Once upon a time, in Cornwall, something very magical started to happen… Tucked away inside a 70’s office block, surrounded by quirky objects, curious cabinets and mysterious corridors, some of Cornwall’s best-loved writers and performers are inspiring local school children to write with confidence and improve their self-esteem and imagining skills.

Over 80 children, in groups of less than fifteen at a time, have visited The Writers’ Block to take part in a pioneering writing programme and creation space, which opens formerly on 25th April 2017.

The Writers’ Block, funded by Arts Council England, Cornwall College, Ernest Cook Trust, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Hall for Cornwall and Redrow, is an ambitious project, devised by teachers and artists, theatre makers and educationalists, to improve the writing ability of deprived, cared for and vulnerable children in Cornwall.It’s no secret that in Cornwall we have a higher rate of child poverty than the national average. In some of our most deprived areas, more than 1 in 3 children live in poverty, many due to low-paid, seasonal employment. Approximately 14% of primary and 11% of secondary pupils are entitled to free school meals. By the age of 11, only 37% of this cohort achieve the national standard in reading, writing and maths, compared to 51% of their peers – a gap of 14%. By the age of 16, this gap increases to 20% when it comes to attaining grades A-C at GCSE.  For look after children in Cornwall, the gap gets even bigger with just 24% of KS2 children achieving expected attainment levels. In response to these statistics, as well as writing programmes, workshops and immersion days for primary and secondary students, The Writers’ Block team are hoping to develop programmes with organisations including Carefree, Wild and The Virtual School.

Minutes from South Crofty, The Writers’ Block is based in the heart of Cornwall in the Camborne, Pool and Redruth area. The gateway to Cornwall’s Mining World Heritage Site and a part of Cornwall where 23.9% of children aged under 16 are living in poverty.  In areas of deprivation, literacy attainment levels are much lower than the national average and OFSTED have challenged Cornish schools to improve this. Boys’ literacy levels are falling and there is a drive for schools to focus on closing the gap in educational attainment for those from a disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

“If children and young people are to improve their life chances, a good level of literacy is key. And if schools are finding it hard to support these young people through traditional methods, then we need to think differently, and this is where ‘The Writer’s Block’ comes in. If children feel confident about their ability to write it puts them in a stronger position to do better at school across the board” comments Amanda Harris, Creative Producer at KEAP.

Kernow Education Arts Partnership (KEAP) has been working with teachers, schools and education specialists for over 15 years. In 2012, with funding from Arts Council England (ACE) and Esmee Fairbairn they created The Story Republic talent development and training programme. As part of the project writers and performers worked with clusters of primary and secondary schools to create new writing, brought to life through live performance and exhibitions at The Royal Cornwall Museum, The Exchange Penzance, Fowey Festival and Wheal Martyn. “Throughout the Story Republic programme, the constant feedback we would get from teacher is and parents … ‘we need more of this’ “ comments Amanda Harris.

With support from The Hall for Cornwall Creation Space fund, KEAP collaborated with Wildworks theatre designer Bill Mitchell, lighting designer Martin Fenton and visual artists Alessandra Ausenda, Tony Crosby, Keith Sparrow, Alice King and Laura Drayson,  worked together to re-design and animate the new space. With innovation and creativity at its heart, the writing spaces inside The Writers’ Block have been brought to life through imagery, 3d installation, sound and lighting and carpenters from the Built Environment faculty at Cornwall College Camborne renovated the classrooms.

As well as drawing upon Cornwall’s top theatrical and artistic minds, specialist writers and educational consultants Rob Lane, Wyl Menmuir and Annamaria Murphy worked with Amanda Harris, to devise fresh and original teaching resources, schemes of work and teacher CPD.

Each schools course runs for 6 weeks with an initial teaching training session followed by 5 weekly 2 hour sessions for teachers and students in The Writers’ Block. As well as courses for schools, KEAP are running a series of monthly Home Education sessions and Creative Writing workshops for Adults. During holiday time children and families can explore The Writer’s Block taking part in Story Adventures led by The Story Republicans and Manga illustration with Keith Sparrow. To book and find out more information contact helen.reynolds@keap.org.uk or visit www.thestoryrepublic.co.uk

The Writer’s Block has been created in partnership with Cornwall College. As well as being involved in the renovation and decoration of the space, students are using the venue and content of the educational programmes as inspiration for coursework. Pre-schoolers from the Flying Start Nursery and Childcare, next door to The Writers’ Block, have been amongst some of the youngest to step inside this secret world.  Children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old have taken part in story time and craft sessions, led by Cornwall College students.

“Our partnership with KEAP continues to grow and the Cornwall College campus in Camborne is particularly excited to be the first location to host The Writers’ Block. The touring installations of The Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers and Bear Hunt gave local school children and families a unique and affordable opportunity to experience storytelling and arts-led education at its very best.  The Writers’ Block is a continuation of this aspirational and high quality work but this particular project is really honed for children and young people who need to develop writing confidence and/or attain that all important C in English GCSE ” comments Miriam Venner, Head of Cornwall College Camborne.

The Writers’ Block opens just a weeks after KEAP was announced as one of Cornwall Council’s Strategic Partners and the team were thrilled with the news. Julie Seyler, Culture Programme Manager at Cornwall Council says:

“Cornwall Council is delighted to be supporting KEAP through our Culture Revenue Grants scheme.  KEAP make a significant contribution to the arts in Cornwall particularly in all the valuable work that they do in engaging children and young people. Through their innovative work bringing literature alive they bring joy to audiences across Cornwall.”

Images by Steve Tanner