Writing Retreats in the Pandemic: An Update from Arvon

February is usually the month when the Foyle’s winners meet at The Hurst for an exciting, week-long writing retreat. Arvon hopes it can run offline in August 2021. But what’s going on now? Young Poets’ Stories Board Member and Learning Coordinator Sophie Lloyd-Catchpole is organising the workshops this year. She gives us an outline of what delivering workshops has been like since the pandemic and gives us an insight into what creative writing opportunities you can get involved in.

A huge part of what Arvon offers is the opportunity to come together as a community of writers to hone and discuss your craft, meet new people, and get away from it all in the idyllic rural settings our Writing Houses are located in. For our Young Writers especially, it is often the first time they have stayed away from home for any length of time or cooked a meal from scratch. All these elements are what we consider to be essential parts of the Arvon experience, cultivating the time and space to give writing room to grow and confidence to flourish. Needless to say, we have felt the closure of our houses keenly, and with every passing month that we are unable to reopen our doors, we have worked even harder to find a way to safely welcome writers back – we’re still working towards it but watch this space!

The realisation of our virtual fourth house, Arvon at Home, has been a beacon of light and shown us that the magic of the Writing Houses can be transported directly into people’s homes. We have been delighted at the response to our online offers of masterclasses, readings and even full online weeks. We’re often asked if the virtual weeks lack the magic of a typical Arvon experience and we are happy to say, that though you can’t chew over a poem with a course mate whilst the kettle boils, there is room for community and creativity online, and the wonderful writers we work with have brought just as much inspiration and creativity to their workshops via Zoom as they do from the workshop rooms of Lumb Bank, Totleigh Barton and The Hurst.  

That’s why we now want to bring our offers for children and young people in line with our offers for adults. When the pandemic first hit and schools closed, we naively thought that we might be in lockdown for three weeks, tops – we diligently carried on planning, re arranging school trips for later in summer, thinking surely, we would be able to welcome students safely by then. As June 2020 approached it seemed as unlikely as ever and we began to resign ourselves to spring 2021 – sadly, we still aren’t where we need to be just yet and as I write this schools are still closed. 

We have learnt from our online offers for adults that bringing the programme online has increased our reach and accessibility hugely and we wanted to develop something similar for families and schools and expand Arvon at Home so as to engage with more young people. We recognise that the changes we are all dealing with in our daily lives seem especially acute for young people, and our new workshops are designed with this in mind. They offer online opportunities for creativity and self-expression, outside the curriculum, for young people aged 8 upwards, whether from their own home or in a school classroom, under the guidance of expert tutors in poetry and prose. Our first batch of online workshops for children and young people have just gone live, and we’re delighted to be able to offer them to teachers and their students for free. We also have the opportunity for schools to design their own bespoke workshops with us, working with professional writers to fit with the needs of the school and the specific cohort of students taking part. 

We can’t wait to welcome writers back to our houses, but developing our online offers has been a fantastic opportunity to bring live writing workshops into the homes of people all over the country, and we’re excited to now be doing the same for children and young people and continuing in our mission to offer a home for creative writing. 

You can find out more and sign up for our workshops for children and young people here, as well as browse our selection of masterclasses, readings and online weeks for those aged 18+ here

If you are interested in booking a bespoke workshop for your school, visit the website here

Sophie Lloyd-Catchpole is Arvon’s Learning Coordinator, supporting an annual programme of online workshops and residential creative writing courses for schools, groups and individuals at three dedicated writing houses in Yorkshire, Devon and Shropshire. www.arvon.org/learning

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