RSL Literature Matters Awards – ‘Word Bridges’

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In 2019, Rosemary Harris was granted a £3,500 RSL Literature Matters Award for her ‘Word Bridges’ project in partnership with English PEN and Salusbury World. This would consist of a series of creative writing workshops for young refugee and migrant participants, culminating in a live reading/performance and anthology.

After featuring to acclaim in the 2018 Ten Pieces Prom at the Royal Albert Hall as Brave New Voices, the teenage writers from Capital City Academy showcased the work at an event at Free Word on June 24 2019. Word Bridges was written and performed by Anwar, Dana, Faadimah, Ibtissam, Maryam, Mohamed, Nermen, Rawan, Rui, Sajeda, Sayeda, Sujoud and Tarek, and featured readings by Rosemary and Tanaka Mhishi. An audience member described the event as ‘a celebration of the young people’s creativity and resilience.’ Read the anthology here.

Rosemary Harris is a writer for page and stage, whose work has been widely published. She has won the Middlesex University Poetry Competition and Index on Censorship’s 40th Anniversary Poetry Competition. Rosemary said ‘winning this Award provides me with a profound, joyful opportunity to connect creatively with others.’

The evaluation of the project showed many positive outcomes with those involved reporting higher levels of confidence and a greater understanding of using writing to express feelings, improvements to language skills and even starting to eat fruit! These newfound skills were clearly on display to the audience, one of whom said, ‘It was amazing to hear the work the kids had produced- they have made such incredible progress, we were all blown away. I loved seeing their pride & that of their teachers & parents- it has changed them beyond measure.

Following the event, Lucy Elgood from Salusbury World said, ‘Their creative talents and their fluency in English have obviously grown beyond all recognition – but so has their self-esteem and confidence. People like M and P walk taller around school as a result of this work. Looking back, we’ve had sessions of all shapes and sizes – crying, laughing, boys (and it’s always the boys!) wandering in casually after detention, and sessions where they’ve written without stopping for breath. I love the fact that even as we came home on the tube last night they were complaining that there wasn’t going to be a Word Bridges session after school today!’

Hannah Trevarthen from English PEN said ‘The key achievements of the project were empowering young people to write and perform their own work. The impact was seeing them grow in confidence and feel part of a community. In terms of English PEN, it has helped our mission to support and nurture new and diverse voices.’