‘Wish You Were Here’ – A community art project during lockdown

In late January 2021, in the depth of winter and the midst of lockdown, a small group of people gathered online to take part in a creative writing workshop. Living in or close to Boston, in Lincolnshire, they were gifted writers with varied backgrounds and careers. The workshop had been planned a year earlier by Writing East Midlands, as part of ‘The Elder Tree’, its programme for older people. But the Covid-19 pandemic intervened and work was suspended as everyone adjusted to life’s new priorities. As it became clear that it was not going to be possible to organise face-to-face sessions for the foreseeable future, we moved online, and discovered the potential of video calls. 

My task was to facilitate the sessions and support the writers in their development. I worried about how to translate my approach to creative workshops online but, as so often, it was the people who came and the artistic process itself that lit the path. The writers brought rich, rewarding texts to each session and read to each other beautifully. A kind of intimacy grew, as we listened and commented on the texts, each of us at home but together.

Our subject was, very broadly, this place at this time, Boston and its surroundings in winter 2021, with memories too of other places and people. The pandemic was present, without needing to be named: the situation itself gave a tone to everything.  A shared experience permeate the book, giving it unusual depth and resonance. Editing meant little more than shaping the different writers’ contributions into a cohesive whole. It is their craft, imagination and sensitivity that make it special.

Yesterday, we all finally met face-to-face at the town’s first ever book festival: Wish You Were Here – Meeting at last.

A project like this depends on many hands, above all, quite literally, those of Rosie Redzia, who responded to each text with her characterful and creative line. We agreed that the drawings were not illustrations: the writers’ words do not need it. Rather, they are a line of harmony, sometimes close to the text, sometimes distant, but always adding to the reader’s enjoyment and understanding. Sonya Hundal, as the project’s shadow writer, was a generous partner and ally, as well as a formidably perceptive analyst. Leanne Moden, from Writing East Midlands, and Nick Jones, from Transported, got the word out and provided all the support we been needed. The project was financed by Arts Council England and the Baring Foundation, to whom we are very grateful. 

But the last word, not of thanks but appreciation, must go to the writers themselves. Their voices thread and weave in these pages to create a vivid document of this strange and distressing time. In years to come, when people want to know what life was in Boston in 2021, they will find it here.