On 19 March, I locked the door to our creative space in the Burgess Hill Academy in Sussex, not knowing when I would open it up again.
We were just about to head into lockdown in the UK and uncertainty abounded. All I knew then was that I needed to quickly get Inkpots online so that I could support our students and their families at this time. My aim was to be as consistent and steady as possible – although I was unsure about quite how I would achieve this.
In the past, I have considered offering online workshops but couldn’t imagine how these would work. Inkpots workshops are warm and welcoming. Since we have had access to a space to call our own, this has become even more important.
Now that had been taken away, just how would we manage?
But after a very busy 48 hours over the weekend before full lockdown, Inkpots went online – and we were off! And we have been meeting via Zoom on a regular basis ever since.
There have been challenges, and along with many other people who are used to running group sessions, there has been a realisation of how much I read a room and rely on picking up on the mood of the young people.
Along with many others too, I have noticed just how tiring it is to run a Zoom session, especially ensuring that everyone is given a chance to be involved in a group meeting.
But there have been a number of advantages:
*Young people have handled the tech well – and welcomed the chance to come together each week. We even met throughout the school Easter holidays as it was one way of keeping continuity.
*Creativity has flourished. We have done a number of online creativity days which have been extremely popular and the material the students produced has been impressive.
*We have been able to reach more students. Our new young teen writers programme has involved young people who would not usually be able to get to our creative space.
*I’ve been able to trial workshops without having to make elaborate plans beforehand such as organising access to our space or hiring additional equipment.
*Getting feedback from students has been easier and quicker – as we are all working online.
*Everyone involved at Inkpots is very aware of wellbeing, and the important part that creative writing can play in that.
*The young people who come to Inkpots have always been a kind lot! Lockdown has shown that again and if one member of the group is struggling in some way, between us we have been able to support in the best way possible.
Making the new system work
We have also discovered some things which work particularly well for us:
- It works to share the zoom link the morning of the meeting so that students don’t have to go back through messages and emails. This also acts as a quick reminder.
- We tend to meet in the afternoons, allowing students the space to do their school work.
- Before each session, I log in a few minutes beforehand so that any students who may be slightly anxious about using this platform are not kept waiting for too long (some tend to arrive slightly early because of this anxiety).
- I always have a check in with myself before any session – ensuring I have all the materials to hand and making sure I bring the right level of energy to the time on camera. And a bottle of water too!
- We have reviewed what we are doing every five to six weeks. The atmosphere has changed as lockdown continues and it’s important that we recognise that. We decide things together – it’s important that we are all as comfortable as possible with this new way of working.
- We are realising that we should use this new opportunity to engage with different kinds of activities – for example, we are able to invite visitors to our group so much more easily.
- Some of our students are actually finding meeting via zoom easier than they thought. One has remarked recently that she finds it easier to voice her thoughts and feels more confident.
- We have realised pretty quickly that we need to use the mute button! Sounds from home can be surprisingly loud!
- We have had to ‘think outside the box’. We have discovered that we’re good at doing that and we are embracing being more spontaneous. Over the coming next few weeks, we’re looking at how we can embrace technology even more.
- We keep in touch between meetings too – sharing book news, competitions info and other writing tips.
- We know that routine and planning are important at this time. For this last half term, we have put an exciting plan together for our regular groups to give us something exciting to look forward to in this last half term of the school year.
One of the best outcomes of this period has been the introduction of our young teen writers’ course. This five-week programme is for students age 12 – 14 years – it’s been called ‘inspirational’ and is a joy to be part of. I am running it again in July and booking is now open. This will be part of a larger summer creative writing programme which is currently being planned.
However, I am only too well aware that a young person needs to have an electronic device to access our groups – and this isn’t always possible for all families. We’ll be looking at this in the next round of planning.
The worse thing we could do – after all that everyone has been through – is to expect things to stay the same. So we will continue to review, discuss and adapt to the changing times, no matter how challenging that might be.