Jackie Wills
Poetry in the countryside: Workshops


Day out with Waverley Council countryside ranger. This was to look around some of the local beauty spots, talk about the issues affecting the countryside such as a debate over whether to allow cattle to graze on a Surrey common and the objections from local people.

Writing workshop with planners on Box Hill, Dorking. A groupof planning officers who are all responsible for putting into practice the planning strategy for the Surrey Hills met at Box Hill, where we were taken on a short walk. I set them a writing exercise - a standard warming up exercise in which they were asked to write for 10 minutes without stopping. From this, they identified elements they would refine into a poem. We also looked at some work by contemporary poets.

Second planners workshop, Winkworth Arboretum. We were given use of a restored boathouse in the Arboretum where the planners from Surrey County Council, Waverley Borough Council and Guildford BoroughCouncil took part in exercises which included identifying their favourite landscape, as well as an exercise on what they would put into a landscape, given the power of, say, Capability Brown.

Countryside meeting, Dorking, presentation on residency. This was a conference for a wide variety of Surrey organisations involved in countryside policy. I was asked to give a presentation on the residency.

Workshop, National Trust wardens, Box Hill. This workshop was based on a short walk on Box Hill and writing based on the view from the top, using the rationale that what each of us regards as signficant in a view will be different. We also discussed some poems by contemporary writers. This workshop was aimed at showing the wardens how creative writing could be used in relation to their work - many of them liaise with schools on educational trips.

Presentation, Surrey Countryside Conference on residency, Farnham Maltings. Another opportunity to explain the reasoning behind the residency.

Two days used to draw up a methodology behind the residency with a view to seeing whether it can be used by the Countryside Agency elsewhere in the UK.


Powell Corderoy School, Reigate. We visited Tanner's Hatch youth hostel, Polesden Lacey, where the children (all year 6, aged 10) undertook various exercises: one in which they were asked to find objects or bugs and describe them in detail, another in which they were asked to write about what they most enjoyed doing in thecountryside. We used the youth hostel as a base for writing and lunch.

Reigate Priory school, Reigate. Also year 6. Here, we used the park which the school is surrounded by as the base for exercises in which they were asked to find a number of objects (leaf, bug, stick, stone etc.) and use them as the basis for a poem. I also hid poem titles under stones, in trees or hedges, which the children wrote around. These were based on the principle of giving a voice to, for example, a tree or a path i.e. "What the path said to me.....", "What the stone said to me....."

Workshop Oxted School (secondary school) at Gatton Park, Reigate. Here, we were working with the education officer from Gatton Park, who organises environmental field trips for schools. It was the first time she had been involved in a creative writing trip, however, some of the techniques she used were an excellent basis for writing workshops. These included the use of map sticks to collect objects from a walk, and the use of sound maps as the basis for poems. She placed a number of markers around a walled garden, such as periscopes in the pond and sensory signs indicating smell, touch, sound etc. Another exercise the children undertook was to write about how they would create a landscape, given the opportunity. This tied in with the history of Gatton Park - Capability Brown designed the grounds.

Workshop at Tatsfield Primary school. Writing here was based on walks in local fields, as well as another poetry trail on the school playing field where I had hidden poem titles similar to those used at Reigate Priory School.

Day workshop - St Dominic's school, Hambledon for children with special needs (including autism and Asperger's Syndrome). We walked to a nearby hill and looked at the view where the children were asked to imagine how the view could be described in terms of their senses. We also visited a cottage which was preserved as it had been 100 years ago, where the curator explained what various objects were used for -including a tinder box, bone cups, the sloping kitchen floor with drain, etc. The children later used the house as the basis for poems.

Rodborough school, Milford (secondary) at Loseley Park. During these two days, we used a converted barn at Loseley Farm as the base for writing. The barn is an education centre for fieldtrips. The children were shown around the farm where there is a dairy herd and explored ancient woodland where we made sound maps. We used animals such as ducks, sheep, goats, pigs, geese and cows as the basis for transformation poems in which the children metamorphosed themselves or other people into animals.

Reigate school (secondary) Reigate caves. We were shown around the caves by Malcolm Tadd, who is an expert on subterranean sites in Surrey. There were three separate caves - one used by a rifle club, which was an ammunition store and bomb shelter, another which was used as a control centre/first aid centre during the second world war (which included artefacts from a former Cold War bunker under the council offices) and the third, a mysterious spiralling tunnel whose function is unknown. Back at the school, the children chose one of the caves as the basis for a poem.

Workshop at National Trust discovery day, Box Hill. This was an open workshop for children during half term week, as part of a day of activities on Box Hill to celebrate Samhain. Other activities included building a traditional Celtic house, mobile making, understanding mazes, tree decorating etc. The group was taken on a sensory trail by a National Trust warden, who asked us to identify particular sounds, smells, etc. in the woods. The children then wrote a poem based on the walk.


Meeting with Lawrence Matthews, farmer in Dorking and Angus Stovold, Shackleford farmer. Another opportunity to look around two local farms, where the farmers, who operate from a very different perspective, i.e. one fairly intensive, the other more inclined towards organic, explained some of the issues affecting them.

Farmers workshop, Percy Arms, Chilworth. The aim of this was twofold, to give farmers an opportunity to try out a new means of self-expression, as well as illustrate how creative writing can be used on educational visits to farms. Five farmers from different backgrounds attended. They based their poems on a 10 minute free writing exercise.We also discussed some poems by contemporary writers.