A kind of gift

July 23rd, 2016, 4pm

The Writing Squad’s workshop as part of Young at Arts was full of firsts: our first intergenerational workshop, our first led by Malika Booker, and the first we’ve begun by handing out cash. It was also the first time a workshop leader has brought their mother, and for Malika it was the first time her mother had seen her at work.

Some things were the same as always:

when the Squad collaborates we try to find opportunities for our young writers to gain experience in new areas so, like most writers must, they can supplement their incomes by leading workshops and participatory activities.

when we employ writers to lead our workshops we try to get beyond the skill they bring and to what they really love doing, which is how we got to Malika’s love of charity shops and charity shops was how we got to handing out cash.

We came up with a workshop where we created collaborative stories out of objects our young writers and the older people sourced from Headingley’s charity high street.

I was surprised there wasn’t a difference in what the generations bought. Can you tell? There was a wide range of stuff from the useful - a spice grinder, a table cloth, dishes; through clothing - belts, handbags, blouses; to the ornamental - a candle holder, a painting, earrings, a cushion, a china shoe. There were books and CDs too, a pair of crazy high red velvet heels a size too small, a baby’s plastic coat hangar.

All objects with intense personal meanings, like the abalone shell pendant, “It is alive now and connects me with other people all over the world through the sea.” The glass cake stand that still held all the cakes it had ever held, but would soon be put to use when friends came round. The red shoes that celebrated a sister who died too young.

After talking about why we had chosen our purchases we put them to use, to inspire and become props in collaborative stories ranging from the mythical to the tabloid.

Two things struck me:

how as writers facing the blank page we often strain to invent narratives rather than looking and listening to simple objects, letting them tell us the story

while it is important to recognise expertise, sometimes as arts professionals we silo specialisms and forget that the overriding skill, whoever we are working with is being good with people

One of the participants, in our how was that for you whiz round at the end, said “Today was a kind of gift” she had realised she was creative, and explained what she meant was not just going to things she did to take part in creative activities with creative tools, but that she could be creative with nothing but herself.

That was down to Malika being good with people. Pretty soon we’d all forgotten we were supposed to be intergenerational, she’d created the space in which we all felt comfortable, open, ready to surprise ourselves and each other. And Malika, her mother.

Adrian and David Wade said thanks.

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Steve Dearden

Writer, producer and Director of The Writing Squad - www.stevedearden.com

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