A&L Goodbody Writer in Residence

Over the past two years children's author and poet Catherine Ann Cullen has been working with pupils in St Joseph's Co-ed Primary School in East Wall in Dublin with a view to improving their creativity and literacy skills.

Catherine Ann was the professional writer selected as part of a new writer-in-residence programme, a three-year partnership created by A&L Goodbody under the Docklands Arts Fund. It is the first school residency in the country supported by a company.

The initiative builds on A&L Goodbody's existing partnership with education charity Suas, which involves its people volunteering for a paired literacy support programme with 8-14 year olds in schools in the Docklands. Since it started five years ago, 180 of A&L Goodbody's employees have taken part in the programme, supporting 150 young people from the local community.

"The paired reading programmes seem to be working really well for the schools. -. The teachers tell us they really value the extra support and pupils are benefiting from increased levels of literacy and confidence in reading aloud and comprehension," says Sinéad Smith, corporate responsibility manager, A&L Goodbody.

"We wanted to find a way to enhance that further. When Business to Arts suggested a writer-in-residence programme, we agreed to pilot the idea. Suas was also involved in the decision-making around this, and felt it complemented what we were already doing."

From the time she started the residency last October, Catherine Ann felt she was given free rein in terms of the creative journey she took with the classes. Her fresh approach during the hour-long sessions went down really well with both the teachers and children.

Each week the pupils 'commissioned' her to write a poem on a theme of their devising, and the following week's session opened with that poem. Catherine Ann compiled her poems for third class into a book called 'Homework Poemwork' and those for fourth class into one called 'East Wall Odes for East Wall Road'.

AandL Goodbody Image

Pictured above: Sinéad Smith, Corporate Responsibility Manager at A&L Goodbody with Writer in Residence Catherine Ann Cullen and a student at St. Josephs National School in East Wall showcasing co-created work by 3rd class pupils under Business to Arts’ Docklands Arts Fund. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

"The children enjoy the role reversal of giving me homework. I think it's important that they see me drafting, keeping deadlines and taking on and completing assignments," Catherine Ann explains. "I also read them some of what they call my 'grown-up writing' - from my latest collection, The Other Now (Dedalus 2016). They have become familiar with poetry and ask questions about the imagery and ideas."

Catherine Ann encourages the children's individual creativity through ideas like the 'East Wall Alphabet', where each pupil made a poster of one letter and wrote a rhyming couplet about places or things in their community starting with that letter.

Ballads have always influenced Catherine Ann's work and she has written six songs together with the pupils at St Joseph's, including 'East Wall Lullaby' by third class and 'East Wall Bridges' by fourth class. "From my experience, a writer-in-residence in a school sends ripples out into the community through the inclusion of siblings, carers, parents, grandparents and the wider family," says Catherine Anne. "All of these people connect with the children's and the writer's work, seeing it develop and hearing it read, said and sung in the home and at school events."

Last May, A&L Goodbody hosted an event as part of 'Stories from the City' for the International Literary Festival Dublin where the work of the residency programme was showcased. "This was a pilot programme and none of us really knew how it was going to turn out," says Sinéad Smith. "The outcomes have been huge and it has worked really well. We are keeping Catherine Ann on for another year and look forward to seeing how she will build on what has been achieved so far."

This case study was featured in the Sunday Independent Allianz Business to Arts Awards Supplement in September 2017. The programme won the 2017 Allianz Business to Arts Award for Best Use of Creativity in the Community.