Kings Hill revisited

IMG_0820Kings Hill is built on the former West Malling airfield, which was the most important base for night fighters during World War II and was subsequently home to US forces, Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin, the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and much more. From the 1990s it was developed as a new town and in 2013 I was invited to help to gather material from local residents and schoolchildren for a series of text-based artworks by artist Richard Wolfströme that would commemorate the site’s history.

It was a long journey from talking to people and gathering their memories and dreams to the finished art. But at last the works are installed and it was wonderful to see them and to remember the many conversations and workshops that inspired them.

You can read more of the memories we collected and some of the poetry we generated by clicking here.


Brazil 2014 with Future Creative

IMG_0341Pupils at St Michael’s RC Primary School in Medway geared up for the World Cup by publishing a newspaper about Brazil and … football!

I worked with all the Year 4 classes, divided into five teams, to write about carnival, rain forests, Rio’s tourist sites, top teams and top players. Our newspaper was published just before the first kick-off and I don’t think anyone will have been too upset by England’s dismal performance as most pupils seemed to support Nigeria, Germany, Ghana, USA, Argentina or Brazil.

Pass the Passion with Future Creative

photoOver the past few months I have visited 30 out of the 52 schools in the Deal and Dover district! In each school I have talked to pupils about their hobbies, ambitions, aspirations – in short, their passions – and then encouraged them to write articles about them to be published in a newspaper.

We produced three newspapers, with ten schools in each. The young people wrote about becoming gymnasts, athletes or footballers, lawyers, scientists or writers, vets, engineers or palaeontologists. They were justifiably proud of seeing their names in print and of passing their passion on to inspire their readers.

The project was part of the Olympic legacy programme, Pass the Passion: Road to Rio.

Catching Words with Discover

20131209_152933I’m very sad to have finished another term with three schools as part of the Catching Words project run by Discover Children’s Story Centre. This time I was working alongside a fantastic team of poets including Joseph Coelho, Adisa, Paul Lyalls and Joshua Seigal.

The project is for Year 2. In the first term each class has eight session with a poet, followed by eight with a storyteller in term two and a further eight sessions with a storywriter who helps them create a class story that is published as a book. The project has been incredibly successful, with children progressing far faster than expected. Most of the classes contain a high percentage of EAL children as well as children who struggle with literacy and it is wonderful to see them grow in confidence and ability to express themselves.

Altogether we worked in ten schools in East London as well as a similar number in Hertfordshire who got a single whole-day session rather than the full project.

My favourite session involved asking the children to draw and write about imaginary animals or monsters based on Edward Lear’s ‘The Quangle Wangle’s Hat’. The teacher said she had never seen the children so spellbound!

Cookery with Steve Weaver

cookeryI am currently involved in assisting at a series of workshops run by Steve Weaver of Chives Caterers. The project is part of Cyber Youth Connection (CYC) Medway, an initiative to give 11-19 year olds skills in cookery, music and motorbike mechanics (yes, really!) in collaboration with a similar initiative in northern France.

I’ve learned how to make twice-baked soufflés, how to crush garlic and how to break up dry spaghetti to put in minestrone, among a lot of other things. Steve’s menus are wonderfully ambitious, so for each session we make and eat a three-course meal including desserts such as chocolate éclairs and hot chocolate puddings.

And the kids love it too…

Songs and poems with Nine Below Zero

ghostThis was a wonderful project organised by Future Creative in Minterne Community Junior School in Sittingbourne.

Musician Dennis Greaves of blues band Nine Below Zero and I worked in all twelve classes – I went in first and encouraged the children to write poems on the themes of memory and identity and then Dennis followed and helped them transform the poems into lyrics and set them to music.

At the end we produced a book of poems and illustrations and a CD of the songs, called There’s a Ghost Under My Bed.

VickyDennis2013 023It was really interesting for both Dennis and I to observe each other’s creative process and to think about the difference between what makes a good poem and what makes a good song. The most successful poems for me were with a Year 4 class where we did cut up poetry – I gave the children an A4 page of words to do with the sea and they rearranged them as they wished.

Here is an example:

Calm clouds disappear
Shimmering waves whisper
Rippling pools roll
We walk on the golden sand
Violent cliffs towering up
We plunge into the deep
I shout to the dark
Rocks, sharp and solid
Alone under the pebbles crabs scuttle
Shimmering moon sings
Droplets surf among the tide
Sunrise, sunset over rain

Dennis and I were reunited for the retirement of headmaster Bill McGrory when Nine Below Zero performed and I read a poem I had written sourced from comments and memories by of pupils and staff. Here it is:

million dollar bill

The Daily Sunshine

daily sunshine_reviseThis was a project at Pent Valley Technology College for a transition summer school for Year 6s due to start the school in September.

