Write here Write Now


People’s reasons for writing are as wide and varied as the
pieces they write. Creative writing can take on many different
forms and its benefits are not confined to the piece of work
produced at the end. It can help people work through their problems
and put them in perspective, something that can be hard when you
are homeless, a young offender, or suffer from mental health
problems, writes Amy Taylor.


The words on the street – creative writing and

There’s a big difference between being on the street and in a
creative writing class. “You need different coping mechanisms
when you are in a class where you have to respect other
people,” explains William Little, who runs creative writing
classes at a St Mungo’s short-stay hostel for homeless people in
New Cross, south east London. “It is good to enter into a
debate and listen to other people’s opinions and deal with

As each person learns to listen they, in turn, are listened to
by the rest of the class. Little explains how the classes help
people see that their voice is valued and to express themselves
through writing, whether it’s a cathartic process or to get
something published. Little believes that creative writing allows
people to change their opinions of themselves, by increasing their
confidence and self-esteem, and distances them from their

Little did an English literature degree and was a journalist
before becoming a press officer for the Mental Health Foundation
and the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities,
voluntarily running the classes one evening a week. He used to
write poetry when he was younger and constantly dabbles with
chapters and ideas. He didn’t become involved in running the
classes through his work but, instead, responded to an advert in a

Mental health problems and homelessness are undoubtedly linked.
Little cites how statistical evidence shows that mental health
problems can cause homelessness and that homelessness exacerbates
mental health problems, sending sufferers into a downward

A consistent number of people attend his sessions, with the same
faces appearing each week and he sees this as a triumph in itself.
The group writes a lot of poetry and sometimes Little brings in
poems for discussion. He also gets the group to read out their
work, opening it up for comment.

Some people in the class are highly intelligent and articulate,
something he sees as good for breaking down the stereotypes of
homeless people held by the public. One of his past students, a
former prostitute who had been in prison, was particularly gifted.
During a spell in prison she had been on a creative writing course
run by screenwriter Lynda La Plante, and while there La Plante
praised her work and asked her to send her some of her writing.
Little describes how she would make up a poem on the spot if he
gave her a few words to work with.

Another person to attend the class was a woman in her
mid-forties with several children. “She had very strong
anti-men feelings because a man walked out on her, so I got her to
try not to see the world in such a black and white way,”
Little says.

Contact information: St Mungo’s
Web – www.mungos.org
Call – 0208 740 9968
E-mail – info@mungos.org

Coming up for Ayr – mental health and creative

People with mental health problems benefit from creative writing
classes led by Alistair Parker. The classes take place at a drop-in
centre run by Ayr Action for Mental Health (AAMH), a Scottish
mental health charity, and Parker himself is a mental health
service user. He finds that being “in the same boat” as
the rest of the group helps people talk freely.

Writing allows him to define who he is and vent his depression,
anger and compassion. He sees creative writing benefiting his class
members by helping them to consider their problems without actually
having to discuss them. As with William Little he sees creative
writing as a way to increase the writers’ confidence while allowing
them to escape from their problems. “It is often when they
feel really done-in that they will write poetry,” he says.
“It brings them back out of the depression.”

Parker used to work as an outdoor pursuits instructor and was
previously in the navy but says he was always a closet poet. He has
facilitated the class for the past two years and admits that it was
a “learning experience” to begin with.

The group’s work is regularly displayed on the AAMH’s website
and put into various mental health newsletters. Some members have
entered a competition that aims to promote artwork, including
creative writing, produced by people who have experienced mental
ill health. An exhibition of the work will then go on tour to five
national venues, including London, in winter 2003 until spring

Contact information: Ayr Action for Mental Health
Website – www.ayractionmentalhealth.co.uk

Call – 01292 619600
E-mail – aamh@btconnect.com

Offending language – creative writing and young

The pages of The Boys Are Back, a book containing creative
writing, and sample lyrics written by young offenders, make
revealing reading. The writers’ aspirations are as simple as
wanting a house, a job and a partner – things many of us take for

The book, which also contains digital photography, video stills
and an accompanying CD, was the culmination of “The Boys Are
Back in Town”, a five-week cross-art form project at Stoke
Heath young offenders institution in Market Drayton, Shropshire.
The project took place in April and involved around 40 15-17
year-olds in oral storytelling, music, digital photography and
video animation, as well as writing.

Staff at the centre came up with the idea for the scheme and
help was sought from the Writers in Prison Network that runs the
Arts Council and Prisoners Learning and Skill Unit’s
writers-in-residence in prison scheme across the English prison
estate, and develops projects working with young people at risk of

Clive Hopwood, director of the Network, ran the creative writing
part of the project. He is keen to emphasise that only those who
wanted to take part did so. “It was voluntary. Nobody was
made to do something because it was good for them.”

Hopwood, who is also a writer and an oral storyteller, has
worked in the theatre, publishing, community arts and video over
his career. He says that although the boys were a challenging group
he managed to turn the sessions into a safe space in which they
could express themselves, initially embarking in a trade-off of
information to get them to talk. The group began by writing
autobiographical pieces looking at where they might be in five
years’ time. They then moved onto poetry, despite many saying
at the beginning that they wouldn’t be able to do this. He
describes how he used different techniques, such as getting the
teenagers to write down what they would take to a desert island:
“You find methods to help them put something down on paper
and by the end of it you have a piece of writing.”

The Boys Are Back draws together all the work carried out in the
project and Hopwood believes that although the process of writing
itself is important, equally so is having something to work towards
and show for your efforts. He sees creative writing as increasing
the teenagers’ self-esteem and confidence as well as giving
them new skills along the way. “It’s really about teaching
them they can achieve,” he says.

Contact details – The Writers in Prison Network Ltd
Director – Clive Hopwood
Call – 01938 811 355
Mobile – 07930 378 110
E-mail – CHopwood98@aol.com

Many of the writers featured in this article said they were
unable to write when they first met their facilitators. By helping
them to overcome their doubts the sessions showed them that they
can achieve in other areas and will, hopefully, lead to more

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.