Last week, the Edinburgh International Book Festival announced award-winning short story writer and poet Chris Barkley as writer in residence for its Communities Programme at The Alternative School, part of the Spartans Community Football Academy.
The Alternative School supports young people who find it challenging to cope for five days a week in school and may be at risk of exclusion. Following a short pilot project in 2020, the school will partner with the Book Festival’s Communities Programme via a year-long residency to help bring the transformative power of the written word to young people aged between 14 and 16.
Noëlle Cobden, Communities Programme Director at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “We are over the moon to have Chris on board and we are really looking forward to further developing our relationship with The Alternative School, which has an unbeatable reputation for supporting the needs of young people, once again after we partnered with them back in 2020.
The aim of this residency is to help young people find creative ways of expressing themselves and to inspire them to see the world as full of possibilities and opportunities, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with when they present their work as part of the August Book Festival programme in 2023.”
Chris, an Oxford graduate and published author of both prose and poetry, is also a creative writing tutor and will carry out a programme of activity carefully planned in conjunction with the Communities Programme team and the Alternative School’s on-site English teacher.
Taking place once a week Chris will hold 1:1 or 1:2 sessions, and although in time these may be linked into the Nat 5 curriculum, they will principally be led by the young people themselves, with Chris using the interests of each individual to help develop and tailor each session. Although this could be an interest linked to some form of prose, for example rap or hip hop, Chris is also able to draw on other interests such as sport and hanging out with friends, to help the young people find their own way to enjoying and understanding the power and possibility of words.
Emma Easton, Manager of The Alternative School, said: “We are so excited to be working with both the Book Festival Communities Programme and Chris, who has such creative and innovative ways of getting the students to engage with language and the written word. We are also incredibly proud of the young people we work with and have no doubt they possess some serious talent, so we can’t wait to see what they produce, and eventually share, at next year’s Book Festival.”
Chris Barkley, author and Edinburgh International Book Festival Communities Programme writer in residence, said: “I’m thrilled to be working with the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Spartans Alternative School, hearing what the young people have to say. Collaborating with other creatives, I aim to draw out the songs and the stories while forging relationships with the people and the places. I’m already learning so much as we work towards presenting these stories to the public. I can’t wait to see how this project grows as it sprouts branches of character and pockets of lore.”
In the long-run the residency aims to inspire the young people to engage more with the many and varied forms of creative writing that surround them, be it in the form of prose, poetry, spoken word, rap, music or video.
Running until June 2023 the residency will be followed up with an in-person event as part of the festival line-up that August, featuring work created and presented by the young people.