Sunday 18 January 2015

Writing for Life and ‘Forward Assist’

  Writing for Life and ‘Forward-Assist'.

Having written professionally for more than twenty years and in those years mentored and tutored hundreds of aspiring writers I am very certain now that settling down to write and writing regularly is a life-affirming, self-enhancing, self-learning, and ultimately a radiant process.

In all these years of writing and working with writers I have started from the premise that everyone can write. We have hundreds of thousands of words available in our heads. Writing Is putting some of them down in an order that makes some kind of sense -  at first to yourself and then later perhaps to others. As you write down you unscramble impressions, perceptions, thoughts and ideas into an order that makes sense to you and could very well strike a chord with others. These ‘others’ might be counted in tens, thousands or hundreds of thousands. The number doesn’t matter.This is how language works and how writing can add meaning and self-worth to any individual in any community.

I have always sensed and felt that this was the case but it came to me as a certainty when I spent several years as writer in residence in a woman’s prison, working with talented and insightful writers, some of whom had read little and had no idea that they could write. (You can find examples HERE )

It was Mike Kirby, ex-governor of that prison who last week introduced Avril and me  Tony Wright Director of the Charity Forward-Assist See site HERE. We just thought we were going for coffee, but things turned out differently.

Not killing fields 
An ex-serviceman turned social and community worker himself, Tony  became concerned at the number of ex-servicemen of all ages (who had served their country in all the wars going back to World War 2) who ended up out of work, or in distress, or mentally stressed or homeless in the confusion engendered by their transition from military to civilian life.

So Tony developed  his idea as the charity Forward-Assist. In Forward Assist ‘peer led’ support groups and structured diversionary activities provide a much needed service that reduces social isolation and promotes community engagement with other veterans on a daily or weekly basis’.

Tony also described his research in the USA and official and unofficial support there for ‘Vets’. It was interesting to hear his description developments in the US after what came to be seen afterwards as the shaming treatment of Vietnam  ‘Vets’.

It was impossible not to be infected by Tony’s energetic enthusiasm as he described the wide range of projects now flourishing under the banner of  Forward-Assist – Fishing, Debating, Cooking, Gardeing,  Drama, Football, Photography and Film, Their debating project ended up with a visit to the House of Commons to experience a parliamentary debate. (See the pictures HERE.) 

And quite naturally we came to the possibility that creative writing could be developed into one   ‘diversionary activity’ under  the First-Assist Banner. It has already been tried once. Tony described one great workshop he had set up with Andrew Motion, which had been a great success.

As I said earlier, I think everyone, given the right safe environment can write. And  also  that settling down to write and writing regularly is a life-affirming, self-enhancing, self-learning, ultimately radiant process.

So it seems natural to us that the outcome of meeting and listening to Tony Wright is that Avril and I have offered ten weeks of workshops for Forward-Assist ex-soldiers, starting in the summer. I know we will all enjoy the process and that the process will, in the end produce interesting pieces of writing on a whole range of subjects. And then – in  co-operation with First-Assist  - we will publish this writing book which will be a credit  to the writers and also make them visible to the much wider world in all their diverse individuality.

We can only hope, in its own way, that ouWriting for Life project is as successful as are the football, gardening and the other Forward-Assist projects. We know that writing changes lives. See HERE 

We hope that this will be the case with anyone who joins our First-Assist group in the summer.


Veterans and Mental Health: uTube clip.

The Dilemma :

Tony Wright’s Project

The Debating Group. 

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