Byker’s national community arts project is pure poetry for residents

A national community arts project that is using the power of poetry to explore place, heritage and identity was launched at Newcastle’s Byker Wall Estate.

The national Places of Poetry project involving poets and playwrights aims to engage people of all ages and abilities to write poems and ‘pin’ them onto a digital map, where everyone can read them.

The Grade II* listed social housing estate is one of 12 heritage sites across the UK selected as hosts for the project. At these ‘hubs’, partner agencies and the local community will come together to write and edit their poems, and to learn from the professionals.

Ahead of the formal launch, held earlier this month, over 3,000 poems had been posted by budding poets from across the UK.

Byker Community Trust (BCT), the housing association that owns and manages the Byker Estate, is one of the key partner organisations in the North East, along with Northern Stage and Seven Stories.

They joined the project’s organisers and members of the community for the official launch at Byker Community Centre. It was held to coincide with the Byker Best Summer Ever initiative. This is a programme of activities and events for children and young people living in Byker throughout the school summer holidays.

Young people and local residents attended the launch to listen to Rowan McCabe and were treated to a poetry, history and cultural workshop about the Byker Estate, led by local resident Steve Sheraton.

“I am excited to be Poet in Residence at the Byker Wall as part of the Places of Poetry project,” said McCabe. “I think the Byker Wall is a unique and vibrant building which deserves to be celebrated. Having the chance to write poems and inspire people to write about this area will be a privilege and rewarding experience.”

Jill Haley, BCT’s chief executive, said: “The highly acclaimed Byker Estate is internationally renowned and last year, won the Academy of Urbanism ‘Great Neighbourhood’ UK and Ireland award. Our ethos is all about engaging with the local community and we are delighted that organisers from Places of Poetry have selected Byker as one of 12 sites to hold events nationally.

“Poetry and reading are a relaxing and fun way to communicate and engage and we hope lots of people of all ages from around the North East, and not just here in Byker, will get behind this project and pin their poems onto the digital map. I look forward to reading them all.”

Throughout this month and September, workshops and activities have been organised for young people to help them write poems, where they will work with McCabe, playwright Lee Mattinson and staff from Northern Stage.

The digital map has been created to encourage people to think about the environment and history around them. People can pin their own poem onto the map, which consists of two layers: an artistic map, based on decorative seventeenth-century county maps, and a second layer of Ordnance Survey data, allowing users to zoom in to a high level of detail.

In July, staff from Seven Stories visited Byker Primary School and St Lawrence’s RC Primary School to run poetry workshops with the pupils.

Places of Poetry is led by broadcaster and poet Paul Farley and University of Exeter academic Professor Andrew McRae.

“We hope the map will inspire people to write, whatever their age or experience, and fill the map with thousands of new poems about places that mean something to them,” McRae said.

“The aim is to encourage people to think about heritage from different angles, such as environmental, industrial, religious, cultural or sporting. We want to celebrate the diversity, history and character of the places around us.”

Jill Adamson, director of participation at Northern Stage, said: “We’re so excited to be working with Rowan McCabe as part of the Places of Poetry project, alongside playwright Lee Mattinson who’ll be running workshops with us at Byker Community Centre as part of Byker Best Summer Ever. We love Rowan’s poetry and the way he works makes poetry really accessible so we hope the workshops and seeing Rowan out and about in Byker will inspire lots of residents to get involved.”

The Places of Poetry project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England, and is made possible by partnerships with the Ordnance Survey, The Poetry Society and National Poetry Day.

The site will be open for writers to pin their poems to places until 4 October 2019. To pin your poem onto the digital map or for more information on Places of Poetry, visit


Main Image: Rowan McCabe, poet in residence (centre) pictured with partners and young people in Byker at the launch of the Places in Poetry project.


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