Last year, I received the perfect Christmas gift. The Arts Council awarded me a grant to continue teaching a group of people who were recovering from drug and alcohol addiction through St Mungo’s in Hackney. I’d been teaching this same group on a voluntary basis for three months previously. The grant not only enabled me to continue the weekly teaching slot there, and open it up to other members, over a six-month period, but also to invite my teaching partner, Zoe Gilbert, to bring her short story expertise to the group, and to do a national callout for recovery stories for a literary anthology. We also invited Tom Mallender, from Write London, to do some sessions on Found Poetry, and Stephanie Hutton to give a masterclass on Flash Fiction.
Now, a year later, we have just completed the project. The paid teaching came to an end in the summer, but the group of writers still meet at St Mungo’s, and Zoe offers her time on a voluntary basis. I have since moved to Bristol and am looking at ways I can continue my work with marginalised groups in the South West. But most importantly, we now have an anthology in our hands, a mix of poetry and short form fiction, and the most extraordinary stories.
The driving force behind the anthology was to give a platform to otherwise unheard voices. I was struck by the number of people in this particular group who used writing as a means of personal expression and wanted to give them the chance to have their voices heard. Not only as a personal boost, but also to bring their stories into the mainstream. We are all affected by addiction and mental health issues in some way or another. Either we’ve had spells of feeling vulnerable ourselves, or we know of family or friends who have suffered in some way, and so this anthology reaches far and wide. A year later, hitting Christmas, we are reflecting on all that we achieved. The anthology is now in the hands of a potential publisher. Soon, those stories will be read by all of you. Perhaps next year, we’ll be wrapping the book up to share with all our friends. Happy Christmas.