Grimm & Co is Yorkshire’s only Apothecary to the Magical. It’s an exciting project with a shop-front premises in Rotherham, offering creative writing workshops for children and young people. The first time I visited, as a potential volunteer, I was given the same experience as each new participant gets: the secret doors opened and I was ushered through into the writers’ space. I tell you, it’s magical.
These days I’m part of the Grimm team of freelance Creative Facilitators and in the past academic year have been involved in facilitating two rounds of Look Around You an after school six session writing group for 11 – 14 year olds. The aim of the series is to encourage writing for reflection to promote the benefits of journaling and writing for self-expression.
Bringing together young people from different schools, including some who don’t go to school, for a relatively short amount of time (1.5 hours each week) requires creating plenty of space for social connection alongside of the opportunities for personal writing. We started each session with getting-to-know-you games, collaborative imagination activities and made space for informal group discussions to meander through the workshop.
Grimm & Co makes the most of its magical atmosphere and even with this age group it’s an effective means of encouraging a freedom of expression. For example, we used exercises on ‘everyday superpowers’ (being able to magic yourself back to a happy memory) and the ‘inner lives of superheroes’ (what doubts and insecurities might they have that don’t show on the outside?) as gateways into reflective writing. Sharing stories of a personal amulet or talisman gave credence to the enduring importance of a gift from a family member or friend.
We were able to give each participant their own notebook from a varied selection that have been donated to the project. This meant they could make an individual choice and were able to keep it at the end of the programme. Not of all of the writing was journaling however, we introduced a range of approaches including cartoon strips, erasure poetry, postcards and even job application forms to provide interest and provoke creative, as well as reflective, responses.
In each group some participants were dealing with difficult issues: mental health concerns, bereavement or other loss. And all of them are growing humans, learning to make sense of the world. A simple hopes and fears exercise gave insight to the daily concerns of their lives. On occasion moving personal stories were shared; be it a difficult incident at school or a memory about a deceased family member.
We follow an evaluation process for each programme to find out what the participants found worthwhile and what the impact is. Grimm & Co’s work focuses on championing the writer in every child, and enabling them to develop confidence, imagination and aspirations, as well as new ways of thinking. And in these particular sessions we aim for them to learn that writing can be a source of comfort in troubled times. Typically, young people say that coming to the sessions was enjoyable and worthwhile. They report having a more positive attitude to writing and learning, and say that it’s good to have this creative time outside the limitations of what they have to do at school.
Grimm & Co is an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation.
Rosie Carnall is a freelance creative facilitator and writer based in Sheffield.