I spent a day with the group finding out their interests and encouraging each of the pupils to write a review, news story, commentary or other article – the topics covered included games, cars, fashion, animal facts, football and more.

We then produced a newspaper which was given out to prospective Y6s at open day as well as to the pupils who had contributed.

It is amazing how much the pupils achieved in such a short time and we were all proud of their efforts. Thanks to Future Creative for their support!

Bastille Day 2013

french_flagI’ve just done a series of workshops in a London secondary school to celebrate Bastille Day, or le quatorze juillet. We based the workshops around a fantastic short film called ‘Le génie de la boite de raviolis’ from the BFI ciné-minis series which we encouraged the Y8 pupils to use as a starting point for thinking about their wishes for the future.

To their surprise, the pupils were able to understand the film with French subtitles (and a bit of help) as well as writing their wishes in French.

There are a lot more workshop possibilities using film and foreign languages and I would love to do more in the future.

Read all about it!

P1100520Pupils from Bromstone Primary School in Broadstairs have just published their first newspaper. The title is Manston Past & Present and the paper contains an interview with staff from Manston Airport about their new link up with Dutch airline KLM, an interview with WW2 bomber pilot Gerry Abrahams, interviews with pupils about their view on WW2, interviews with parents about their experiences of airports, stories about holiday dreams and disasters and much more.

For the project I worked with ten pupils from Y6 and film-maker Richard Fleury of Skeletope, and as well as the newspaper we produced a film. You can see the film by clicking here.

Organised by Future Creative, the project was great fun, as well as producing noticeable improvements in the pupils’ work as they prepare for secondary school. Headmaster Nigel Utton tweeted ‘Fantastic, loved the newspaper. So professional. Best ever use of pupil premium’ – and I’m inclined to agree.

Poetry for the Olympic Legacy List

TMitchell_130522_4784.163200The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is about to open – and alongside the adventure playground, flower meadow, riverscape and café you’ll find poetry from Carol Ann Duffy, Lemn Sissay, Jo Shapcott and others incised into walls, paving and benches. Among the ‘others’ are the young winners of the Children’s Legacy Poems competition.

I feel privileged to have worked with these young writers. Joseph Coelho and I spent May and June in schools in the five Olympic boroughs encouraging children to balance on crocodiles’ tails (or beams, if you must), run across swamps, hop over rocks in streams of molten lava and tiptoe past sleeping dragons in order to write adventure poems inspired by the Olympic Park. The schools submitted their entries and we chose thirteen winners, with the results published in a booklet produced by the Legacy List. Lines from the two outstanding poems will be reproduced in some form within the park.

Joining us on the judging panel was Jo Bell, Canal Laureate 2013. At the prizegiving she described poetry as holding a magnifying glass up to the world, or a holding of hands between writer and reader… ‘Poets notice things and try to say them in a way that makes others see the world differently.’

The project was organised by Discover and the Legacy List; the wonderful photographs were taken by Tim Mitchell.

Joseph, Jo and I all wrote our own Olympic Park Adventure poems, and here is mine.

Hide and seek in Tumbling Bay

One, two, three… and I was whooshing
down a blade of grass as broad as a dragon’s tail,

dodging through a forest of stalks
each as tall as the Great Scots Pine,

climbing a mesh of green laces
to the top of a swaying fern

then hooking my fingers round a frond
and dangling like an Olympic gymnast,

hand over hand, towards the trembling edge. I jumped…
and landed on a spot on the smooth red shell

of a ladybird’s wing, clinging to the rim
as we flew through the blue to the bell of a foxglove

that smelled like my grandmother’s hair.
We battled a bumblebee in a clash of antennae

then swooped away, trees and paths and river
like a map below us. I let go, dived downwards

to a trampoline of turf, rolling over and over
to escape the stomping feet of dinosaur children,

the rough pink cliff of a tongue, panting and wet.
Quick! Hide! Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred…

Storytelling for The Conservation Volunteers

P1070337It was a wild and stormy day in late March. Snow was blowing in across the North Sea and the early daffodils were shivering in the biting wind. At the Singleton Environment Centre families stomped up in boots and winter coats to take part in  the Spring at Singleton weekend…

And despite the bitter weather, we had a great time! I did a storytelling session where groups were invited to listen to me perform ‘Where stories come from’ and then to create their own story with the help of a basketful of wooden objects I brought in for the event.

