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When the SPINE Festival came to Petts Wood (7th – 16th March 2019) by Jenny Hawke

Posted By Elizabeth F. Beverley, 29 March 2019

“Now in its 5th year, SPINE festival is a partnership between London Libraries and Apples and Snakes, England’s leading Spoken Word organisation. The festival celebrates creativity and community in libraries across London. SPINE 2019 offers creative events and opportunities for young people enabling them to explore their local library and the pertinent theme of wellbeing in unexpected ways. The theme of SPINE 2019 is wellbeing.”

When the Children and Families Manager in Bromley asked me to plan, promote and run all the SPINE Festival events in Petts Wood Library, I felt a massive rush of excitement. Later, reality kicked in and I wondered how I would manage it all and could it be achieved. Luckily I have a fantastic team at Petts Wood and all our SPINE events proved to be successful and enjoyed by all. The ‘SPINE’ in the title refers to a spine of a book. Normally, events for the SPINE Festival take place in a larger library so it was wonderful to have them in a smaller branch. Funding for SPINE is mainly from The Arts Council and this year events were run in 17 London boroughs. In addition there is also funding for library staff training and in Bromley we will be having training in running successful teenage reading groups from an independent trainer who specialises in children’s and young people’s reading.

Meetings and Networking

A number of meetings were planned and set up by Apples and Snakes at their base in The Albany Centre. I found these meeting to be really useful and informative; it was great meeting other library staff from different boroughs and sharing our ideas and initiatives for SPINE.

SPINE Planning Group

I have two very active teen groups and some of the older teens volunteered to form a SPINE Planning Group they were incredibly helpful during the planning stages but also the promotional and implementation phases. For the first time Apples and Snakes wanted to use peer assessors to help with the evaluation of the events. My group were asked if they were able to be the first peer assessors and to hand out the questionnaires, ask specific questions and record the answers. This worked extremely well and I’m sure that young people talking to others around the same age encouraged fuller answers. Apples and Snakes were incredibly supportive and we were visited by Fiona and Jackie who talked to us about promotion and evaluation.

Promotion

Links with Secondary Schools and other organisations I started promoting the SPINE Festival in December amongst colleagues in other Bromley libraries. I asked the network if I could go along to their meetings and talk about the Spine Festival and the events we had planned. They were all very keen to hear about it as ‘wellbeing’ amongst their students was high up on their agenda. Once the posters were ready for the events I sent these to the schools. I feel I have strong links with local primary school and pre-schools in my area but was anxious to establish links with secondary schools. The SPINE Festival gave a focus to this and I hoped that new links would be forged and maintained. I had visited one school’s shadowing group and a class came to see the show ‘Crowded’ performed by The Half Moon Theatre.

PR Toolkit and other materials

In the New Year we were sent a PR Toolkit from Apples and Snakes which was incredibly useful and had a number of templates for posters, press releases and examples of tweets, posts etc. for social media. Apples and Snakes also provided some tailor made posters for all our open events which we were very pleased with and felt they were eye catching and visually attractive. Stickers and bookmarks were used for promoting purposes but also at the events themselves. Bromley Libraries has a very active Facebook Page and Twitter Feed. However it didn’t have an Instagram and I realised that we really needed this in order to reach out to a younger audience which was our target market. So earlier this year Bromley set up an Instagram page and we started to use it to let people know about SPINE.

Displays

At Petts Wood we have a huge window which is great for displays but is a large area to fill. This was a bit of a challenge when it came to SPINE. We had the posters promoting our events which we managed to enlarge and piece together, but we need something else. During the meetings with Apples and Snakes it was suggested that we promote the Shelf Help books (which are part of the Reading Agency’s Reading Well initiative), specifically aimed at young people and their wellbeing, so fitted in perfectly with SPINE this year. We didn’t want to put the actual books in the window as they warp due to the sunlight and obviously we wanted the books on display so inside the library easily accessible to borrow. I emailed the Reading Agency and asked for permission to copy the book jackets, laminate and put in the window. They were more than happy to oblige and even sent us a file with all the book jackets attached. This was great and gave a brilliant focus to the display. Other displays were mainly in the teen section and involved the Shelf Help books, posters promoting the events and post it notes suggesting ways to relax.

