Arvon was founded in 1968 by two poets, John Moat and John Fairfax, with the original aim of providing time and space away from school for young people to write poetry. John Moat wrote that they were inspired to create Arvon “as a place where individuals, and in particular young committed writers, could be given a sanctuary away from ...the creative deprivation imposed by the system of standard education – and there offered... the guidance of writers”.
The first residential course was run in a community centre in Devon, for a group of 16-18 year olds from a range of Devon schools. Totleigh Barton in Devon became Arvon’s first centre in 1972.
In 1975 Arvon began running courses at Lumb Bank near Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. This was the former home of Ted Hughes. Ted Hughes was a guest on this first course, and played an important role in the subsequent growth of Arvon into a national creative writing organisation. In 1980, in order to raise funds for Arvon he established the Arvon International Poetry Competition. That year his fellow judges were Charles Causley, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. The competition featured on the South Bank Show and received over 36,000 entries. It was won by future poet-laureate Andrew Motion.
From the outset it was the founders of Arvon’s belief that an Arvon Centre was a ‘Freehouse of the Imagination’, and as such didn’t belong to, but was owned by anyone and everyone who opened themselves to being part of its life.
In 1999, with the help of an Arts Council grant, Arvon acquired The Hurst, the former home of playwright John Osborne, in Shropshire. Arvon also ran courses between 1993 and 2014 at Moniack Mhor near Inverness, Scotland.
Past tutors have included Paul Abbott, Beryl Bainbridge, Angela Carter, Iain Banks, Malcolm Bradbury, Hilary Mantel , Michael Morpurgo and Salman Rushdie. Present tutors include Mark Haddon, Melvin Burgess, Malorie Blackman, David Eldridge, Michael Longley and Sinead Morrissey.