology for all schoolchildren involved.

“I tried to focus on complete creative freedom and lifting the stress of spelling so that they could just enjoy creating stories. Many of the children's literacy levels had been impacted by the COVID-19 lockdowns and teachers reported reduced creativity. I put an emphasis on having fun and not making the sessions too formal to boost enthusiasm.”

The outcome?

“It was nerve-wracking, but it taught me a lot about how people who don't normally consider themselves 'writers' engage with the form. When I delivered the complete anthologies, the children were really excited and spent ages finding the illustrations that matched their stories. That was a special moment."

Naomi’s community project had some great outcomes. Not only did she inspire local schoolchildren to write, but she created an anthology from their work too. In itself, part of a collaborative effort.

“My brother is actually a professional artist. He normally works on murals, seasonal window paintings, and caricatures at markets and online. Since he is also a past pupil at the school, I felt it was important to include him in the project. He had a lot of fun bringing the characters and locations to life.”

This isn’t the only great example of what BA (Hons) Creative Writing students are doing. Current final-year students are continuing to develop their own community projects, with Oliver Janowsky and Abbey Warren hosting workshops at local care homes – an often overlooked space with untapped creative potential and life-long stories waiting to be told.

Final-year student Ollie Wheaton recently took his project to a local food bank near his home town in Abingdon, where he’s been volunteering for almost three years now, exploring the stories they can tell:

“The project started with a desire to raise awareness for food banks in the UK, as in recent years they have featured in the news more and more. As well as that, people with positions of authority seem to be creating a stigma around food banks, and I wanted to create something that could break through that.

“After some development I decided the project’s outcome would be an anthology of pieces written by the volunteers writing about their experiences. In this way, it was providing a behind-the-scenes look at how a food bank is run, using personal stories to help the readers see how everyone’s experiences of volunteering are slightly different. At the end, I also provided links to donate to food bank charities and ended my own pieces by urging people to seek out their local food banks and help how they can.”

Regardless of what your community is like or who you run workshops with, the outcome can be very rewarding. It’s not only a testament to what you create from it, but the inspiration it brings to others.

And breathe!

Once you’ve undertaken and completed your community project, it’s always crucial to reflect on how it’s gone. Evaluation is great for finding flaws and considering how to improve for next time, which Naomi recognised in her own project, as well as offering us some advice:

“I would definitely put more emphasis on idea generation and make the sessions longer. I definitely did not give myself enough time. I know it can be intimidating to put yourself out there and run a workshop, but people who are already actively involved in a community are usually open to new things.

"Writing has so many forms and levels of commitment – you can be a casual scribbler or someone on your fifth novel, but you can still enjoy the same workshop.

“Flexibility is the key to community work, so let the participants guide you and it’ll all work out!"

Our local communities offer untapped potential and as creatives, it’s our job to give people a voice they might not have known they had. Consider reaching out to someone or somewhere you know, or perhaps plan out a workshop – maybe even host an open mic night. You never know where it might take you!

Something to think about

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