Back on November 18th I was at Experience Barnsley for a Museum Takeover Day. I was there with primary school children to learn and to write about the Battle of the Somme which ended exactly 100 years before.
It meant an awful lot to be asked to run the workshop if I’m honest and, even though it’s almost a month since I was there, doing it (yep, I’ve been that busy), I’m still feel exceptionally excited by what we did. It was learning about the First World War in history and the war poets in English when I was in high school that made me want to write. I’d go as far as to say that I doubt I’d have ever even thought of being writer without that. Seeing how art can inform, educate, move us, seeing how it can almost put us in someone’s thoughts and dip us in their feelings was really, really something. And I think that’s what good art does when it’s at its best: it makes us feel.
And I enjoyed it so, so much. After a look around the exhibition, spending some brilliant time with the brilliant Alison looking through some objects of the time (a Princess Mary tin, medals, coins, uniforms, letters) and the also-brilliant Louise Ann Wright (her Instagram’s here) seeing what life was like for people in the trenches, it was time to write.
For two hours we looked at all the aspects of what war does and what war did. Barnsley has a considerably rich mining heritage so it was interesting to look at the roles of miners on the Somme (and of not blowing things up ten minutes before you really should just so you can video it) but I think my favourite part of the day was looking at how the roles of women changed, and how they were able to show that they were every bit as good and as capable as men in roles they’d not been allowed into before.
And the writing that happened was extraordinary. It was terrific and interesting and affecting and it did what I hoped it would do, what good writing and good art should: it made us think and it made us feel. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.
And a huge thanks to the hugely talented and very lovely Charlotte Elizabeth Photography for the photos. Have a look at what we did…