By the end of the day my voice was giving out after leading half a dozen sessions to groups of between 5 and fifteen who all enthusiastically listened and then contributed ideas. We wrote out some of the stories and put them up on the wall to inspire future sessions. Here is one of them.

Tales of Mystery & Magic for The Ursuline Preparatory School

P1070334The Ursuline Preparatory School in Brentwood has just published a new book!

Called Tales of Mystery & Magic, it contains a story from each of the school’s nine classes (ranging from pre-Reception to Year 6) about an adventure that travels through space or time. Whether the subject is training for the Olympics in Ancient Greece, acting as skivvies for the school’s Victorian owners, playing an X-box game that gets out of hand or taking a magic bicycle ride with a talking owl, the stories tell of the children’s imaginations and skill as well as their exciting adventures.

The project began when English Coordinator Sarah Macdonald tracked me down through internet searches after seeing the book I helped produce for Sunnymede School. You can read a bit about that project here or see the book by clicking here.

For Ursuline, I delivered a half-day workshop to each class to inspire pupils and staff and provide tips on how to coordinate the writing process for a whole-class story. This included writing by adding to a blog, voting on a subject and then all contributing to it, writing individual sections of the story in groups and using drama and role-play to create a tale. As well as their writing, I also suggested that pupils each contribute at least one illustration.

You can imagine my excitement when six weeks later a box containing the stories and artwork arrived on my doorstep! The book was edited and designed by Categorical Books following rough layouts supplied by each class and copies were printed in time for Book Week at the beginning of March. We even scored a whole page in the local newspaper – you can see pictures here.

The project was so successful that I am hoping to offer the process as an opportunity to other schools – watch this space or get in touch for details.

Vicky made the whole process from the writing workshop to the book launch not only exciting but stress free too. The children thoroughly enjoyed working collaboratively as well as seeing their work in print. A very worthwhile project which I would definitely recommend. Sarah Macdonald, English Co-ordinator, Ursuline Preparatory School

We thought the book was absolutely fantastic! What an amazing keepsake for the girls to treasure. Thank you so much. Parent, Ursuline Preparatory School


Workshop for the Isle Writers

P1020182I was really pleased to be asked to deliver a workshop aimed at drawing in less experienced poets and writers for The Isle Writers, a Thanet-based writing group. To my amazement – and that of the organisers – thirty people turned up for a day called ‘Give it a Go!’ that included my own sessions on poetry as well as workshops on memoir and story-writing.

There were accomplished novelists who were novices at poetry as well as people who had been writing poetry but never made their work public and people new to writing. Everyone had produced at least one poem by the end of the hour, and several people told me that it was their first!

I hope to give another workshop for The Isle Writers in November. For details of the group, telephone 01843 865135 or 01843 869413.

The photograph is of my own poem for Margate, which was displayed for a year in a disused shop in Cliftonville.

Catching Words with Discover

tim mitchell discover catching wordsI am really proud to be part of a team delivering Catching Words, a literacy intervention project for Year 2 pupils in East London and Hertfordshire run by the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford. The project involves a writer and storybuilder delivering eight weekly sessions a term across seven schools with the aim of improving children’s confidence and switching them on to writing. First term is poetry, for which Joe Coelho and I are sharing the schools between us. Second term is story writing with Malika Booker and Paul McVeigh, then in the third term the children write a group story which is published as a book with Vicky Martin and Zoey Cooper.

Most of the work is oral, consisting of sharing good poems and using various strategies to encourage the children to write their own. So far I have done one session in each of my three schools and the children are filling up their writing journals fast!

The photograph by Tim Mitchell is of one of Vicky Martin’s Term 3  sessions where children are encouraged to act out scenes and develop characters through shadow-puppet techniques. The training day, where Joe, Malika and Vicky shared the innovative strategies that had worked best in previous year, was awesome. It seems I am on as much of a creative learning journey as the children.

Smoothie bar workshops for Future Creative

smoothie bar future creative transition to secondary schoolOver the summer I have delivered several workshops for Future Creative to ease the transition of Year 6 pupils to secondary school.

