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Winning Words Olympic Poetry Project

Winning Words Olympic Poetry Project   In January 2012 I was contracted to lead the Winning Words Olympic Poetry Project on behalf of Barnard Castle Vision CIC.  Barnard Castle was one of only seven beacon towns chosen to deliver this cultural olympic project and represented the North East of the country.

Each town was tasked with producing a poetry installation.  Building on Barnard Castle’s traditions of sheep-farming and its industrial carpet-making heritage, it was decided to combine poetry and textile art to create a mobile installation which could tour village halls, community spaces etc.  Information panels and legacy postcards of the art work would be printed to extend the reach of the project.

The initial proposal was based on the idea of knitting verse by using a poetry code which I developed based on numerology and colour theory.  The seeds of inspiration for this were sown years earlier when I read Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and wondered how ‘les tricoteuses’ could knit the names of the nobles to be beheaded.

The opening sentence, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, became the stimulus for the local poetry competition to find a winning poem which could be turned into a textile installation.  Entrants aged 7 to 90+ from across the North East reflected on what this phrase meant for them in relation to the year 2012.  Poems submitted fell broadly into categories of health, landscape, politics, and miscellaneous.  Many included the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as well as personal celebrations.

The winning poem, The Great Grey Barn by Anne Dauber was turned into a textile art ‘picture’.  A series of workshops were arranged to encourage people to produce small squares using a range of textile techniques to depict parts of the poem.  These were facilitated by Lone Helliwell who was commissioned to construct the final installation.

The project evolved over the months as we became aware of new opportunities which could be brought under the Winning Words banner.  I sourced extra funding from the ‘Dickens in Teesdale’ group and collaborated with Jill Cole, another arts award adviser, to run Special Edition Bronze Arts Award for the Turrets Youth Theatre Group.  This involved staging an extra poetry event in order to provide the young people with a performance opportunity for their portfolios.

Through being ‘canny’ with the budget I was also able to organise an olympic-themed Summer Writing Challenge to complement the library’s Summer Reading Challenge and to arrange  a Renga Relay across schools and libraries from June to October.  These initiatives followed on from Generator Training with poet Jeff Price and were planned to culminate in a further poetry event to launch the textile installation on National Poetry Day 2012.

Other tasks associated with delivering this project included; managing a project support group, liaising with local media, producing press releases and project reports, maintaining the project blog at and linking this to the Barnard Castle Beacon Town part of the national Winning Words website at

I thoroughly enjoyed exercising my communication and organisational skills to  lead this cultural olympic project and hope that the legacy endures for many years to come.

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