Totleigh Barton’s outreach work in Devon schools

27 Aug 2019 / General

Rachel Long Places of Poetry workshop whole class

If anyone has bought an item from the Totleigh Barton gift shop, firstly, thank you! We hope you are enjoying your journal/ book bag/ Sylvia Plath finger puppet. What you may not know is that the profits from purchasing those lovely items actually do a lot more than satisfy the common writer’s obsession with buying endless stationary and literary themed delights.

A couple of years ago, the shop helped to fund a short story competition open for all state school children living in Devon (the county in which Totleigh Barton is situated), judged by Michael Morpurgo, Emma Carrol and Yemisi Turner-Blake. Since then, the proceeds have been allowing Arvon to work with Devon schools, some of which might not otherwise have the opportunity to work with writers.

Most recently, on the 12th June, to tie in with the nationwide Places of Poetry project (led by poet and Arvon tutor Paul Farley and Exeter university professor Andrew McRae), Arvon arranged for the poet Rachel Long to teach a workshop on the theme of place for a group of year 7s at a secondary school in mid-Devon. This was in partnership with the exciting social enterprise, Crediton Community Bookshop, which, besides being a brilliant independent high street bookshop, is run ‘for the benefit of the community… investing in local projects and working collaboratively with individuals and partners including schools, libraries and literary festivals.’

It was a great day. After a little initial reticence, Rachel soon got the children warmed up through some ice breaker exercises and through some free-writing, which none of them had experienced before. She then got them to tell her all about the area in which they lived, going on to look at poems by Kim Moore and Jacob Sam-La Rose to provide inspiration for their own poems.

Rachel then dropped the bombshell that she would like some volunteers to read their poems, after only 10 minutes of working on them, to an assembly made up of 250 of their fellow year 7s. I was amazed that 12 out of the 30 children put their hand up, and the rest of the group agreed to sit on the stage behind the readers. It was fantastic to see them confidently reading their poems and getting great support from their peers.

 ‘The students were an absolute joy to work with, once warmed they had so much to say and write about their place in the world. Their descriptions of where they came from were daring, wild, astute, funny, poignant – some all at once.
-Rachel Long (poet and tutor)

‘Rachel had a lasting impact…students and staff still talking about some of those poems.’
-Robert Logan, school librarian 

Sometimes teamwork comes together in such a fruitful and satisfying way that you realise how vital it is to getting things off the ground! This was an example of a day that brought together many different people’s areas of expertise with a shared passion for the power of books and reading, to bring an opportunity to a state school in a rural area. As well as highlighting the importance of buying that extra notebook that you just can’t resist…

Written by Eliza Squire, Assistant Centre Director, Totleigh Barton

If you would like to post a poem about a place that has special resonance for you, you might like to get involved with the Places of Poetry project by visiting their website:

If you would like to find out more about the work that (regional finalist for the Independent Bookshop of the Year) Crediton Community Bookshop is doing please visit




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