Coming home to Arvon – Starting to Write in E17

04 Dec 2013 / Schools and Groups


By Becky Swain, Head of Learning and Participation, Arvon

This month I was delighted to host a three day Arvon city course for local residents in Walthamstow, East London. Stranger : Neighbour – Starting to Write in E17 made its home in the William Morris and Winn’s Galleries and was the result of a new partnership with the drawing shed, an arts organisation led by artists Bobby Lloyd and Sally Labern.

Walthamstow was my geographical home from birth until leaving for college and I returned a decade ago to live close by. Joining the first writing exercise, I found myself sketching a map of the area, with Forest Road as its backbone. I charted my walking route from home to Wood Street Primary School in the 70’s. Remembering a great exercise I learnt from Tiffany Murray on an Arvon Starting to Write course in 2010, I started to plot important buildings, landmarks, street corners. The cul-de-sac that I used to cycle round exactly 18 times on my red Raleigh racer.  The Waltham Forest Guardian office where I did my first work experience placement in 1985 – my headline story was about a local resident who won a year’s supply of Heinz baked beans for coming up with a new slogan. And down along to Hoe Street to the new E17 development where ‘Swain’s Music Shop’ once stood, run by my Grandmother Gladys and demolished long before I was born.  Roger Huddle, sat opposite me in our first workshop, leaned forward and said, ‘I bought my first jazz record in that shop.’ From that point on we all realised we had the starting points for years of writing within a few minutes together.

By mid-morning on day one we were sharing stories about our neighbourhood. Escaping ducks. The ongoing trampoline feud with number 35. Walking out of the house with only pen, notebook and toothbrush for Valencia. Fear of the dark. Cats lost and found (I recommend searching the net for ‘Walthamstow woman outraged at fine for ‘missing cat’ posters.’ Fluffy was outraged.)

With local writing workshops as a lead in through October, writers  Jacob Sam La Rose and Nichola Charalambou led a group of fifteen local residents from a wide range of backgrounds and ages (15 to 70+) through new writing experiences and an intensive three day of workshops, writing time and readings. Bobby and Sally devised a twitter performance with Jacob to take place on the Saturday afternoon at the Winns Gallery. Being something of a technophobe, I was sceptical. It turned out to be a sublime moment of collective creativity. The gallery housed the drawing shed’s latest exhibition, including a fantastic typing pool, and it was full of people on devices typing, tweeting….sending out words, poems, sentences, phrases about home, strangers and neighbours. My last tweet of the day sums it all up for me, ‘I am home where I am right now. In a making space. Connecting stories.’

The Sunday afternoon readings were stirring and we all agreed to meet again to share our anthology and generate some new writing together. It struck me during the final readings that Arvon and the drawing shed first met in Autumn 2011 at the garages where they are based on two housing estates in Walthamstow, E17 and we started to get to know each other. By the start of this year, the idea of collaborating on an Arvon City course, and making it affordable to local residents, felt like the right move. Whilst these city courses are very different from a residential Arvon week, wrapping up the ingredients and bringing Arvon to the city is a beautiful thing.


Typing pool images only by Tim Reedy


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