Two of Brierley Hill’s community organisations explored the theme of Brierley Hillness through creative writing workshops and have produced poetry, spoken word and songs in response to the town.
The Brierley Hill Civic Society contributed memories, thoughts and poetic descriptions about Brierley Hill past, present and future in a two-hour workshop. These ideas were forged into a poem by Brendan Hawthorne who was leading the workshop.
Brierley Hill Civic Society were asked to come to the workshop prepared to share with the group one of the following:
- A story or fact about a Brierley Hill building, place or space that is important to them
- Pictures of buildings which make Brierley Hill special
- Newspaper cuttings about things that make Brierley Hill distinctive
- A completed sentence “Brierley Hillness is…”
Armed with flipchart paper the group were split into three smaller groups to focus on Brierley Hill past, present and future and asked to draw up a list of the qualities, the pitfalls, traditions and hopes of the town.
The groups fed back their thoughts, ideas and some poetic verse they had written.
Brendan took away the notes and forged a poem based on ideas generated in the workshop. He used many of the exact words in the poem, which was then performed to the group at a separate occasion.
The poem that Brendan forged was very well received by the group as it maintained their original ideas, their own words and was a concrete and meaningful output from the workshop.
Working with an established group can make it easier to run a one-off workshop over a short space of time. There was no need to use ice-breaker strategies as individuals were focussed and comfortable sharing their ideas.
There is a limit to what you can achieve in a two-hour writing workshop; there was not enough time for participants to write their own poetry. Further workshops would enable participants to learn writing techniques and to be more creative.
A performance piece!
The Civic Society’s Brierley Hillness poem which was forged by Brendan Hawthorne was later turned into a performance piece. Brendan worked with a group of eleven children (aged 11-12) from Holly Hall Secondary School in Dudley to create a live performance for the project finale event.
Filmed and edited by James Reader
Working with Brendan over three half-day workshops, the children generated their own ideas about movements, gestures and costumes to bring this poem alive and present it to the audience. They were also taught some performance techniques.
“Brendan and the project have brought living poetry into our classrooms and given the pupils a real opportunity to work with a professional in celebrating their community. It is delightful to hear young voices cataloguing the present and looking forward to the future.”
Headteacher, Holly Hall School
The poem is naturally in three parts; representing the past, present and future. An adult was selected to read the ‘past’, two children to read the ‘present’ and a chorus of children to read the ‘future’. The performance was to a simple backdrop of projected images of the town; a black and white picture of the old post office (which is referenced in the poem), a recent picture of some High Street shops and the town’s newest building – Stourbridge Art and Design College – the future.
Creative work produced with one group can then be used to inspire another. In our case a poem forged out of a creative writing workshop with the Civic Society led to working with a group of children at a school who turned it into a performance piece. They were allowed to shape their own interpretation. This piece was then filmed and shared with a wider audience to inspire others. Where will it go next? Not limiting a piece of work to its original brief can create multi-media and community wide opportunities to participate.
Spoken word, MC-ing and song writing
Emma Purshouse delivered two creative writing workshops at The Brierley Hill Project. She encouraged the participants to engage using their preferred style of self-expression; MC-ing, poetry and song.
Over the two sessions seven people made contributions. Some contributions were purely verbal and some contributed written and oral work. The age range of participants was 21 upwards.
Emma’s workshops involved setting up a number of bite-sized activities for people to participate in. This approach works because it allows for attention spans and people who might feel uncomfortable if they had to stay for a long period in the same space. It enabled people to drop in and out of sessions.
One of these was for individuals to write single words or sentences on post-it notes. These were then combined into a group poem – an instant poem that people could hear straight away.
Visual Poem – messages in rhyme stuck onto placards. Each placard is a different person speaking (gaps indicate new person speaking).
From God we need a gift
Let’s be honest
We need a face lift
Put some spark
Into the parks
Leave it the same
I’d still complain
A proper dive
Outta here alive
Don’t take my library
I want books for free
Gimme some clubs
Where I can practice me dubz!
I think it’s great
I’m not sure
It’s such a state
I’m still stacking Pasta
But hopefully soon
We’ll have George
Enter at your will.
Another exercise involved drawing up a list of buildings in Brierley Hill – the good, the bad and the ugly. This group exercise was used as a starting point for writing creative pieces in the voice of various buildings, such as the Old Market Café and Police Station.
A Riddle…which building am I?
I can greet you with a grin
Or I can swallow you whole.
I can make you confident
Or leave you desperate.
My question is why have you come through my door?
Answer:- The Police Station
The idea of using different activities was to enable people to drop in and out of the session and contribute something, or stay for the whole session and develop longer pieces of work.
Malcolm reading Brierley Hillness is
We had provided Emma with some key questions that we were seeking to answer during the Brierley Hillness project. Many of the questions lent themselves to creative writing activities. Brierley Hillness Questions
Instead of bombarding participants with questions, activities were set up which might inadvertently answer a number of the questions.
Many of the participants responded easily to questions about Brierley Hillness. However, in initial conversations some were falling into the trap of either coming up with stereotypical answers or answers that they felt were wanted. The creative activities helped people bypass these stock responses and come up with responses which were more thoughtful and relevant to them.
Steve singing about Brierley Hill.
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