I received funding from Newcastle Council to run a series of writing workshops for residents who have been bereaved by the Covid-19 pandemic
About the Fund
Newcastle Council's Community Health Fund was designed to 'support activities and interventions to reduce the impact of [Coronavirus] on certain communities, for example: creative ideas to engage with the most at-risk groups; new and exciting networks of grassroots advocates or ‘champions’ from impacted communities; and project ideas from voluntary and community groups who specialise in working with communities shown to be most at risk from Covid-19.'
My proposal was to run a series of writing workshops aimed at Newcastle residents who had lost a loved one due to the pandemic - people who were not only dealing with the aftermath of that death but the lack of traditional ways of mourning it, for example a final chance to say goodbye, an-in person funeral or memorial service, or an opportunity to be with family while grieving.
My intention was to run three workshops: one general workshop for adults, one for young people and one for underserved communities e.g. the LGBT community and for people of colour. At first I began to recruit participants individually, promoting the workshops on social media and via community organisations, however there wasn't a huge amount of take up so I decided instead to approach organisations who may have an existing group that I could deliver a workshop to instead.
In the end, I delivered one workshop to participants at a local Changing Lives project, and one workshop for members of Newcastle University's LGBT+ Society and BAME Society. Because of this, we took the term 'loss' a lot more broadly than I'd originally planned, discussing not simply the loss of life during Covid-19 (although that played a big part) but also loss of opportunities, loss of routine, loss of friendships and relationships, and declines in mental and physical health as a result of lockdown.
Some of the feedback was really great:
'The workshop was fun and time flew by! More please!'
'Bridget offers encouragement and inspires confidence in her pupils'
'I feel motivated and inspired to go on writing'
100% of participants strongly agreed that they enjoyed attending the workshop, and 87% said that they intended on doing more writing off the back of it.
Unfortunately, it was so difficult to find a group of young people to run a workshop with that I ultimately decided to park that idea and instead create a grief writing booklet for youth workers and teachers to distribute instead. After consultation from the bereavement teams at St. Oswald's Hospice and Teesside Hospice, I have published the booklet (as well as an extra more basic worksheet for those just starting out with creative writing) and it is free to download here:
So what have I learnt?
To be completely honest, I almost didn't add this piece of work into my portfolio, and that would have been an enormous shame. I almost let my perfectionist tendencies cloud the real and tangible benefits that came from a less-than-perfect project.
Almost everyone has been touched by loss in some way during the pandemic, so why did so few people proactively sign up to the workshops? There could be dozens of different reasons. Perhaps we are still too close to those dark lockdown days to look back on them with any kind of objectivity. Perhaps the grief is still too raw at the moment, or feels strange to write about, or perhaps it was something logistical - the summer holidays, zoom fatigue... Whatever it was, you can only analyse it for so long before simply saying, this is what happened, and that's OK. I was still able to deliver my workshops to existing groups who took a lot away from the experience, and the design of the workshop will be there in the future if there is interest from others.
My grief writing booklet has been sent to more than 30 schools and organisations in Newcastle who can download it, print it and reproduce it however they wish - and you can do the same! If you have any questions about the content or would like to commission me to make something specific for your organisation, you can always email me on email@example.com or fill out the contact form on my website.
A huge thank you to Laura Barrett from St. Oswald's Hospice, Sara Mathews from Teesside Hospice, Abie Alfrey, Sue Spencer, Karolynne Hart, Val Heslop and Laura Richards for helping me deliver on this project.