In 2014, young people from schools and youth groups in London and the North West UK collaborated with young people from European schools, in a pioneering project investigating and celebrating citizenship, identity and multilingualism
Between EU and Me was a pioneering and timely project, given the political disengagement among some young people, the need for a revitalised European culture for the 21st century, and the ongoing debate in British politics over the EU.
Hundreds of young people in the UK were involved in one or more of the three activities of Between EU and Me: creative writing and performance workshops; listening to speakers at school assemblies followed by Q&A sessions; and letter writing between English and European students.
The project chimed with English PEN’s interest in Europe. In promoting and supporting freedom of expression, English PEN recently received funding from the Open Society Foundations for a campaign about Criminal Defamation. English PEN also joined with other freedom of expression groups in bringing a legal challenge against mass surveillance actions of GCHQ, filing papers at the European Court of Human Rights bringing an action against the UK Government.
By bringing young people into the debate around Europe, the project returned to prominence the issue of freedom of expression for people of all backgrounds here and abroad.
Creative writing and performance workshops
The team of writer-facilitators for leading workshops for this project comprised Avaes Mohammad, Shazea Quraishi, Femi Martin, Simon Mole, Dzifa Benson, Adam Lowe, Malika Booker, Kayo Chingonyi, Kat Lewis and Joelle Taylor.
They collaborated with young people in schools and youth-groups in London, Manchester and Wigan, for a range of workshops in creative writing and letter exchanges. These included:
- a workshop with predominantly Tamil and Bengali young migrants at the Tricycle Theatre, who used writing about Perfect Cities as a way to explore their transfer to London
- a dance piece created by SEN young people at the Salmon Youth Centre, who used the medium as a way to respond to ideas of European citizenship
- music and protest at the London and Gypsy Traveller Unit, where the young people drafted a letter to the European Commission on the right of free movement
English PEN collaborate with PEN Centres in Europe to reach out to schools in Croatia, Germany, Spain, Greece and the Czech Republic. Letters and postcards about what it means to be a European and what is important in terms of identity for teenagers are still being exchanged between schools in these countries and schools in England.
The exchanges took place between Newham 6th Form College, London, Uk and Platon School, Athens, Greece; Thomas Tallis School, London and Bertbrecht Gymnasium, Dortmund, Germany; Ark Globe Academy, London and Institut Santiago Sobreques, Spain; Sunshine House Community Centre, Wigan and SPŠ stavební ak. St. Bechyně, Czech Republic; and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School and Elementary School Silvije Strahimir Kranjčević, Zagreb, Croatia.
The project also involved activists, journalists, politicians and experts in various fields talking to young people about Europe, media, identity, young people and more.
These guest talks included editor of Words Without Borders Samantha Schnee on the importance of translation for tackling impunity in the drug war; activist and radio presenter at Novara FM Aaron Bastani talking to students at Ark Globe Academy about the relevance of radical politics to young people; Arif Ansari from the BBC talking to young people in Wigan about the resurgence of regional media; Claire Armitstead of the Guardian holding an assembly at Elizabeth Garret Anderson School on news values and the politics of storytelling; Jane Bradley of website For Book’s Sake talking to an LGBT group in Manchester about solidarity with young LGBT refugees in Europe; and army officer and politician Waleed Ghani talking to pupils at Thomas Tallis School about why he refounded the Whig Party in response to the European elections.
Additionally for this project, we commissioned 12 PEN Atlas pieces in which European writers and translators reflected on issues relating to EU citizenship, culture, and multilingualism. Each was published with the strapline: ‘This article is part of the English PEN Between EU and Me project, supported by the European Commission’.
- A Q&A with Arno Camenish
- The Weight of Language
- Soldier no.9
- You must keep feeding the lake
- While the gods were sleeping
- When my cat tried to have breakfast at Tiffany’s
- Horror and words
- Kiev’s militant spring
- Finding The Sworn Virgin
- Who invented the graphic novel?
- The greatest Turkish novel?
- Once I was a dog
‘Playing with Words’ – a celebration event
Finally, a celebration event was held on 17 December at Europe House, the UK-base of the European Parliament. The MC and comedian Nick Revell introduced comedians including Marcel Lucont (the French alter ego of Alexis Dubus) and an exclusive video from the interpreter and comedian Matthew Perret. The evening began and ended with brilliant performances by some of the young participants in Between EU and Me. Other performances came from Avaes Mohammad and Joelle Taylor, poets, and writers who had been workshop leaders for Between EU and Me, and whose work focuses on language, migration and identity.
You can see more photos from the event in our Playing with Words album on our Flickr page.
You can listen to a podcast from this event, featuring young people involved in Between EU and Me, below.