Late in 2021 we were approached by New Writing North and the Durham Book Festival to how we cold collaborate to develop a creative writing project on the Bishop Line. We jumped at the chance.

Key facts about our area:

  • County Durham has some of the lowest cultural engagement figures in England and is ranked as having `Very High Deprivation’ in the UK Multiple Index of Deprivation (the North East region has the highest unemployment figures in country).
  • The 2011 Skills for Life Survey found the North East to have the poorest literacy performance in the country (along with London).
  •  The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened pre-existing issues of inequality, isolation and deprivation in County Durham. W

New Writing North knows that reading and writing for pleasure plays a vital part in developing literacy, imagination and in building confidence, and believe that now, more than ever, books and creative writing can play a powerful role in helping young people express themselves and make sense of this changing world. 

What were we trying to achieve?

We partnered with local attraction ‘Locomotion’ and local charity food bank ‘Shildon Alive’ to deliver a creative writing project which would give young people the opportunity to explore creative writing in a new setting and with unexpected topics. The overarching aim was to explore the concept of journeys; journeys which we could take – on the train to explore the heritage rich area of the Bishop Line for example, and the journeys which the food we eat takes.  Durham Book Festival brought one of their expert community writers with experience in working with young people, Stephanie Lyttle, to help support and inspire them with writing.

The creative journeys was also about opening connections to the wider area, using creativity to improve health and wellbeing, confidence and communication skills, towards supporting young people as they begin work, training or look to further their education.

What were the original success criteria?

We aimed to engage with two keys groups in the community:

  1. primary school aged children in a the Shildon area, this was to grow awareness of the food bank to children and families who may need to access it.
  2. Young adults aged 15-26 who are not in a traditional educational setting, those who don’t necessarily have the opportunity to or the natural desire to take part in activities like this.

We also wanted to give participants a fresh view of creative writing, particularly with the young adults, we wanted to change perceptions, if someone thinks creative writing is not for them why not try exploring creative writing in a new setting or about a topic you have a passion for.

The Project was planned to be delivered in 3 phases:

  • The first phase involved our resident artist Stephanie Lyttle, delivering creative writing sessions with young school children both at Locomotion and at their school.
  • The second phase aimed to deliver creative writing sessions with young adults aged 15-26 on the train between Bishop Auckland and Darlington. We planned to run the two creative journeys along the Bishop Line with a group of approx. 15 – 20 young people from different youth groups and youth-based organisations aged 15-26 from Bishop Auckland and Shildon. The Bishop Line connects Bishop Auckland with Darlington via rail, travelling along parts of the historic Stockton & Darlington Railway – the first passenger railway that opened in 1825.

There would be two Creative Journeys. The first planned to involve a free return trip with a walk around the heritage sites of Darlington. The second would also feature a free return trip but would finish at Locomotion Museum in Shildon for phase three.

  • The third phase was a special event at the museum called ‘Loco Lates’ to showcase the output of the creative pieces as well as creative writing from the local primary school.

What were the outcomes?

The engagement with the primary school aged children was fantastic. The local school visited Locomotion for a lesson in the main museum with our resident writer Stephanie Lyttle, and explored the exhibits, set their imaginations wild and wrote about what they’d like to see there, and what they’d change if they owned the museum. They explored the journey of the food they eat and the types of transport one piece of fruit may travel on to get from field to their tummy. The continued their writing in their classroom and produced individual pieces, partner pieces and a whole class poem. Many of the children came to the celebration event at Loco Lates at Locomotion and performed their pieces to their family and friends.

The celebration event at the Loco Lates was an outstanding success, the students enjoyed celebrating their creative pieces with their family and friends while the museum was closed to the public, and enjoyed a performance by the Shildon Institute Choir, as well as food preparation demonstrations by Shildon Alive. A celebration film has been produced and will be shared once captioned.

Therefore the outcomes for the primary school children and their families at the Loco Lates event were:

  • Greater understanding of the providence of the food they eat.
  • Greater understanding of the types of transport used in manufacture and distribution of goods.
  • Greater understanding of creative writing practices relevant to their curriculum.
  • Increased confidence to perform in front of others.
  • Greater awareness of local food bank within the local community.
  • Greater awareness of the fantastic facilities of Locomotion within the local community.
  • Greater awareness of the Bishop Line community rail partnership within the local community.

We planned to run a creative writing train journey between Shildon and Darlington involving 15-26 year-olds identified from youth groups and charities rather than traditional educational settings. Despite very hard work, it was extremely challenging to engage anyone from this age range outside of a traditional educational setting, so we undertook plan B! Engaging with passengers on the train we completed 50+ postcards with their thoughts and memories of travelling by train, compiled them all into a song which was performed at the Loco Lates event.

Therefore the outcomes for the plan B event of engagement with the public on the train using postcards were:

  • Greater awareness of the Bishop Line community rail partnership within the local community.
  • Refreshed connections with rail travel and memories
  • Refreshed desire to travel
  • Positive awareness of creative writing

What lessons can be learnt from this project? 

Its takes time and some strong connections to engage young adults, this is not something which just happens, build your connections and don’t lose touch with any that you have, you never know when you may want to call upon them.

Have a plan B! . The postcard element of the project was far more successful than we could have imagined, we gathered the postcards into themes, family stories, first train journeys, funny anecdotes, travel aspirations and most memorable journeys on the Bishop Line and the comments were truly moving.

Creative Journeys was shortlisted in the category of best project involving children & young children in the 2022 Community Rail Awards.

Children’s Work from the Creative Journeys Project