Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
Rosie Goodwin
Family Arts Correspondent
3:03 AM 4th July 2020

Creative Writing Supporting Children’s Wellbeing In Lockdown

New research by the National Literacy Trust shows that creative writing has been providing vital support to children’s wellbeing during lockdown. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the advantages of reading for young people. Now, I’d like to draw your attention to the benefits of writing, and a very exciting and imaginative creative project that has been running in Yorkshire this summer - in a partnership between the National Literacy Trust and the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.

As part of the ‘Your Stories’ project delivered through Facebook since the beginning of June, daily content is shared with the aim of inspiring creative writing. Over the weeks, this has included fun exercises to create characters and settings, story-telling bingo, role-playing and writing comic strips. It has been taken up by families across the region, with some very entertaining results!

One of the great things about the project is that it has clearly been designed so as to be easy to use. As Associate Director at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Chelsey Gillard, explains: “participants can choose to engage every day or just dip in and out as they like.” With another week of activities to go, there are still lots of opportunities for children to get their creative juices flowing.

It is entirely understandable that a great deal of press surrounding school closures during lockdown has focused on the negative aspects – what children are missing out on. Without wishing to downplay that at all, the new report by the National Literacy Trust does suggest that there are also some things to celebrate. Based on surveys of young people aged 8 to 18 in the UK, conducted before and during lockdown, it found that more children and young people are writing short stories or fiction (40%), letters (39%), diaries or journals (27%) and poems (21%) in lockdown than they did before.

In the same way that some furloughed adults have enjoyed the extra time provided by lockdown, it seems that for many young people, it has also supplied the inspiration and conditions they need to write more creatively. As a parent myself, I know the busy schedule of clubs that engrossed so many young people pre-lockdown: Mondays were for football, Tuesdays for swimming, and so it went on. The National Literacy Trust survey suggests that lockdown has actually provided more time and space to think and generate ideas, unsurprising in many ways.

Across the Yorkshire coastline, the ‘Your Stories’ project has seen the benefits during the last few weeks, with a wide array of imaginative and inspiring entries. Liz Dyer, Manager of the project said: “We’ve had some amazing submissions from young people... motorbike-riding genies, underground gold mines, brand new scientific elements and face-snatching baddies.”

Danni, mum of five from Eastfield, Scarborough, said taking part in the project had enabled her oldest son Harry to continue the creative work he had been doing at school before lockdown: “He suffers with anxiety and has no confidence in himself so his teacher, knowing how creative and what an imagination he has, thought this project would be good for him.”

Feedback like this correlates strongly with suggestions from the report that many young people find writing helps them cope with worry and uncertainty, particularly relating to the Coronavirus pandemic. According to the report, over 40% of youngsters said that writing makes them feel better.

The ‘Your Stories’ project is additionally special because it takes the process a step further, working with an artist who is creating illustrations as the stories develop. Illustrator Simon Whittaker, from House of Deadleg illustration, has been bringing characters to life with digital illustrations based on the children’s ideas and sketches. Toby, aged nine, from Wheatcroft School in Scarborough, described himself as “blown away” to see professional illustrations of his character ‘Toby Adventurinium’ and his setting ‘Tobytown’.

What is clear is that projects like this are genuinely powerful. They make an impact in children’s lives. Toby’s mum said: “Seeing Toby’s realisation that his ideas are good ideas has been a truly magical thing.” For Toby himself, the project was “just really exciting. The tasks are great, they just keep making you think and think and think!”

I would encourage any youngsters who fancy getting involved to have a go during the final week. Families can:
Follow the daily action on the Our Stories Facebook page
Watch all the videos and find the activities on the Your Stories website.