Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Poetry Workshops at Ralph Thoresby School


It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times …

Sally Bavage writes:

Never was Dickens more accurate. It's been a tough year to try and organise an after-school group of would-be poets and creative writers, so great credit to Kate Wolstenholme for doggedly persisting despite Covid and all the uncertainties and disruptions.  Just as the work was scheduled to begin, the school was closed to most pupils in the new year.  Learning transferred online; then social distancing and support bubbles interfered with more normal working.  Frequent interruptions for self-isolation led to a disrupted series of interactions with commissioned artist poet Kirsty Taylor.  However, the school has worked with her before and knew that, if anyone could, she would be able to not only cope but encourage and inspire young people to find their inner writer.  She did.  Bravo.

The first two sessions were in January and February, thanks to Zoom.  Which we found was not an ideal way to share personal and emotional ideas using poetry starting from a base considering modern Gods.  We waited for the school to re-open and resumed with workshops in person with Kirsty at the end of March.

Altogether Kirsty led five more after-school sessions where all felt more comfortable and the output was both more confident and the sharing deeper.  Some of the work was very moving; these small group sessions of around ten students provided an opportunity for young people to explore some of the fears, difficulties and resentments they were experiencing but were trying to subdue both in class and at home. 

The work continued after Kirsty completed her work, led by Kate Wolstenholme and supporting staff.  They have put together a video of the youngsters reading out their best pieces of work as well as a group piece.  Kirsty collaborated with another artist, Martha Kean, a musician with excellent video skills and they are producing a finished version that has appropriate music to accompany the words.  It will form a lasting memory of a strange year.  No end-of-term performance is possible, but the video will be uploaded to the school website for future young people to be able to see what can be possible.

As Kirsty herself commented:

It's always a great pleasure working with Ralph Thoresby students. Their commitment to the extra curricular sessions was admirable, particularly considering the challenges of online access and the pandemic! 

We used Kate Tempest's 'Brand New Ancients' as a stimulus for our writing, transporting their infamous 'Gods' poem to the context of 2021 in post-pandemic Britain. This generated some great discussions about politics and social inequalities, which students were able to express powerfully in their writing.  I love the contrast and diversity of style and voice in the group, and really look forward to seeing how they develop their writing and performances in their unique, individual way.”

 And Kate Wolstenholme, the teacher who inspired and managed all the workshops entirely in her own time, also commented:

The pupils have grown in their confidence throughout. They have mixed outside their comfort zones and found a voice in a strange time. They have all risen in potentially difficult situations – reading aloud and talking into a mic, expressing their thoughts.

What has come out of it is brilliant – I and they were very proud of the final group piece, as well as their individual pieces. We have had a wider range of pupils in terms of background – some Pupil Premium pupils for example (those that are disadvantaged in some way). Pupils have come from Years 7 to 10.

This really is my favourite part of my job – there is real freedom in the extra-curricular activities – especially with your support!

We are most grateful for the encouragement from the Outer North West management committee whose support enabled us to work with not one but two professional artists.  Thank you!

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