The primary objective of the Wells Festival of Literature has always been to foster a love of books and reading. Where better to begin than with the children in our schools? Right from its inception, the Festival has been involved with local schools, and our work in this field has gone from strength to strength. We have an active and enthusiastic Education Committee who liaise closely with schools and colleges to fund projects which they might not otherwise have been able to undertake.
The Festival also formed a partnership with the national literacy charity now known as Coram Beanstalk, supporting and helping fund its expansion into the south west. This achievement was recognised in 2016 when HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, the charity’s patron, visited the Festival to meet those involved.
Despite the restrictions of the year, we have continued working closely with local schools on a wealth of projects, tailored to the specific demands of the pandemic situation. Virtual author visits have been a huge success in many schools – enjoyed as much by the authors as they have been by the children! WFL has worked in partnership with several publishers to provide free books for children, so all pupils can have access to the work being discussed at these virtual events.
We have also continued with the Poems in the Post project and we joined a local initiative during half term: lunches were being offered to families in the area and WFL supplied a book for each of the children to take home.
In a similar vein, we are looking at ways of supplying books to be included in Christmas parcels for local families.
Although we were unable to provide our usual Year Six event during the Festival, we will continue to explore new and imaginative ways to bring the excitement and love of books and reading into the lives of every child in the area.
In 2019 we aim to provide another full programme of projects which schools are unable to fund themselves. And of course we will continue to support our regular projects such as the Small Schools Book Clubs, the Plays in the Playground Initiative and Poems by Post.
Other initiatives already arranged this year include a visit from performance poet Hollie McNish, and a schools workshop with author Emma Carroll. We are also collaborating with the Somerset Literacy Network and are sponsoring performance poet and educator Josh Seigal who will be working in 24 schools later in the year.
Finally (for the time being) we are delighted to announce that the speaker at our special Year Six event, which happens every year during Festival week, will be Maz Evans, author of Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month last year – Who Let the Gods Out?
2018 saw the Wells Festival of Literature continue to encourage a love of literature by helping to fund many more education initiatives across all age ranges including, amongst many others:
A Poetry by Post project with poet AF Harrold (the recipient school received a specially written poem on a postcard each week through the term, together with a visit from the poet).
Tony Walsh spent time with local schools in October, and Inja visited Fosse Way School and the Mendip School.
We arranged a visit from the team responsible for Channel 4’s The Secret Life of Four Year Olds for Psychology and Media students, and an event with Andrew Motion for Lower Sixth and Gifted & Talented children, as well as a literature event with Professor John Mullan for Sixth Formers from eight Somerset schools.
A week of workshops in Primary schools with author Ross Montgomery
The purchase of 37 set books (Much Ado about Nothing) at St Dunstan’s School and 20 copies of A Monster Calls as part of the Exeter University Grammar for Writing project.
2017 was a very busy year for the Education team, working with schools and colleges to help fund literature and literacy projects for all age groups.
Tony Walsh, the poet made famous when he read This is the Place at the vigil after the Manchester bombing, stayed in Wells for two weeks while he worked with pupils from 21 schools around Wells, Shepton Mallet, Cheddar, Glastonbury and Street. Other poetry events included: Inja, poet and rapper, worked with English and Media students at Strode College and spent a day at Fosse Way School, Radstock, working with autistic children through the school. Poet AF Harrold spent a day with pupils at Ashcott School.
WFL arranged author visits to several local schools including Joffre White to Croscombe Primary, Steve Voake to West Pennard School and Marie Louise Jensen to St Dunstan’s Secondary School, Glastonbury Similar workshops and projects have been arranged with storytellers, poets and actors: Annie Fisher and Anne Harvey spent a day at Shepton Mallet Infants School; the Two Steves ran writing workshops at St Benedict’s School, Glastonbury; Chris Connaughton, actor and storyteller, worked with all the pupils at Baltonsborough School.
WFL buys books too – in one case so that children from Whitstone School, Shepton Mallet, were able to take part in the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards shadowing project. And in another case we purchased 210 books for a new transition project at Crispin School, Street, so that Year 6 pupils could work on the same book during their last term at Primary School and in their first term at Secondary School. We provided books for able readers in five small schools so that they could meet on a termly basis at a book club event. We also supplied Wookey School with books to start a school Book Club for higher ability children. And Coxley School’s Short Story Competition awarded prizes funded by the Literature Festival – all part of our on-going commitment to literacy.
We funded St Paul’s School, Shepton Mallet, to enrol with the Shakespeare Schools Festival, staging an abridged version of Romeo and Juliet at the Merlin Theatre, Frome. We also supported a Community event, including poetry workshops and theatre performances for families at the Bishop’s Barn, Wells. With the Theatre Royal (Bath) and with input from Mendip District Council, we funded Plays in the Playground – an ongoing initiative to bring theatre to school children, and their families, in Shepton Mallet. Throughout the year, Higher Beings, Paddleboat and Squashbox visited Bowlish Infants, St Paul’s, and Shepton Mallet Infants, performing for both children and parents and interacting with families in the playground. The Festival paid for transport so that Hemington School pupils could attend a performance at The Egg Theatre in Bath.
Nearly 320 Year 6 children from 11 schools attended talks by author Ross Montgomery in Wells, and 300 children plus staff came to his talks in Glastonbury. Every child was given the chance to buy a book for £3 (subsidised by WFL). 500 books were sold, and teachers expressed their appreciation that children who had never shown any interest in reading were queuing excitedly to buy a book.
St Cuthbert’s (Wells), St Paul’s (Shepton Mallet), Nunney First, Coxley School, Hemington Primary, Hindhayes Infants (Street), and Shepton Mallet Infants were all funded with Reading Helpers from the literacy charity Beanstalk, an ongoing project, supported by WFL. Helpers are each allocated three children in a school, and by working with them individually twice a week for a year they give children who may have fallen far behind the confidence to work at and enjoy their reading
Much of our original education work was traditionally focused on projects with primary schools, but as our involvement grows, we find we are increasingly working with secondary school students and older.
Our 2016 projects with primary aged children included:
- Our traditional festival event for Year 6 pupils grew: during the 2016 Festival Piers Torday spoke at two events
- Glastonbury Small Schools Book Club for five schools
- Reading workshops at Butleigh School led by author Joffre White
- Creative writing sessions at Wookey School, led by Joffre White
- Writing workshops for local Junior Schools led by Actiontrak and culminating in performances at Wookey Hole Cave
- Award of prizes for story writing competition at Coxley School
- Partnership with Shakespeare Schools Festival in their work with Horrington School culminating in a performance at The Egg, Bath
- Contribution to printing costs of pupils’ stories based on local history
- Workshop led by Piers Torday at Ashcott School
Our 2016 projects with older students
Many events in our Festival programme have attracted a number of students to the Festival. With topics such as literature, politics, science, poetry and history being covered by some of the leading experts in the country, our speakers continue to offer inspirational new insights to ambitious students.
In addition, projects instigated and funded by WFL in 2016 included:
- Seminars led by author Emma Craigie for students at Strode College, discussing novelists’ research methods and the use of the media.
- Shakespearean drama workshops at St Dunstan’s School
- Writing workshops for senior students with author Alison Rattle
- Partnership with Shakespeare Schools Festival in their work with Sexeys School leading to a performance at Merlin Theatre, Frome