Derby has a rich multicultural population with over 20% either born, or with a heritage, outside the UK, and for many English is a second language. Since 2016 our Shared Writing programme has encouraged young people from these communities to engage with books and reading through writing their own stories.

Many of these young people have only recently arrived in the UK, and by publishing their work we hope to inspire our students to have greater self-confidence and aspirations in both literacy and life.

We spoke to Helen Bauer, who runs our Shared Writing programme, to find out more.


How many pieces of writing have been published since the programme began in 2016?

Helen: Great question! We have published eight books so far, with writing by 233 students from Derby College and Derby schools including Da Vinci, Merrill, St Benedict and Bemrose. Along with the stories we’ve also published illustrations or photography by 116 art students.

Our first books were in 2016. ‘My Journey to English’ featured work from 19 Derby College students on the Lexis (young English learners) course. They were all between 16 and 19 years of age and had been in the UK only one or two years at that point. We also published the collection ‘Recipes from Home’ with adult learners from the College’s English for Speakers of other Languages course.

The first Lexis book was so successful in terms of helping the students with their confidence and their English, that in 2017 we published a second book, ‘Stories from Home, Journeys of Hope’. This time we included stories from 28 Lexis students. We also launched our schools programme the same year with a book called ‘Stories for Life, from our World’, which included four longer stories written by 25 students from Bemrose School.

Last year we brought out the wonderful ‘Small City, Big Heart’ book, which contained 29 stories by Lexis students together with poems by Year 7 students from Bemrose School and songs written by pupils from Year 5 at Pear Tree Junior.

This year is our biggest year yet, with three books. ‘Our Past, Present and Future’ is our Lexis book this year, with 39 stories by the Lexis students, with both longer and shorter pieces and including some interesting graphic novel approaches drawn by the art students. We also have ‘Writing Together’, an anthology of short pieces by Derby College students and poems on nature by young writers from Da Vinci, Merrill and St Benedict schools.

Finally we have ‘Broomfield’, a book of photographs of the Derby College land based campus at Broomfield Hall. Here we worked with a group of Derby College photography students to document the different aspects of the campus and the students who study there. It is a beautiful and interesting place, so we hope that people will enjoy finding out about it.

Willowpit Creative Writing Workshop 2018

What has the experience been like for the students?

H: I’ll leave it up to some of them to tell you!

Abbie Leeson, A-level student, Derby College: “The writing was interesting and being published in the book was really cool – seeing your own work in print.”

Jack Hart, Year 9 pupil, Da Vinci Academy School: “It has helped me build my confidence a lot more.”

Caitlin Harper, Animal Care student, Derby College: “I can’t say thank you enough to have my work published; I am shocked and happy, it means a lot to me. Thank you so much!”

Faith Sharman, Year 9 pupil, Merrill Academy School: “If being an engineer doesn’t work out, I can write my way through life”

Chloe Burton, Art student, Derby College. “Having an illustration in the Lexis book is pretty special – to see what the work looks like in print. I’ve also learned skills to help me in my future career – including people skills.”

We’ve also had lovely feedback from teaching staff:

Amy Ford, Teacher from Da Vinci: “This project has opened up many opportunities for our students. I caught sight of students showing their work, poems, ideas, and drawings to numerous staff on the corridors. Many students requested to stay late after school on many occasions to alter and tweak their poems. We now have a creative writing lunchtime club which many of our students that were part of the Book Festival now attend.”

Phil Taylor, Art lecturer at Derby College: “I saw Andrew Parfitt who is Head of the Lexis Programme last night and we were both gushing about the ambition of the Community project this year and the privilege of being part of it. The genius of it is that the positivity is so infectious that everybody wants to join in making it bigger- build it and they will come! It must be the biggest collaborative project that Derby College has ever engaged with.”

Where can we find the Shared Writing books?

Copies of all three of this year’s books should be available in the shop at Chatsworth House.
Anyone wanting to buy the books directly should email and we can organise getting them out to you.

If you’d like to see more of the Shared Writing project and the work that goes into it, why not explore the following slideshows and video:

Photos from the Willowpit Creative Writing Workshop, by Festival photographer Kim Gribbon.

Photos from the Broomfield Hall workshop, by Festival photographer Kim Gribbon.

Broomfield video, by Sam Jordan of Five Lamps Films, a filmmaking community at Derby QUAD.

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Derby Book Festival

29 May – 6 June 2020

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Derby Book Festival is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation registered with the Charity Commission for England & Wales Number 1159763