Summer 2020 – Communities Update

Working with communities in the 'new normal'

An update from the Communities Programme team about adapting projects in light of the Coronavirus crisis.

During the last few months, the challenges brought by the Coronavirus pandemic have led us to reimagine our Communities Programme. Over the coming weeks, our aim is to reach those who are digitally excluded, as well as people who continue to shield, via a range of new and adapted initiatives.


Citizen is our long-term creative programme working in partnership with community-based organisations across Edinburgh and East Lothian. Led by Scottish-based Writers in Residence, Citizen aims to give communities a platform, to explore their connection to each other and their local area, looking at how local conversations are heard or echoed on a global level.

At the start of the year, our Citizen Writers in Residence, Eleanor Thom and Leyla Josephine, facilitated 52 face to face sessions with 271 community and school participants in North Edinburgh and Musselburgh. When lockdown commenced, we were forced to revise the project swiftly. We moved from in-person sessions to creating resource packs, which were distributed to children by our partner schools; gifting 70 children’s books to WHALE Arts and delivering several community workshops via Zoom.

Over the summer we will work with our partners at North Edinburgh Arts and The Brunton Theatre, to distribute activity packs filled with creative resources and a book for children and adults. Each pack will contain a postcard for participants to fill out on a theme, which will be displayed at The Brunton and at North Edinburgh Arts in the coming weeks. These will be combined with online content and learning resources, which will provide extra support and inspiration.

We look forward to resuming in-person workshops and sessions as restrictions are eased and can’t wait to start planning in earnest for our Citizen Festival, which is pencilled in for November 2020.

School children sitting at a table surrounded by craft activities

Story Nation

Our Story Nation project aims to bring the spirit of the Book Festival to new audiences who cannot attend our physical events, such as those in hospitals, care homes and prisons.

Though we weren’t able to access groups during lockdown, we remain committed to ensuring that vulnerable sections of society can engage with books and reading, and believe Story Nation has a vital role to play in achieving this. Click here for a detailed introduction to Story Nation.

Story Nation in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids)

We were due to start in-person sessions at the Sick Kids in April but had to postpone due to the very strict COVID-19 restrictions placed on activities in the hospital.

Although we couldn’t work face to face with the children, in May we gifted 120 books to children being discharged from hospital into a shielding environment.

We were delighted to hear, last week, that our face to face workshops can begin in August. In these sessions, led by artist Katie Chappell, the young people will create their own bullet journals. Their journal will be a beautiful, unique place to record thoughts and experiences during their hospital stay.

We have also commissioned Katie to create 30 journal kits to be distributed to children in isolation wards, and those being discharged into a shielding environment. These packs will include materials, a ‘how to’ guide and links to online workshops Katie has created during lockdown.

Story Nation in Prisons

Since September 2019, we have been running weekly reading sessions in Scottish prisons, delivered by our partners, Open Book. These workshops use books and events from the August Book Festival as a springboard for discussion. As soon as visitor restrictions are lifted, our in-person sessions will recommence.

Each August, we also deliver a series of author events in prisons around Scotland. While this will not be possible this year, we are building our partnership with HMP Edinburgh, and will broadcast selected events from our Online Festival via the prison’s radio station. This is accessible throughout the communal areas in the main prison buildings, as well as in the women’s wing.

Story Nation in Care Homes

This August’s Online Festival presents an opportunity for care home residents to engage with the festival in a way that would not normally be impossible. Events will be accessible to watch on demand, and we will be curating and promoting events of particular interest to care home residents across Scotland.

Online Festival – Communities Programme

The August Book Festival is going digital this year and we are looking forward to integrating our Communities Programme into this exciting series of events, many of which will explore the themes such as identity, belonging and citizenship. We are also working on a special event to showcase the work by Citizen writers and participants, in partnership with the Scran Academy. Watch this space for the programme launch in late July.

Caterers serving food at a community meal at Citizen Festival 2019

Stay in Touch

You can keep up to date with all of our Communities projects through our On the Road blog. Each week, we will be posting something new from our participants, Writers in Residence, and guest bloggers, as well as inviting you to get involved with projects at home. If you have any questions about the Communities Programme at Edinburgh International Book Festival, you can email – we would love to hear from you.

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