A Half Term of Writing – St. Benedict School at Totleigh Barton

16 Jun 2015 / My Arvon Week

Rachel Hursey, Head of English, St Benedict’s Catholic High School, Alcester

Whilst most teachers might look forward to a relaxing May half term, for me and for sixteen students from St. Benedict’s Catholic High School, this was a chance to visit Arvon’s centre in Totleigh Barton and enjoy a week of writing.

Without doubt, I was as excited as the students. I had first encountered Arvon at my previous school, Cotham School, in Bristol, when as a first-year teacher (NQT) some fifteen years ago I was given the opportunity to go. It was an experience that resonated with me very deeply as I found that I was able to write and create at the same time as the students.  From this experience I decided to reduce my hours for a couple of years and take a Creative Writing MA. I negotiated my way back to Arvon as often as I could.

We had the most fantastic week. I took a mix of Year 8 students through to Year 13 and before long the years had become a cohesive group. In schools there isn’t enough opportunity for this to happen in an organic way. Not having mobile reception or Wi-Fi was great for us all. We talked, read and engaged with each other.

When I came into the kitchen in the morning, bacon would be cooking or pancakes would be in production. In the evenings, it became a competition to see who could decorate the large oak dining table in the most attractive way: wild flowers, place names, the wood burning stove on, candles lit and origami coasters.

Our tutors on the course were Peter Samson, poet, and Alexis Zegerman, dramatist and actor. Peter was a delight with his energy and poetic engagement. He encouraged us to be playful and not to think too much. This was a great approach. One student, Ruth, proudly showed me on the first day the first poem that she had ever written. In Alexis’ sessions we were encouraged to focus on  motivations and to create a backstory for our characters.  We also tried some drama of our own, rotating around the house to perform and watch scenes in the library, lounge and barn. Our visiting writer was Christopher Wakling, novelist, who engaged us all with a reading from What I Did and a Q&A session.

A highlight of the week was the penalty competition organised by Peter in the garden. I achieved a career first by coming second! We also loved the surprisingly difficult secret writing task, where we all submitted a piece for everyone to guess the author.

To hear the students read their edited work during the showcase on the last night was very moving; we had all become writers.

And so we drifted back into the last half term at school. A parent spoke for us all: “Lilya is tired, but would not have missed it for the world.”

Nicole Levermore, Student, St Benedict’s Catholic High School, Alcester

IMG_2368Our stay at Arvon was a week filled with writing, development, good food and laughter. Devon is a beautiful place, and the scenery that surrounds the centre in Devon is astoundingly gorgeous and tranquil.  This scenery was an added bonus to the brilliance of the centre and its approach to writing, learning and teaching. The writers that accompanied us on our trip (Peter Samson, Alexis Zegerman and Christopher Wakling) were fantastic, approachable and incredibly skilled in their areas. This made their tutorage feel like a huge privilege on our part, and I’m definitely sure that I enjoyed every minute of our morning and evening sessions with them.

The free time we had at Arvon was spent writing and editing our work, reading, and playing fun games as a group. The friendly and welcoming environment at Arvon made it easy for the group to bond, despite the fact that we ranged from year 8 to year 13. This bond that we all had made it even easier to enhance our literary skills, as everyone was eager to share their work and get tips from the writers, teachers, and other students.

Overall, our trip was a great success, and I feel inspired to continue enhancing my skills in poetry, prose and play-writing. I would definitely recommend Arvon to any person looking to get away from the stresses of modern life and just focusing on doing what they love-writing. Thank you to the team at Arvon, the writers, and our teachers for making this experience truly unforgettable!


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