For you and all of us

After taking some time to reflect, we’re launching a new project in response to the COVID-19 outbreak – a chance to connect, listen, and of course, write. Our chairman Martin Clarkson shares how every member of 26 can get involved.

Like all of us I had reacted to the developing COVID-19 situation with a mixture of emotions. It seemed clear, though not immediately, that this would be the biggest disruption to all our lives in 26’s history. So how should I respond? How should the board respond? Could we devise a project that would help us all deal with this crisis? Surely if we live in extraordinary times, we need an extraordinary project.

26 weeks is the result. It’s a project developed with other members of the 26 board and with Mel Cochran from my organisation createbalance. 26 is for writers so we clearly need to have writing at the core of our response. But writing also involves observing, listening and talking to others. This suited our feeling that we should not rush to put out hasty solutions. Let us reflect, have conversations, learn – and then, in time, after 26 weeks, the right stories will emerge, but for now and the months ahead let’s see what we can achieve by taking a snapshot, or a rolling series of snapshots.

What follows is a 26 project for every member of 26 to take part in – if theywish. We call it 26 weeks because it will cover the time after the announcement of the lockdown on 24 March until early October. We want to avoid rushing to premature conclusions about the effects of COVID on the way we live and work. Let’s try to understand how attitudes change over this accelerated period of evolution that we are living through. We can do that through conversations.

Our invitation to all members is this: think of an individual you know who interests you. This can be a friend, a family member, a client, someone you know whose views you wish to explore. Bear in mind that we would like the greatest possible range – social, economic and geographical diversity.

Then approach that person to see if they would be willing to have a series of conversations with you – there are three stages in our project, so the minimum would be three conversations spread across several months, at times to be decided by you and your conversation partner. In the conversations we’d like to explore how people are feeling about the situation – and to record if or how those feelings change over the 26 weeks of the project.

We would like you to post short notes, based on those conversations, on a website we’ll create. Gradually we will build up a picture of 26 members’ responses.

Responses will change as we move through time. But we have no crystal ball and no preconceived agenda. At the end we will aim to produce a piece, or many pieces, of reflective writing to help us move forward. This might become a book, a permanent website, an event – we don’t yet know because we cannot prejudge, but all options are open. Everything will depend on what you, our members, produce through the conversations. They are the key to this so please think who to approach, set up the conversation, make the notes.

This could be the most important 26 project ever. We’d love as many of our members as possible to take part.

Please join us by firstly signing up here. We’ll acknowledge your submission by return and follow up with a fuller brief and a brilliant short paper on interviewing tips from board member Martin Lee. But please respond quickly because the clock is already ticking.

– Martin Clarkson, chairman of 26

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