Feature: Inspiring the next generation

Isobel Grand writes down ideas with volunteer Kate Saunders at Grimm & Co. Picture: Andrew Roe
Isobel Grand writes down ideas with volunteer Kate Saunders at Grimm & Co. Picture: Andrew Roe

In a secret room, up a hidden staircase, behind the doors of a magical shop - big things are happening.

A team of writers is busy prepping for a big performance, honing their words and editing their final drafts.

Among the contributors were Dame Judi Dench and Hugh Bonneville

Deborah Bullivant, director of Grimm & Co

But these are no ordinary writers. This team of budding wordsmiths, aged just nine to 11, represent the next generation of writers. And they’re learning from the very best. For next week, on a night it’s certain they’ll never forget, they’ll hear the fruits of their labour brought to life on stage by seasoned professionals - and a few familiar faces!

Peep Show star Paul Clayton, The League of Gentleman’s Jeremy Dyson and author Joanne Harris will be among those speaking the lines carefully written for them by their young scriptwriters, when they take to the stage in South Yorkshire for Graham Grimm’s Glorious Grand Gala Performance.

“It’s going to be an incredible evening,” confirms Deborah Bullivant, director of Grimm & Co, a children’s writing centre which launched in Rotherham in February.

“These children have been working with us throughout the summer, creating amazing scripts and we thought it was important for them to hear their words spoken aloud, so we began planning an event where professional actors would perform the children’s scripts and give people a chance to hear how impressive they are.

“We have a team of working actors - some theatre actors and some TV actors, who have starred in shows like Coronation Street, Hollyoaks or Holby City - who will perform these works this Saturday, at the Barnsley Civic. It will be such a treat for the children, who will sit onstage in a director’s chair throughout their own performance, soaking in the magic of what they’ve created - and rightly so.”

And the gala has been given extra weight by some of its impressive backers who stepped up to make sure the idea became a reality.

Deborah explains: “We launched a kickstarter campaign to raise the funds needed to host this gala. Donations began pouring in quickly, and we were absolutely amazed to see - among the contributors - were names including Dame Judi Dench, Hugh Bonneville, Brian May, Anita Dobson and Celia Imre.”

Deborah says the gala is largely down to the had work of actor and writer Paul Clayton who, along with people like Joanne Harris and Bob Geldof, is a patron of the children’s writing charity.

“Paul has really taken the bull by the horns,” she says.

“The gala was his idea; he was really keen to champion the children, to inspire and motivate them by turning their works into real products with a real outcome. That’s the entire ethos of what we do here at Grimm & Co. The children we work with begin their experience with all sorts of issues, often brought about from chaotic lifestyles, limited experiences and in some cases, third generation hang ups and difficulties which create a ‘can’t do’ attitude, affecting all their learning and so hindering their opportunities in our modern world.

“Grimm & Co use the joyful discovery of stories, in all their awe and wonder, to reach these children and young people and engage them in exciting ways, championing the writer in every child and helping them to believe in themselves. Children’s motivation and confidence to write plays a part across their whole school, home and work lifetime - our aim is to ensure they no longer see writing as a barrier but instead use it as a tool - for resilience, creativity and pleasure.

“This Gala will give us the opportunity to celebrate these children and their writing. We will showcase children’s work and unleash their creative imaginations.”

As well as scripts, there will be some short stories read out on the night, by people like Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat.

Deborah adds: “Last week, we told each child the names of the person or people would be performing their script or reading their story, and there was a lot of excitement. We had children Googling names and exclaiming that they’d seen this person in this or that, and it was a magical moment when they realised the scripts they’d worked so hard on would be performed by the very people they’d watched on television just a month earlier.

“I’m confident that anybody who comes along on the night is going to go awsay astonishe,d I believe it’s going to be as agood an expereince as any professional theatre could offer - and who knows what it could inspire in these children! Perhaps the next big writer will be among them.”

Call the box office on 01226 327000 for tickets.

VOLUNTEER TIME

“The gala was inspired by a similar project run by a London-based children’s playwrighting charity called ‘Scene and Heard,’ and its staff have been really supportive, volunetering their time to help us get up and running in a style they’ve already tried and tested.” explains Deborah.

“We have so many people to thank for making this possible, inlcluding local volunteers who’ve donated their skills making props and costumes. The children have been thrilled by the effort that’s going into their plays.

“We’re already planning to make this an annual event - maybe next time we could get Dame Judi to actually come and perform!”