Helping liberate young people to find their voices in South Yorkshire

In the last few years the world of creative writing and poetry has gained a lot of traction, both online and in communities across the world.

From slam poetry getting millions of views online, to nationwide tours by poets in sold-out venues, to literary festivals being set up which showcase local and national talent, creative writing is no longer related to what’s taught in stuffy classrooms, and this is especially true in South Yorkshire.

The area has seen an increase in writing activity, with spoken word nights, open mic nights, indie cabaret, and writing groups being commonplace across nearby cities and towns.

These have become popular through the involvement of young people, giving them an opportunity to express themselves which isn’t always possible in school.

One organisation channelling this in the region is Hive South Yorkshire. Funded by the Arts Council, Hive provides young people between the ages of 14-25 with opportunities to cut their teeth as writers, develop their voice through showcasing platforms, live and in print, and encourages them to get involved in the writing community.

As well as having regular creative writing groups in Sheffield, Doncaster, Barnsley, and Rotherham, Hive also gets in guest writers to run masterclasses, runs projects, holds open mic events and talks, and sends young people off to writing residentials and retreats.

They also run competitions for young people, and held a young writers festival earlier this year that attracted 150 writers from across the North.

Vicky Morris set up the organisation because she knew the importance of working with young people to discover and explore their own creative voices.

She said: “I’ve seen, over a long period of time, the benefits of that kind of work, so I was passionate and sure of what it was capable of. The ethos is to try and create something that has a structure to allow people to progress.

“I can’t stress enough the personal development that comes from writing, the way it liberates people.”

She has eight years of industry experience behind her, alongside 20 years of work in education.

She added: “When you’ve got on-the-ground knowledge of how things work, it’s what motivated me to set it up.”

A large amount of inspiration came from her own history, she grew up in a working-class background and has dyslexia, which were part of an uphill struggle for her.

She said: “I had imposter syndrome for a long time, even when I started teaching writing, because of the difficulties that I had. One of my passions is to fast-track people to believe in themselves, I know that long-term intervention with people can make a difference.”

Another group in South Yorkshire that concentrates on young people’s writing is Verse Matters. It’s a feminist arts collective based in Sheffield that provides a platform for poetry, spoken word, storytelling, music and comedy, showcasing the work of talented people in a friendly, supportive environment.

It was originally set up by Rachel Bower in 2015, who is now an Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Leeds.

She said: “I could see, in Sheffield, young people were really vibrant and expressing different views to what I was hearing in Parliament. I set Verse Matters up to create this supportive space for young people to speak, and I was also really keen to get diverse performers and create a space where we weren’t hearing the same kinds of people.”

They currently run bi-monthly events that have both featured writers and open mic, giving young people an opportunity to get their voices heard.

Miss Bower added: “It’s crucial that young people feel like it’s safe to speak, but also that they’re heard and listened to. The more people we hear, the more people will get involved, and that is important.”

One person who could not speak any higher about Hive is Georgie Woodhead, 15, who has been involved with them for two years.

The young writer from Sheffield said: “I actually started when I was 13 and pretended to be a year older, so I sort of gate-crashed. No one actually cared about that if I wanted to be there, everyone was just taller than me.

“I’ve always written and told stories, I just kept on doing it when everyone else stopped. I just thought I’d go along and see what it was like, I was serious about it and wanted to continue writing.”

She has since been named as one of 15 winners of the Foyles Young Poets award, which is open to submissions from around the world, as well as being one of two commended poets at the Cuckoo Young Writers awards.

She added: “If you ask anyone involved at Hive, they will say writing is incredibly important. It’s a way of connecting with the world and people in a way you have never done before.”

Danae Wellington, who works on Hive’s ‘Hatch’ programme, says it best: “They champion young people and tirelessly strive to create platforms for us to safely bring ourselves in our entirety, to give us hope and opportunity to discover our best selves.