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In September 2021, award-winning children’s writer and the first ever Children’s Laureate Wales, Eloise Williams, started an adventure as a year-long writer-in-residence at Tonyrefail Community School in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Over the course of the academic year, all Year 8 pupils at the school, as well as some vulnerable and disengaged groups in other school years, are enjoying a series of creative writing workshops and readings with Eloise, inspiring them to read, learn about the craft of storytelling, and providing them the space and tools to write their own stories.

“This lesson was great. I’ve learnt that the most important thing about writing is believing in what you are writing.”

“I enjoyed it. Made me feel better because I have anxiety and hate talking about it.”

This project follows a successful pilot run at the school earlier this year for young carers.

As well as weekly workshops with Year 8 students, Eloise is running focus groups with specific groups of young people, including reluctant readers, young carers or those in care themselves, and individuals experiencing anxiety and mental health challenges.

During the course of the year, a variety of guest writers and illustrators will be invited to share their words and wisdom with the students. The pupils have enjoyed a workshop and performance by rapper and poet Duke Al Durham, and even breakfast with renowned actor Michael Sheen!

 

Tonyrefail Community School draws pupils from areas with high levels of socio-economic deprivation, with Tonyrefail West ranking as 185 in the Wales Index of Multiple Deprivation, where 1 is the most deprived and 1909 is the least deprived. 26% of pupils qualify for Free School Meals.

The wider aim of the project, beyond inspiring and supporting the young people through literature, is to learn the impact that prolonged engagement with a writer can have on the students and the wider school community. The impact of the project will be shared with schools across Wales to inspire them to explore the possible benefits of appointing writers and artists in residence at their own schools.

“Eloise has had a huge impact on a very special young man, C… He often feels unsafe in school which causes him to cry, he is sometimes not engaged in his learning too. Eloise has built a close working relationship with C, he is starting to believe in himself, he feels valued and wanted in school, he sees himself as having a voice that he is confident to use, wow what a positive role model she has been.”

About Eloise Williams

Eloise was born in Cardiff, spent her childhood in Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taf and now lives in Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire. She was educated at Coed yr Esgob Primary School and Y Pant Comprehensive School, before going on to study Drama at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Acting at Guildford School of Acting, and Creative Writing at Swansea University. She worked as a touring actor and creative practitioner for over a decade before becoming a children’s writer.

Her novel, Gaslight (Firefly Press, 2017) – which was written with the support of a Literature Wales New Writer’s Bursary – won Wales Arts Review Young People’s Book of the Year 2017, the YBB Book Awards 2018, and was shortlisted for the Tir na nOg Awards 2018. Seaglass (Firefly Press, 2018), was also shortlisted for the Tir na nOg Awards in 2019, and the North East Book Awards 2019. Her latest novel for young people, Wilde, was published by Firefly Press in 2020 and shortlisted for the Children and Young People Category for Wales Book of the Year 2021.

A regular speaker at festivals and events, Eloise uses her drama skills to engage young people in children’s literature and now finds herself onstage more than she ever did as a professional actor. She is also a popular and dynamic workshop leader. In her spare time, she collects sea glass and ghost stories, sings loudly, walks on the beach with her dog Watson Jones, wild swims whenever possible and celebrates nature and wildlife in every way she can.

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