Press release: Taking Orwell back to Wigan

February 25, 2013

In January 1936 George Orwell journeyed to Wigan to report on poverty in the North of England. His book The Road to Wigan Pier was instrumental in raising public awareness of issues that contributed to a shift in policy of the minors and unions across the UK. This book also left a lasting imprint on the small mining town that became famous for Orwell. This week The Orwell Prize will take writers to Sunshine House, a community centre in Wigan, to run workshops with local teens.

Writers including Rosie Boycott, Meg Rosoff, Stephen Armstrong and Paul Anderson will speak on topics like Orwellian writing for 2013, history of journalism and writing for a living. The Orwell Prize will also run a workshop on how journalists write the first draft of history. English PEN are supporting the project by bringing young adult writer John Hegley and Avaes Mohammad. Over four days the writers and organisations will work with over 100 children from at least nine schools around Wigan.

Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN and Orwell Prize judge, says, “We’re delighted to be partnering up with the Orwell Prize on this innovative project. We ran a project with young people based on Orwell’s Room 101 last year, so it’s really appropriate for us to build on that by taking the poet John Hegley and playwright Avaes Mohammad to Wigan this year during the Prize. Orwell did for Wigan what PEN hopes all writers can do for their subjects – he wrote freely and used his words to change the world. Our creative writing and free speech workshops for young people aged 11-18 will inspire the next generation of writers from Wigan to do the same.”

The pilot for this scheme was set up last year by Stephen Armstrong, author of The Road to Wigan Pier Revisited, and Barbara Nettleton, Director of Sunshine House. The first group of writers included Will Self and Ed McCardie. Barbara Nettleton says; “Sunshine House is so proud and excited to be able to arrange these workshops, work with schools and watch these young people grow and thrive. Projects like this are what the community centre is all about. ” Stephen Armstrong said; “The pioneering work of this community centre being run just a few yards from where Orwell stayed seemed like a sign that something should be done to help. The Orwell Prize has taken a well meaning one off and is building it into a real legacy.”

Earlier this month The Orwell Prize took Orwell back to Burma to the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, the first international event of its kind in Burma, with books and panel discussions. Director Jean Seaton says; “Helping Wigan tell its own stories is such a privilege for the Orwell Prize.This year it has developed in a remarkable way: we have taken writers to Burma and now we are going to find writers in Wigan. These places helped form Orwell’s own voice: but he found it by listening and observing with a radical honesty.The prospect of working with young people in Wigan to help them articulate what they know of their world is exacting and thrilling.”

ENDS
1. The Orwell Prize is Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing. Every year, prizes are awarded to the work – for the book and for the journalism – which comes closest to George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’.
2. The Prize was founded by the late Professor Sir Bernard Crick in its present form in 1993, awarding its first prizes in 1994. The Media Standards Trust, Political Quarterly and Orwell Trust are partners in running the Prize, through the Council of the Orwell Prize. Richard Blair (Orwell’s son) is a sponsor, with support from A. M. Heath.
4. For further information, please contact the Operations Manager, Katriona Lewis, at katriona.lewis@mediastandardstrust.org, or on 0207 229 5722.