Last month I began offering free online classes to vulnerable adults. I thought I’d share a little history about one of the classes I set up…
I began running a creative writing class from the social care unit at the Union Chapel, London in 2005. You may well know the building as the cool, Islington venue that’s hosted the likes of Amy Winehouse, Noel Gallagher, Tom Jones and Philip Glass but it’s also been home to the Margin’s Project, a crisis centre that offers housing advice and a winter night shelter. It used to provide free Sunday lunches to between 150 and 200 people a week until residents complained about the ‘unsightly’ queues outside their picturesque Georgian homes.
Homelessness isn’t pretty and nor are the social issues that surround it. But there is poetry there, stories that people need to share. Some ugly-beautiful, some incoherently elegant but all of them moving, limping, falling, dancing with a mix of grace and rage. These Monday afternoon sessions generated hundreds of poems, many of them performed at the raucous, monthly Sunday lunchtime gigs we put on. A few members of Babyshambles tipped up one afternoon, delighted that this was ‘the most punk gig in London’. Really it wasn’t. It was raw and that was all. Our poets weren’t trying to prove their authenticity and none of them had record company budgets to squander. While some of our writers went on to higher education and earned degrees, others came once and were never seen again.
As the Union Chapel sought alternative revenue streams, doubling up in the day as a theatre workshop space, our group, nestled in the venue’s canteen, accommodated polite interruptions from well heeled thespians many of whom, I’m quite sure, were not expecting to encounter a rough shod troubadour group when they popped in for coffee during a break in rehearsals. While some of our poets published in magazines like the ‘Big Issue’ most didn’t care for celebrity. The following accolades were, however, provided in passing: “Bloody ‘ell” – Peter Kay, “Oh my goodness” – Julian Clary, “Do excuse me” – Prunella Scales.
With support from the WEA (the Workers Education Association) we teamed up with Islington Libraries, changed location and ran our classes from the splendid but decaying reading room of the South Library on Essex Road. This was the infamous venue where where ledgendary playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell created illicit collages and fake flyleaf blurbs in the library books. It felt like the perfect environment for a poetry group but the clock was ticking. Or rather dripping. Gradually the amount of buckets collecting rainwater from the magnificent ceiling above outnumbered members attending. We passed our Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) inspection despite all of this but the venue was eventually forced to close.
We moved further north and snuck across the border from Islington to Hackney settling for several semesters in the historic Mary Wollstonecraft room at the Newington Green Unitarian Church. While this was certainly our most salubrious environment funding cuts at the WEA meant we were forced to move on once more. The irony that, what had begun life as a ‘homeless writer’s’ group had now become a writer’s group without a home was not lost on some of the original members. Despite the lovely people at the DAY-MER Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre, a former library in Stoke Newington, taking us in for a while further reductions to our budget made the running of a free, creative arts class untenable. After fifteen years I decided to call it a day.
Last month I announced that I was setting up an online poetry class. I was touched by the amount of likes and shares it received but overwhelmingly I was approached by people who had attended my classes in the past and who were struggling to cope under lockdown. Concerned about the impact isolation was having on peoples’ mental health I decided to open up this Monday afternoon session once more giving my time, for free, to those who needed it most.
I’m currently running two free online classes for vulnerable adults. If you’d like to support me with this initiative you can do so for as little as £1 ($1) a month on my Patreon page.
I’ve been running creative writing and poetry discussion groups for over twenty years. I’ve specialised in working with vulnerable adults and ‘hard to reach’ learners in environments such as prisons, homeless shelters and psychiatric wards.
Most recently I’ve been working with seniors and elders within my community. The Covid-19 outbreak has forced the closure of these classes and many learners now face long periods of isolation.
I am extremely concerned for the well-being and mental health of those who’ve come to rely on these sessions and have decided to continue with a group of seniors I’ve been mentoring in Newham, London – a borough with very little mental health provision – by running a free online poetry class for them.
Since many others also face long periods of isolation the need to stay connected and engaged is essential. As a result I have decided to run a weekly, online ‘open access’ poetry class as well.
This class is mainly targeted to senior citizens or those most impacted by self-isolation but is also designed to bring all people together and share a passion for poetry.
Our first session will be on the theme of ‘Connection’ and we’ll be looking at poetry written from prisons, hospitals and warzones. We’ll see how well writers have responded to isolation and take a look at poets who’ve employed techniques beyond the page to send their messages out to the world.
Class begins Monday 30th March
7pm GMT London 8pm CET Milan 2pm ET New York 11am PT San Fransisco
Classes will be limited to 10 places, will run weekly for at least one month and continue for as long as funding is in place.
Needless to say the Covid-19 outbreak has meant that I, like many others, have been left without an income. I will be running these sessions independently, without backing or assistance from charitable bodies or educational organisations, using the conferencing application Zoom that can be accessed for free by users on smartphones, tablets or web browsers.
If you’d like to support me with this initiative, enrich your life and the lives of those at risk and most affected by the virus you can do so for as little as £1 ($1) a month on my Patreon page.
My Name Is Swan premiered at the Curzan, Aldgate as part of the East End Film Festival in London and received its international premiere at the Bowery Poetry Club, New York. Returning to the UK it featured at the Turner Contemporary as part of the Margate NOW Festival who will host the online world premiere on 3rd December 2019.
After launching at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival poet Jan Noble, accompanied by filmmaker Adam Carr, took his poetic monologue My Name Is Swan along the far reaches of the Thames from Oxford to Wapping reading in every ‘swan’ pub along the way. The resulting film, part ‘Night of The Hunter’ part ‘Robinson in Space’, is a meditation on the marginalised taking us down the narrow-ways and river tributaries where litter glitters like supernovae.
Brilliant! | BBC Poetry of strength and impact | La Stampa (Italy) Smart, gorgeous, a pleasure for the eye and ear | Fred Barney Taylor
The poem has been broadcast on BBC radio and the text set on the University of Milan’s syllabus with readings and screenings in Paris, Milan, Venice and Rome including performances at the Teatro Filodrammatici and Poetry on the Lake with former UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
My Name Is Swan – An odyssey of loss following ‘Swan’ through harrowing withdrawal at dusk to a blissful fix at dawn…
I will be giving a first draft reading of a newly commissioned ‘journey work’ on the opening night of the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, Friday 7 June 2019. This new poetic monologue, commissioned by Professor Maggie Rose of Università degli Studi di Milano, will be adapted for the stage and showcased in Milan in 2020.
Following a special preview in Venice in February I’m delighted to announce the American premiere of our film My Name Is Swan at the Bowery Poetry Club, New York on April 29.
To warm up, we have three shows in the North and North East of England organised with the assistance of Professor Paul Hardwick of Leeds Trinity beginning 27 March at the Newcastle Literary Salon, 3 April at The Hop Shack, Leeds and 4 April at the Waddington Street Centre, Durham.