Events Mr Gee -“Excellent performance. Illuminating poetry.” Our first event on 7th March (World Book Day – hence I was dressed up as Pippi Longstocking) was held in the evening from 6.30-7.30. Mr Gee is a performance poet and shared some of his brilliant poems with us. -“It was very well performed and inspiring.”

Performance: Crowded -“It was a new way to raise awareness about topics which people tend to shy away from. I also really liked the songs and how they flowed so well with the dialogue.” On the 8th March three poets from the Half Moon Theatre Company came to Petts Wood to perform ‘Crowded’. The library is classed as a neighbourhood library so isn’t very large at all and I was quite concerned about the whole of a Yr 9 class fitting in. We have had primary school classes but they usually sit on the floor, I realised the Yr 9 students would need chairs! Apples and Snakes understood my concerns and talked to Half Moon who sketched out a plan for me on how to arrange the seating, this was great and I felt much happier about the whole thing. We did need to close the Children’s area for the afternoon but we made sure the picture books were accessible elsewhere. We had never had a play performed in the library before so it was very exciting and the performance proved to be incredibly powerful and moving. The feedback was very positive and encouraging: -“It was unique, and told a story in a very interesting and fun way. It was very informative on mental health.”

Exam Advice Sessions -“It was a great chance to speak about how exams make you feel. Also gave some great tips to help with preparation for exams.” These were held throughout the Festival and were drop in sessions. I asked the School Librarians network if anyone was able to come and talk about exams and stress etc. One librarian called Jacqui volunteered and is also an exam invigilator which meant she was able to give some practical insights on the structure and format of exams. All these sessions went well and I hope that some of the young people who came to these sessions feel slightly less anxious about exams as a result. For myself and, I believe, the other adults too attending gained a real understanding into the worries and stresses that exams bring to young people. Jacqui was incredibly helpful and we produced a short leaflet with some tips and advice on preparing for exams and also some useful revision tips. We also promoted the Shelf Help books and told people who came long about the two reading groups we run at a number of Bromley Libraries including Petts Wood. Plus there were snacks! -“It was very informative and eye-opening. I learnt some good techniques to handle exam stress”

Margaret Bateson-Hill -“Interesting, inclusive, fun and informative. It was engaging and I enjoyed it.” Our final event at Petts Wood was an author talk given by Margaret Bateson-Hill. This was very interesting as Margaret normally writes for much younger children, but her work in progress is a novel aimed at younger teens. Here’s a little bit about the forthcoming book: ‘Tears for a Bluebird’ explores a young carer’s (Sam) mixed emotions about his parents and the impact that has on his own life by letting him escape to the fantasy world of Golden Sands, made from the lost and forgotten debris that has fallen through the cracks of our world. The seemingly wonderful world of Golden Sands slowly turns threatening and demanding and why do the Guardians want his tears? To overcome them Sam needs to discover his own inner strengths and in doing so come to terms with his own deepest hopes and fears.’ It was fascinating to hear how Margaret was putting this book together, she showed us her sketchbooks and mind maps and how she had drawn inspiration from various museums and galleries. We had an interesting discussion during the session on how books, particularly fantasy books can take you away from your worries and the actual act of reading can make you feel much calmer and relaxed. -“It was my first author talk, so it was good to hear about her process.” -“Very interesting and informative about the new book. I really enjoyed it.”

Petts Wood Library were delighted to be given the opportunity to host the SPINE Festival – it was a rewarding, inspiring and positive experience for the young people who came along to the events, the Petts Wood team and myself. I’m very grateful to Apples and Snakes for their great resources and their advice and expertise on running a festival.

Jenny Hawke, Library Manager, Petts Wood Library, Bromley

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