Just over a month ago, I still had that post-exams glow and was fighting against adverse weather conditions to head to York for the SASH homeless writing competition awards ceremony.
SASH is a York based homeless charity who provide emergency Nightstop services and run Supported Lodging projects to stop young people from falling into homeless, and they’re really really great. The writing competition was especially brilliant, because it used writing to raise money and awareness, and how great is that? Themed ‘homelessness’, the competition was judged by award winning Ross Raisin (and a couple of other writers too, but I’ll get to that), and challenged entrants to write a maximum of 3000 words about homelessness. The top 22 entries were published in a beautiful anthology courtesy of Stairwell Books and the winner received an incredible Arvon five day residential writing course.
I got involved with the competition when the dregs of the last academic year were circling the drain, just because it seemed like too good of a fit to pass by. I’m involved with a bit of work with the homeless and vulnerable in Sheffield (and recently wrote about some of that here) and I am, by most definitions, a writer. So, I joined the motley crew of volunteer judges whose job it was to spread the word and whittle down an incredible 120 entries to a shortlist of just 22 (our original aim was 20 – we didn’t quite make it).
There were so many really wonderful entries and such a variety of styles and subjects. We had poems and plays and prose. Authentic, engaging and really touching stories. Some of these stories were written by people who have experienced homelessness first hand. Some, by those whose family and friends have. Some, just by people placing themselves in their shoes.
At the Awards Ceremony, Community Co-ordinator Tina Firthlock said the idea sprung from the fact that everyone has a story. Several times since I’ve started interacting and engaging with the homeless, I’ve been told that the worse thing is the way people avert their eyes as they walk past. I can’t imagine how awful it must be to be systematically ignored, but I know that writing was one of the first times I felt like I had voice or that I could say something that people might listen to. Everyone has a story. Writing has power. I love love love the idea that this competition might have given some individual’s their voice back.
SASH also runs musical and art events to help fundraise and I am deeply enamoured with the idea of using creativity to fundraise and raise awareness. Cake sales and shaking buckets at people are all well and good, but how much more original is it to encourage people to express themselves whilst fundraising?
The Awards Ceremony was a lovely event. I had the chance to talk to some of my fellow volunteer judges again and to some of the contestants. I was also truly honoured to receive a copy of the wonderful anthology (which is really brilliant, for the record, and you can buy a copy here) and to be mentioned in the acknowledgements. It was a real honour and a privilege to be part of such a wonderful competition and I hope to be helping out again soon.
A huge congratulations to Olivia Gwyne for her wonderful story ‘Heading North’, and to both runners up Alison Hitchcock and Carmel Page. I enjoyed all of the entries immensely and everyone who entered should be proud of taking part.