Supporting students to find their voice through creative writing

Published on: 
28 Aug 2018

Deborah May from creative writing charity First Story, an Artsmark Partner, tells us how their programmes can help you put creative writing at the heart of your Artsmark adventure...

First Story builds creativity, confidence, self-expression and increased aspiration–ultimately changing young peoples’ lives through writing. We deliver intensive, inspiring creative writing residencies in secondary schools serving low income communities, led by acclaimed professional writers. Our core year-long programme model is a sixteen-week cycle of 90-minute workshops that take place outside of the school day with a cohort of 21 students.

Here’s how our First Story programmes meet the Arts Council’s Quality Principles which should be embedded in every school’s Artsmark journey:

  • Striving for excellence and innovation - our writers have at least three years’ experience of delivering creative writing programmes in the community, and will have an acclaimed publishing and/or performance background. As well as working with your students, First Story presents the opportunity for up to two teachers to receive year-long creative writing CPD, and for your wider staff team to take part in a dedicated creative writing session led by your writer in residence.   
  • Being authentic, exciting, inspiring and engaging – First Story programmes are grounded in the authentic, real-word experience of the young people that take part in them. The programmes are a vehicle for these real-life experiences to reach a wider audience through a professionally published anthology and celebratory launch event. A First Story programme will include a planned calendar of events and opportunities to inspire and engage students including an annual Young Writers Festival, a national writing competition, a regional writing event which will give them the opportunity to meet other First Story students in their region, and the chance to gain a full fellowship to a creative writing residential.
  • Positivity and inclusiveness- every young person that takes part in a First Story programme is encouraged to draw on their own personal journey, to see the value in their own lived experience. We focus on schools where more than 50% of pupils are considered deprived according to the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index and/or GCSE results fall in the lowest third of the national distribution. In selecting students to take part in First Story, we support schools to target those students for whom our programme will have the greatest impact.
  • Enabling personal progression and ownership - First Story programmes are designed to move from inspiring your students to try creative writing for pleasure, through to developing technical mastery through editing and refining their work ready for publication.  One student can be put forward by their school for a full fellowship to attend a creative writing residential over the summer holidays. Our programmes are embedded within the arts and cultural sector, and our regional programme team will be able to signpost your students to further creative writing and arts activities and opportunities when your First Story programme has come to an end.

First Story writers worked across 65 residencies last year. 1,242 talented young people discoverd the pleasure and power that writing gives. They realise that their voices, their language  and their lives matter, crafting nearly 30,000 pieces of creative writing, resulting in 62 published anthologies.

St Mary's College in Hull are working towards their Artsmark Award and their Learning Resource Centre Manager, Mrs Bedworth said: "Our college has been working successfully with First Story for over two years. As a school working towards our Artsmark Award, we have found that working with the programme has facilitated the provision of a rich cultural and creative experience for our students outside of the classroom. Having a First Story writer resident in school for the academic year has enabled us to provide an inclusive and empowering experience for our pupils - the outcomes have been fantastic, both in print and in pupils' personal development."

To bring First Story to your children and young people, or to find out more about our work, visit


Deborah May, First Story

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Cultural education gives children and young people the opportunity to develop their creativity, both individually and collectively, and that's why our goal is for every child and young person to have the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts.

Darren Henley
Chief Executive
Arts Council England

It's vital that children have the opportunity to learn and enjoy arts and culture from an early age. It develops their creativity, inspires future careers and enriches their childhood.

Artsmark Award does brilliant work in schools and education to ensure young people access a broad and balanced curriculum that includes high-quality arts and culture.

Michael Ellis MP
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism
Department of Culture, Media and Sport