A Look Back at our 2021 Communities Programme

As another, very strange year comes to a close, we want to share some of the highlights from our work with communities across Edinburgh and beyond from 2021. Here's a handful of the best bits from a very busy year.


With the reintroduction of lockdown restrictions last winter and into the early spring we felt it was vital to support the wellbeing of local people, particularly those without access to digital/online activity. During the spring, Citizen Writer in Residence Eleanor contributed poetry activities to our partner North Edinburgh Arts’ Refill Your Cup resource booklet; which provided self-care and creative activities to support wellbeing. As well as being available online, hard copies of the booklet were also delivered to families in North Edinburgh.

In April we took part in The Reading Agency World Book Night initiative. We distributed 160 self-care packs to community groups across Edinburgh, including to our partners Scran Academy, WHALE Arts, Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre, The Pennywell Pantry and North Edinburgh Food Bank. Inside the packs were treats with a well-being focus: hot chocolate, biscuits, bath salts, a pampering face mask and a copy of Stories to Make you Smile, a collection commissioned to mark the tenth anniversary of World Book Night, featuring feel-good stories by ten bestselling novelists.

At Easter, we worked closely with Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity to create 100 book and activity packs, as part of our Story Nation programme. These were distributed to children being admitted to the new Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, as a way to help them settle into the new hospital environment. The packs contained a notebook, gel pens or crayons, stickers and a book that was featured in the Children and Schools programme at last year’s Book Festival. We also included bespoke learning resources created for each of the books, to encourage the children’s learning while they missed out on school.


Our Citizen programme has continued to create a space for people of all ages, from Edinburgh and the Lothians, to come together, share stories, write poetry, read books and be part of a creative community. The Citizen Collective (young writers aged 16-18) continued to meet online for weekly workshops with poet Leyla Josephine throughout the year, with several of the group commenting that the sessions proved to be an anchor during the uncertainty of the Spring lockdown. Two members of the group Hollie and Lucy contributed to our blog. In her blog, Hollie shared her experience of being a teenager during the pandemic and how being a member of The Citizen Collective helped her to feel connected. Lucy’s blog considered the difficulty and joy of making friends with ‘floating heads’.

Another of our online Citizen projects saw Eleanor Thom and our Communities Programme Officer Genevieve Fay work with women from the Saheliya Champions group. Saheliya supports and promotes the positive mental health and well-being of Black, minority ethnic, asylum seeker, refugee and migrant women and girls (12+) in Edinburgh, Glasgow and other parts of Scotland. During weekly sessions the group considered themes particularly relating to home, identity and community. The shared an especially poignant session following the protest on Kenmure Street in Glasgow – with many of the women having experience of the asylum system, they were keen to share their thoughts and fears with each other.  The women worked together to create some beautiful collective poetry; you can read one of their poems here.

Following several delays due to Covid-19, in April we worked professional writer, performer and storyteller Andy Cannon to developed interactive story-based workshops for the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, as part our Story Nation programme. With support from the Edinburgh Hospital Children’s Charity Arts Team, Andy visited the hospital twice a week to deliver the sessions in-person across the hospital wards. With Andy’s experience of telling a vast range of stories to suit different age groups, he visited different areas of the hospital, tailoring stories as he went, whether that was interactive, sensory stories for babies, young toddlers and their parents, or telling tales to make teenage patients laugh.

“Even though children and young people aren’t allowed to be physically close to each other, the interactive stories were able to bring everyone together. Andy’s storytelling entranced everybody of all age groups in on 4-bed shared ward, he had parents, young people, children and staff joining in with sound effects to the delight of the children…and everyone else! Staff were watching from the doorway with big smiles.”
- Catriona McIntyre, ECHC


In August, the whole Book Festival team was delighted to be able to deliver our first hybrid festival on our new site at Edinburgh College of Art. The festival featured several Communities events including Stories & Scran (part of the Citizen programme) which saw local people from across the city performing and sharing their creative work in front of a live studio and online audience. Ahead of the event, the participants and guests sat down for a three course meal provided by the Scran Academy. The whole evening was a fantastic way to celebrate Citizen and the people involved in the project. It also proved to be a very special event, as many of the groups we have been working with online, including The Citizen Collective, met in-person for the very first time.

August also saw us take authors and events off site to a range of different organisations including prisons and The Birks Cinema in Aberfeldy. During the Festival we also began to develop a new partnership with Streetreads – an organisation that provides books to people experiencing homelessness. To help Streetreads celebrate the opening of their very first library, in Edinburgh, we took author Andrew O’Hagan along to do a reading and Q&A with the library members and guests. Following this initial visit, our Citizen Writer in Residence Eleanor Thom began delivering weekly creative writing sessions at the Streetreads Library in November.

To close the year we hosted our second Citizen Winter Warmer event, but this time in-person! With two days of public events at the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh and North Edinburgh Arts, plus author and artist sessions in schools, a social media takeover and visits from Luke Winter and his Story Wagon, we saw over 600 people take part and attend over the week. Through the Winter Warmer we brought together professional authors and non-professional local writers to share the stage and their ideas on what community means to them today. Across the week those who attended heard stories, read books, listened to music, viewed artwork and shared food together –  the Citizen Winter Warmer helped us all to support our wellbeing, feel connected and celebrate the end of another challenging year.  To read more about the Citizen Winter Warmer check out last week’s blog.


As we look forward to the New Year we are already planning lots more Citizen and Story Nation activity – we will be back working in North Edinburgh, Tollcross and Musselburgh, while projects and visits in hospitals, care homes and prisons are all on the cards. As 2022 is the Year of Stories, we will also launch Scotland’s Stories Now – a residency programme that will see us embed professional authors across five local authorities and create a series of events in the August Festival featuring both established and brand-new Scottish voices. We can’t wait to share updates with you in January!

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