Encouraging engagement to poetry, increasing confidence and well-being.

Abstract: Warwickshire Poetry Voices is an innovative project funded by Arts Council England to bring poetry performance to a wider audience through the library service, encouraging greater engagement with the county’s poetry collections.  A pilot project in 2014-15 has now moved into a second phase to run from January 2016 to December 2017.  Further funding has been received from Arts Council England. While some of the activities will run again, there will be a new approach with some of the programme, where workshops will support health and well-being across age groups, but starting with a programme in secondary schools.


Warwickshire’s public library service has developed an innovative programme to support poetry performance called Warwickshire Poetry Voices.  This ran as a pilot project with modest funding from Arts Council England for one year over 2014-15.  Two artists were appointed, one a performance poet and the other a theatre performer to lead programmes of six to eight workshops with groups across the county in the libraries. The workshops introduced some groups to individual recital and others to more group work, with ‘choirs’ and musical input, both as integral content by professional performers and more simple input from participants in the project usually on percussion instruments.

Participants included groups of older people as well as youth groups and some of very mixed ages who worked together well both to develop their skills and confidence and to perform in front of an audience at the end of their workshop programme.  Sometimes this was a library performance, at other times work was showcased at a local festival, for example in Rugby (Festival of Culture) and Stratford-upon-Avon (Poetry Festival). Examples of some of the work carried out in the first phase of the project are on the website.  This is continuing as a useful repository of project information and activity record.  We were pleased to be able to fund a film highlighting many of the activities of the pilot phase and this is on the site too as well as photographs of some of our activities.

Another strand of the project was oversight of a new programme to appoint an annual Young Poet Laureate.  The first Laureate has successfully worked through 2015 and her successor for 2016 will be appointed in January ready for the hand-over on National Libraries Day on Sat 6th February. The pilot project highlighted an unexpected outcome of the project which was to increase not only confidence but apparent well-being for participants.  Some wrote movingly of this including the following:

“This project completely open my mind, and I did not know what to expect. It brought me back to life.”

“It opened my eyes to a different type of poetry. Different to what I did at school. One afternoon, I spent all afternoon looking up poems that I liked in the library.”

“Enjoyed it and felt good. Felt great that I had taken the challenge.”

In addition to this our Young Poet Laureate told us that she would like to introduce poetry to her fellow school students who might be feeling stressful and anxious at school, particularly around exam times.  She hoped to show them the power of poetry to support their well-being. As part of the bid for a second phase of funding to Arts Council England the following proposal was included:

We will also work with our current Young Poet Laureate to develop a project in schools, creating a new workshop programme for secondary school students that will use poetry as a tool to address stress and anxiety levels.  We plan initially to pilot this activity in Polesworth, North Warwickshire and then extend this to other secondary schools across the County with support from our Senior Librarian: Priority Groups.


These workshops are about to start this term.  We will evaluate them and put a programme in place for the new Young Poet Laureate to be involved and also for schools and other youth groups to be able to run similar programmes themselves from summer 2016.

Warwickshire Libraries have also been at the forefront of the “Books on Prescription” scheme in libraries across the UK.  They originated a scheme for adults before the national scheme was underway and then pioneered a similar scheme for young people which has seen collections of both fiction and non-fiction placed in public and school libraries across the county to support issues of mental and emotional health and well-being.  In Warwickshire this scheme is called Sorted! (a name chosen by young people).

The work in the Warwickshire Poetry Voices programme will link to Sorted! adding the dimension of poetry especially in performance, as a medium to enhance wellbeing.


Stella Thebridge

Principal Librarian: schools and reading

Warwickshire Library Service