An exciting midsummer evening held this year, featuring the Baileys and Goldsmiths prize-winning, Man Booker-shortlisted author and patron Ali Smith, marked the launch of The National Centre for Writing. The organization is the center for literature and translation, set in the beautiful medieval Dragon Hall in the historic city center of Norwich. It is home to all things literary – various workshops are regularly held for novelists, poets, literary critics, playwrights, biographers, translators, and readers, ranging from students to professionals, from all over the world.
The National Center for Writing is, as the name may suggest, a well-known place to storytellers, with patrons such as Margaret Atwood, Elif Şafak, J.M. Coetzee, and Sarah Perry, amongst other acclaimed writers. Despite the launch of The National Centre for Writing taking place in the summer of 2018, the organization actually dates back to the early 2000’s, and was initially run by a small team that consisted of only three members. During these years, it grew to become the organization known internationally as Writer’s Centre Norwich (WCN).
A lot took place before the Writer’s Centre Norwich became The National Centre for Writing: In 2012, The organization succeeded in making Norwich the first UNESCO city of literature in England. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which strives to create a peaceful environment worldwide by promoting education, culture, and scientific innovation. Writer’s Centre introduced creative programmes across Norfolk, with the aim to help people discover, share, and pursue their passion in reading and writing, both in schools and in the general community.
Many of these programs involve school students, visiting writers, WCN staff, as well as university students, fostering a sense of community through passionate creativity and a shared interest in literature. University students across all levels have the opportunity to volunteer as Creative Leaders, participating in programmes such as Children’s City of Literature, Saturday Club, and UNESCO’S Young Ambassador’s program. The Creative Leaders’ roles are many, and vary from facilitating creative writing workshops, judging The Young Norfolk Writing Competition, to mentoring the Young Ambassadors, and even escorting Saturday Club students to London to exhibit their work in Somerset House.
Several of the programmes have been carried out in schools, at UEA bookable rooms, or, in the case of the writing competition, in venues across Norwich. Dragon Hall has been in renovation since 2017. Now, following the relaunch of WCN as the National Centre for Writing, the organization offers a brand-new education space where workshops can be run for children and young adults.In addition to this education space, other significant physical extensions have been made to Dragon Hall, which now has a newly constructed, fully accessible south wing. Since its relaunch, the former WCN, now NCW, enables people to experiment with their writing in a space which offers them both the financial, physical, and creative resources. The newly built ‘Writer’s Cottage’- part of the south wing- welcomes writers to reside in Dragon Hall. Currently, NCW is home to fifteen writers – a number that we can only expect to rise.
Dragon Hall is now a space that can host events and workshops representative of the scale of its projects. The changes that the current National Centre for Writing has undergone enables its significant creative presence in the literary community to be reflected in a physical space with a greater capacity for bringing writers and readers together. In a recent podcast with Simon Jones, Chief Executive Chris Gribble outlines his sentiments regarding the re-launch:
‘The changing of the name sort of feels like it’s catching up with what we’ve been doing… really building up the programme, and the size of the programme, and the staff, and the ambition, and the range, and the quality of the work, and the partnerships, and how it feels like the National Centre for Writing sort of matches that scope and ambition’
The major changes undergone by The National Centre for Writing make it a truly innovative venue of storytelling, and we can only wait with anticipation for announcements of exciting projects and events that will be introduced during the coming academic year.