Writing Britain was a national project, generously funded by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, which saw the British Library work in partnership with four city libraries across England: Bristol City Library, Leeds Central Library, Newcastle Central Library and Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library.
Accompanying the British Library’s major 2012 exhibition, Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, the project took British Library collection items out to city libraries, and inspired young people across the country to develop creative outcomes such as films, artwork and photography, in response to the themes of the exhibition. The project ran from August 2012 to January 2014.
Find out more about the exhibitions and youth projects in each location:
Bristol City Library
Writing Britain: Bristol Writing explored the city’s rich literary heritage from the pirates of Treasure Island to the party animals of Skins, and from the Romantic Poets to Angela Carter and today’s bestselling novelists. The exhibition featured rare books on loan from the British Library alongside historic items from the Central Library’s own shelves. These were displayed alongside new artworks created as part of the youth engagement project.
Young people worked with the artist Kim Thompson. They looked into the archive and local history collections, and studied poetry, novels, notebooks, newspapers, broadsides and journals. They experimented with a number of photography techniques including Lomo photography and light writing, as well as digital art and design and experimented with creative writing.
Six of the participants created a final piece of photography-based work for the exhibition which were printed on aluminium sheets and displayed on easels. These artworks were an integral and popular part of the exhibition. Bristol ran two further projects looking at the area around their new library: Junction 3.
Leeds Central Library
Writing Britain: Leeds celebrated the striking beauty of the Yorkshire landscape and how it is portrayed in literature. The exhibition comprised display panels quoting Leeds and Yorkshire writers on themes such as ‘Rural’, ‘Waterlands’ and ‘Wild Places’. Items from Leeds Library’s own collections were showcased, as well as British Library items including Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley. A further part of the exhibition showcased new writing, photography, and a spoken word film by young people from Studio 12.
Studio 12 is an audio visual media project for young people based within Central Library Leeds, and as such they were perfectly positioned to run this project. In their first project, the participants worked with a writer and poet Craig Bradley and a film company Left Eye Blind, developing new skills in Studio 12. All the participants wrote their own prose or poetry strongly linked to Leeds. They then worked with a film maker to create their own one minute films, and these were edited to create a group film.
In the second project, 15 young writers were given the opportunity to learn about filmmaking and create their own short films reflecting their aspirations and time growing up in Leeds. Three of the films were unveiled at the Everyman Cinema in Trinity Leeds and BBC3 Fresh showcased the work online in May-June 2014. The Fresh site promotes the work of budding filmmakers.
Newcastle Central Library
Writing North East Coalfields and Quaysides was divided into six themed sections, including ‘Water Memory’, ‘The Raging Sea’ and ‘Gritty City’, each of which explored the relationship between literature and landscape. Each section brought together archive materials from a range of artistic disciplines to offer a unique insight into the way North East topographies have infused the region’s literary output. The exhibition also showcased ‘Bewick’s Ark’: original artwork by Effie Burns, a local glass artist, and members of the Skimstone Arts Youth Artist Collective.
Young members of the Skimstone Arts Young Artist Collective worked with Effie Burns to create ‘Bewick’s Ark’. The group visited the city library’s archive and were blown over by the material available and in particular that relating to the local engraver and author, Thomas Bewick. In their first project, the group created ceramic figures inspired by Bewick. They also developed a performance and created backdrops for the performance and exhibition. In their second project, participants continued their work on Bewick and created chap books.
Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library
Writing Britain: The Broads Effect centred on the influence that the Norfolk Broads have had on artists, poets and writers over the years. People as diverse as Shakespeare and Arthur Ransome have drawn on Broadland and its inhabitants as inspiration. With loans from the British Library, this exhibition focused on famous literary figures whose links to Norfolk may not at first be obvious, such as John Betjeman and Harold Pinter.
In addition to displaying the works of a Poet Laureate and Nobel Prize winner, they also exhibited new work by local young people created especially for this project as well as work by local artists and photographers who are still drawn to the landscape of Norfolk.
Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library worked with a group of young people from local arts venue, The Garage. During their project, the group learnt writing skills, went on a trip to the Norfolk Broads, and experienced a guided ghost walk through Norwich. The group explored the rich collection of photographs and resources about the Norfolk Broads. A Victorian scrapbook from the library’s collection was the main inspiration behind the way the group presented their work. They produced their own scrapbook with writings and photographs.