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Storysmash in Nottingham

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Graphic of a book with a bookmark sticking out. The literacy icon for Libraries Deliver.[Editor’s note: Guest post from project leads James Hunter and Joshua Passey as Nottingham’s LOFE project draws to a close]

Storysmash was an ambitious 12 month project looking to increase library engagement with young people 11 – 25 across Nottingham, and to increase literacy skills. The project used digital gaming as a vehicle for that engagement using the freely available software, Twine. A program of 71 “Twine” workshops have been delivered that teach participants how to create their own branching narratives / interactive fiction games, similar to the Fighting Fantasy “Choose your own adventure” books written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.

At the workshops young people also got the opportunity to spend some time thinking about character development, story themes / settings, and plot development. Delivery of the workshops have been focused at Bulwell Riverside, St Ann’s Riverview, Aspley, Clifton and Nottingham Central libraries.

A man holding a book open in front of him with 5 children dressed as ghouls standing around him
Charlie Higson, surrounded by ghouls. Photo credit: Alan Fletcher – A Shot in the Dark Photography

We also held masterclass events, where a guest author / games writer / script-writer shared their knowledge and professional expertise and then those attending could use it to develop their own narratives. We have been honoured to have had the following guests:

  • Charlie Higson
  • Gabrielle Kent
  • Ian Livingstone
  • Stuart Hill
  • Dean Wilkinson
  • Jeff Noon
  • Tony White
  • Rob Yescombe
  • Panya Banjoko
  • Kim Slater
Photo of a woman presenting to a room of people
Workshop with Kim Slater. Photo credit: Alan Fletcher – A Shot in the Dark Photography

Along with taster sessions the project worked with over 1,000 participants, and a celebration event that took place on 23 February had over 100 guests.

Learning from experience

I suspect like most projects though, not everything quite goes to plan - the worry that you might not quite hit your targets plays on your mind and the somewhat substantial “lessons learned log” is ever growing. All of these contribute to learning and developing best practices however, and can lead to some unexpected outcomes. Sometimes one of these has the potential to have an equally as important impact than those you had planned for.

Storysmash was no exception, and now has a group of young people who meet fortnightly at Nottingham Central Library. Initially, young people were consulted about issues that had arisen during the course of the project. As an example, the project team wanted to ensure that the leaflets and posters that we were producing would be appealing to young people. During a meeting with the group of young people one of them said “Do the posters for parents and teachers, and do more on social media to reach us”.

Photo of a group of young people sitting around a table.
Planning sessions with young people. Photo credit: Alan Fletcher – A Shot in the Dark Photography

Once said it seemed rather obvious, but when you’re running an intense project, there are times where you can’t see the wood for the trees. A decision was taken to develop a group of young people that would have a more long term and consistent input into the project, and they have been invaluable; from having direct access to our social media to providing ideas for what might be appealing to other young people. The group elected to call themselves “The Storysmash Group” and have even created their own Twine game that has inspired other young people to join us for our workshops.

Future plans

We are now looking to develop more groups like this across our libraries, and we are very fortunate to have enthusiastic staff keen to help. Storysmash will develop, with more sessions designed to help with creativity and writing planned. Storysmash is not the final word on engaging with young people - we see it very much as a first step of many.

You can see 2 videos of our journey so far (featuring music from Altered Sky) on YouTube:

And you can follow us on twitter.


Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce

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