We met with Imogen Stirling, Writer in Residence at Paisley Book Festival in February 2021.
Imogen works in theatre and performance poetry, an industry which entirely disappeared last year. In late 2020, she was offered the position as Writer in Residence for Paisley’s 2nd annual Book Festival – Radical New Futures.
The festival’s aim was to connect with as wide a range of local people as possible, despite the challenges Covid-19 is presenting, and look towards a brighter future at a time when community and creative spaces have been lost. As well as spreading the word of the festival and co-producing a manifesto for a Radical New Future, Imogen felt it was vital to create spaces for creativity and connection and sharing what people are going through.
The manifesto for a Radical New Future reflected upon the uprising in Paisley in 1820 where people were encouraged to down tools, speak up and hold their uncaring government to account. This new manifesto was a tool to explore what is going on in the world today, what people hold dear and how they want their future to look. Imogen was keen to ensure that as many voices as possible were included in it.
Imogen reached out to Scottish Refugee Council, and we linked her up with Serve2020 in Paisley, a group set up during the coronavirus pandemic to respond to the needs of their local community. The group are running one-to-one English lessons for the new Scots community in Renfrewshire, to improve and maintain education and digital skills whilst combating isolation.
Imogen held three workshops with the Serve2020 community, one with children aged 8-12, one with teenagers and one with mothers. They worked on creative writing, poetry, language and vocabulary together. Imogen says “it was just a really, really lovely time.”
The workshops were a huge success despite being online, but the digital environment of the past year has been particularly challenging for new families struggling to connect with their new communities. Imogen noted that the group of mostly Syrian mums in particular were really isolated and their capacity to learn English had been greatly diminished in the past year because they hadn’t had opportunities to interact with people outwith their household and family.
In an effort to combat this isolation and foster connection, the workshop included a traditional coffee ceremony, which opened up new conversations and a chance to share stories.
Imogen said: “The coffee ceremony became this beautiful storytelling session. Everyone sharing memories of their hometowns and their upbringings and their mothers, and the memories the taste and smell of the coffee evoked for them.”
The manifesto for a Radical New Future is currently only available in print form. Watch Imogen’s cinepoem SPEAK which reflects on community, compassion and the importance of trusting your own voice – each of which were sentiments expressed by workshop participants.
Find out more about Imogen’s work.
Do you have a story to share from your community? Contact our Storytelling Officer Chris Afuakwah.