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12 December 2022

Posted by Katie Holdway & Stephanie Jones

Research Spotlight: Reflections on the CWCW Writers’ Workshop

In November, the Southampton Institute for Arts and Humanities (SIAH) and ArtfulScribe came together to host a writers’ event for Creative Writing Against Coastal waste. Co-ordinated by Dr Stephanie Jones and Dr Katie Holdway, this day of workshops brought together a group of creative practitioners from across Hampshire and Dorset, offering an introduction to a range of research relating to coastal waste, pro-environmental storytelling, and ocean literacy. The writers then brought these resources to bear upon their own draft plans for community creative writing activities: thinking, adapting and opening discussions with one another about possible opportunities for co-creation.

Following some introductory remarks from Stephanie and Matt West (Director of ArtfulScribe), the writers and event organisers all took part in a coast-themed icebreaker activity with Antosh Wojcik (Producer at Artfulscribe), who invited us to describe our week so far in terms of a coastal experience, or using coastal imagery. This activity proved an effective way to bring the group together in preparation for the five workshops that made up the day, as well as offering a best-practice example of a themed creative activity that the writers might incorporate into their own workshops.

Workshop 1, ‘Pro-Environmental Storytelling’, opened with a discussion of the pilot series of the Creative Writing Against Coastal Waste Podcast, which the writers had been invited to engage with in advance. The group were captivated by our interview with Professor Denise Baden, whose work champions positive, solutions-based—rather than dystopian—writing about the climate crisis as a means of inspiring meaningful action. These discussion topics also chimed with our conversations about the relationship between narratives of warning and narratives of hope at the Lightning Talks Event back in the summer. At the end of the panel, several of the writers turned to the comforting (and sometimes humorous) narratives that we tell ourselves to justify our behaviour towards the environment: for example, that placing rubbish next to a full bin is acceptable, whereas leaving picnic litter on the beach is not. As we discussed our personal examples of these comforting narratives, it became clear that (while many of us realised ways that we might change our own behaviour for the better!) they might also make a good icebreaker that the writers could use in their own workshops: a way to broach the topic of behaviour change, but in a manner that was levelling and light-hearted, rather than patronising or prescriptive.

This thinking about audience segued neatly into Workshop 2, which centred on the idea of ‘ocean literacy’. As part of the workbook for the day, the writers were presented with two different sources that engage with the idea of ocean literacy, and asked whether they found the term to be a useful one in the context of their expertise and thoughts for a community creative writing activity. The first source was the UNESCO and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s definition of ocean literacy: “an understanding of the ocean’s influence on you and your influence on the ocean”. The second was a written interview with Southampton Ph.D. researcher, Fiona Middleton. Fiona specialises in ocean literacy, and favours a more capacious understanding of the term ‘that encompasses many alternative ways of “knowing” the ocean’, including ‘memory, intuition, dreams and desires, an aesthetic interest, or collecting’. The writers generally favoured this second approach, particularly its replacement of the idea of ‘literacy’ with ‘multiple ways of knowing’. Indeed, there was an almost unanimous concern among the writers—especially those conducting work in areas with lower levels of literacy—that the term ‘literacy’ might convey a sense of privilege or hierarchy. The idea of ‘ocean literacy’ therefore acted as a useful provocation, sparking some fascinating discussions about pitching creative activities to different audiences.

The final workshop before lunch centred on images and diagrams. The writers were given a series of representations of coastal environments and coastal waste: some positive and some negative, some local and some international. They were then asked which of these prompts, if any, they might use in their own writing workshops. After a discussion of the pros and cons of using images and diagrams, the conversation turned to evaluation methods. Exploring some of the community projects that were presented at our Lightning Talks event, including Tidelines. This part of the session introduced the writers to ways of using creative outputs—such as letters, postcards and stories—as modes of evaluating the success of a public engagement workshop. Inspired by a long-running Southampton MOOC, Exploring our Oceans, the groups also discussed the usefulness of co-creating climate pledges with their target groups to inspire some post-workshop action.

Following a delicious (and appropriately vegan!) buffet lunch sourced from our local independent café, we all shuffled our groups a little to refresh the conversation and began Workshop 4: ‘Waste’. The writers were introduced to an article written by another of our podcast interviewees, Professor Ian Williams, about the importance of children and ‘pester power’ in addressing coastal waste. We explored the idea of ‘caretaking’ and its application to coastal waste management. Specifically, the writers discussed school policy in Japan, where children are required to clean their own classrooms to promote a sense of collective responsibility. Finally, this led onto thinking about individual versus corporate responsibility, with some of the writers concluding they would prefer to focus on actions that the individuals in their groups could take themselves, and others opting to think through writing activities that would empower their audiences to hold businesses or their local MPs to account.

In the final workshop, each participant began the exciting process of sharing and developing their creative activity in groups: carefully defining the parameters of their activities, pairing up to share skills and experience, and scoping out potential audiences. The team are looking forward to sharing more about each of these activities as they develop; in the meantime, you can read more about our work so far in other articles on the project blog.


[1] Fiona Middleton, ‘Ways of Knowing and Making Meaning at the Seabed’, Unpublished Pilot Resource (2022).

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