The workshops divided into two strands: one was a series of four weekly sessions aimed at students from several schools who needed help with reading to enable them to access the curriculum and the second was a two-week intensive introduction to a specific secondary school for pupils who might find the transition difficult. In both cases the aims were to make learning fun, to boost confidence and teamwork, and to develop literacy and other core skills.

For both sets of workshops I used making smoothies as a theme. We looked at recipe books, discussed healthy eating, formed our own smoothie-making company and finally tried out recipes and experimented with our own ideas. Then we gave our concoctions names and logos and drank the results!

I was impressed by the pupils’ hard work and enthusiasm and hope it has helped them to settle into their new schools. Favourite quote from one pupil:  ‘Of course we’re working hard! What’s the point of me giving up my holidays and you giving up yours if we aren’t going to put a bit of effort in?’

We come from… with Dean Atta

We come from edited Dean Atta and Vicky Wilson World Arts PlatformI was thrilled to receive the first copy of We come from... this morning. The book is a collection of poetry written by students from three Hertfordshire secondary schools in response to a series of workshops delivered by the wonderful performance poet Dean Atta. All the students have English as an additional language.

Dean and I organised the project together, chose which of the students’ poems we wanted to include, then I edited them and Categorical Books did the book’s design and production. The book looks great, and the poems within it are moving, funny, original and well worth reading.

The poems tackle three key themes – ‘We come from…’, ‘We care for…’ and ‘We stand for…’ – and are published alongside some of Dean’s inspirational writing on the same topics. In ‘We come from…’ the students evoke the key experiences that have shaped them (‘crime classics and Russian literature’, ‘beautiful Ząbkowice Śląskie and dull, noisy Hatfield’); in ‘We care for…’ they investigate their feelings for members of their families; in ‘We stand for…’ they describe the kind of society they wish to be part of.

The student comments we got from the evaluation forms testify to the project’s success: ‘Even with difficulties you can achieve whatever you want…’; ‘I can be confident in front of everyone…’; ‘I’m better at writing poems and more encouraged to read…’; ‘No matter where we come from, we can work together.’

I’m really looking forward to the launch at Beaumont School in St Albans on 9 July. And, of course, you can buy the book on Amazon or from bookshops: We come from… Write from the Heart 3, edited by Dean Atta and Vicky Wilson.

The project was supported by Hertfordshire BME Achievement Team, Hertfordshire Music Service and World Arts Platform. Many thanks and congratulations to everyone involved.

Touch Wood for The Conservation Volunteers

touch wood edited by Vicky WilsonCopies of Touch Wood: children’s poetry from the Kent Heritage Trees Project have arrived!

The project began with a series of workshops to support The Conservations Volunteers’ project to map and preserve Kent’s old, large or interesting trees at Reculver CE Primary School, Whitstable Junior School and Great Chart Primary school. The idea was to stimulate the children to write poems that explored the myths associated with trees and woodland and raise awareness of their importance. This was combined with an open call for submissions that went out to Kent primary schools and visitors to The Conservation Volunteers’ Singleton Environment Centre. It was then a question of selecting which poems to include in the book.

The poems and illustrations produced by the children showed a high level of craft, imagination and observation, as well as a commitment to preserving our woodlands. No matter what kind of exercises or source material I use with children I find myself constantly surprised by the sophistication and invention of the work they produce.

You can buy Touch Wood from Amazon.

Pass the Passion for Future Creative

vicky wilson olympic procession kent primary schoolPass the Passion is a workshop I’m delivering for Kent-based creative learning organisation Future Creative. A team of eight practitioners are visiting 48 schools in the Dover and Deal district, following the local Olympic torch as it moves from school to school and encouraging the pupils to think about their future lives and aspirations.

We are time travelling to 2032, interviewing and writing postcards from our future selves, devising a message of hope to send to the future and making time capsules, among other things. In each school I am asking the children to create a chant for our own Olympic Torch procession (as here, with Y5 pupils). ‘Everyone will be loved’, ‘That’s life in 2032’ and ‘We will all be something special’ are our choices so far.

All aboard! for Future Creative

pirate lessons and lesson plan KS1I have just delivered a wonderful Discovery Day in a school in Sheerness through Kent creative learning organisation Future Creative. The class was Y1 and the theme was pirates, as you might guess from the outfits!

We role-played life aboard a pirate ship, took a trip to some very mysterious islands, staged a treasure hunt, invented mythical creatures we might find on our journey and wrote a pirate song. Plus I told a couple of pirate-themed stories and we made our own pirate boats.

Bring on the rum!