Leeds Young Authors runs creative writing workshops for young people aged 13-19 in the Chapeltown, Meanwood and Harehills areas of the city. The bad reputation of these areas can be “soul destroying” for the young people who live there, says Khadijah Ibrahiim. A National Lottery-funded ‘lyrical theatre’ project set out to change that.
The group used the funding to launch a ‘Footprints of Colonialism’ project, to help members explore the different cultures of families living in the area and the historical relationship between Britain and its colonies. “We wanted to give them a chance to celebrate who they are, and also appreciate diversity,” says Khadijah.
Following research at local libraries, 30 young people were joined by writers, poets and spoken-word artists from around the world for a series of workshops. Guests included Jonzi D, one of the UK’s leading hip-hop artists. After creating their own poems about heritage, the group collaborated to transform their work into a dramatic production. “No one told them what to do or gave them a script,” says Khadijah. “It was all about their ideas, allowing them to take charge and maintain ownership of their work.”The lyrical theatre production they created, Footprints, was shown in November 2007 at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.
And the story doesn’t end there. Keen to spread the positive energy generated by the project, Leeds Young Authors created a DVD of the production and its creation, including interviews with the young people involved. This now part of a teaching pack, so even more young people can take part in a creative way to approach to Britain’s diverse cultural heritage.