Poetry in motion as Dame visits Calderdale

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Downton Abbey actress Dame Penelope Wilton visited Halifax to launch and read a collection of poems written by the town’s pupils as part of a project aimed at improving access to poetry.

Dame Penelope, who was born in Scarborough, is an ambassador of education charity Children and the Arts, which has just completed a three-year literacy project with seven primary schools in the town.

The scheme was part of the charity’s national initiative PoetryQuest, which pairs up arts venues and schools with professional poets to increase awareness, access and knowledge around poetry and literacy.

The schools have consistently worked with two local poets, Winston Plowes and Keith Hutson, to provide continuity. The support and encouragement both poets have given to the teachers and the 438 children has resulted in them becoming poet-in-residences, delivering regular workshops and mentoring the pupils.

A programme of workshops in the schools explored different kinds of poems, including Found Poetry and Sonnets, with the children writing their own poems using these styles. Confidence grew each week as each child was supported and encouraged to read their poems aloud to each other, culminating in a final performance at Square Chapel Arts Centre before a packed audience of teachers, parents, friends and peers.

On her visit to the Square Chapel, Dame Penelope spoke of her love of poetry and read alongside the children and poets. She also took part in a Q&A session, chaired by the chapel’s patron, actor George Costigan.

Michaela O’Sullivan, education and outreach manager at Square Chapel Arts Centre, said: “PoetryQuest is a fantastic project that really inspires the children and teachers taking part. The work produced by the children is of an outstanding standard and the performance events enable them to develop confidence and skills that impact on their wider achievements at school.”