Taking part in the Wise Words project has been an amazing experience. It began with the launch of the project in the cellar area of the ancient Eastbridge Hospital in Canterbury, where we met the others involved, and were introduced to our partners for the project. I think everyone was a little nervous, I certainly was, but soon we were chatting away and getting to know each other.
My partner Kasia and I had a lot in common from the word go, and when we heard that one of the groups of young people had special needs, we requested to work with them as we both felt they would be an interesting challenge. And we were right.
Our first session at St Nicholas school was a real education, and I think we probably learnt more than the young people. We had to adapt the usual range of writing workshop activities as the young people we worked with had a whole range of special needs; their reading and writing abilities varied greatly, as did their concentration span.
One of our main aims was to create an enthusiastic response to language, to share some of the pleasure that we both enjoyed when writing, and in order to do this we had to think laterally. We saw that working in groups really helped the young people’s confidence and created an ideal situation for the ladies from Moving Memories to work together with the young people.
I really enjoyed the challenge of creating new ways for both young and older people to use language, and it was fantastic to see the reactions our activities generated. One of my favourites was asking them to draw shapes and lines in response to some music from Doctor Who. They were encouraged to think about the dynamics and the shapes of the sounds in the music and really responded well, concentrating for much longer than we expected. One boy produced some fantastic doodles and we were told afterwards that he always draws in groups of four – however this time he didn’t, the doodles continued on down the page. The groups were then asked to write words around their doodles in response to the music, and even the most reticent young people joined in.
One of the most rewarding aspects was seeing the relationships that developed between the generations. The Moving Memories ladies were very supportive of the young people, listening to all their ideas, scribing for them, and helping with spelling. I heard a lot of laughter as funny stories were shared, and fantastical ideas were conjured up for their group writing. When I look at the work produced by our group I am impressed at the power contained within its rawness.
Taking part in Wise Words has been an incredible experience, I have learnt a lot about myself, about other people, and about how language can be used in so many different ways to bring people together.