Trowbridge Town Hall was awash with poets and artists on National Poetry Day, October 6 2016. Ten local schools each sent small groups of children and a member of staff to take part in my poetry and art workshops which I ran with artist Ben Midgley. In addition, poets from Trowbridge Poetry Society Stanza group took part, as did poets who attend my Tuesday poetry workshops. There was an artists’ cafe running in the morning so there was a lively, creative buzz throughout the day until the last poets left just after 4pm.
I’m grateful to staff and volunteers at the Town Hall for their support, to Ben Midgley for giving up his time free of charge (as I did), and for Trowbridge Arts Festival for paying for materials used in the workshops. Thank you, also, to National Poetry Day, who supplied badges and stickers for the day which we are now in the process of sending out to participating schools.
The theme for National Poetry Day this year was ‘messages’ so, in the school workshops, we invited participants to think of a message they’d like to give to someone or something and to ‘say it with a poem’. Before we got down to any writing, however, we were treated to a tour of the building, and a brief insight into its fascinating history, by Town Hall Arts Manager, Jo Beal. This included a visit to the prison cells in the spooky basement (the building used to function as a Magistrates’ Court), a look at some of the building’s beautiful architectural features and an inspection of some stunning artwork from the Derwent Art Prize which is on exhibition at the Town Hall until November 19.
Among other things, we learned that the building was commissioned in 1887 by local mill owner, William Roger Brown, and was opened in 1889 by the Duchess of Albany, a widowed daughter-in-law of Queen Victoria.
Back at our base for the workshops – a Court Room where judges would have presided over people brought to trial – Ben and I introduced the poem I’d written and Ben had illustrated for the day. Then the children and adults got to work, writing and illustrating their own poems, as we moved around to help and encourage creative progress. Once the poems were finished, and we’d heard as many as possible read out loud, participants were invited to ‘peg their poems to a poetry line’, a simple line of string attached around the foyer which functioned as an extremely effective and lovely way of displaying the work (thanks, Tracy and Jo at the Town Hall for thinking of this!).
Although Trowbridge Town Hall is on the doorstep of most of the children who attended the day – and it was fantastic to see so many of them arrive on foot, walking together – it was the first time that many of them had ever been to the building. For the last five years, the Town Hall has been developing and growing into an arts centre and is gradually making its new presence felt in the town. It was encouraging to hear (from front desk staff) that many children came back to visit at the weekend and brought their parents and carers with them, to show off their poetry as well as the beautiful building and the wonderful Derwent artwork. The whole day was a fine example of local schools making the most of a wonderful resource on their doorstep and I’m proud to have played a part in this. I really hope that more schools, local and further afield, will think of the Town Hall as an exciting place to visit with lots of potential for enrichment activities. Even better if they also decide to write some more poetry.
The poem display stayed up for a week and received more visitors as the photos below show. The poems will now be returned to their creators and I hope to put together some scrapbooks as a record of the day.
If you attended the day and would like to leave a comment, or if you’d like to comment in general about this event or ones like it, please do. Thank you to everyone who took part.