Project Updates: 26 Connections and 26’s Neurodiversity Project

There’s a lot happening on the project front, so we’ll keep you updated on projects as they start to unfold. But first, John Simmons runs us through the projects that will feature at Wordstock on 19 October, and throughout this year’s Bloomsbury Festival (18-27 October).

26 Connections

26 have been an active participant in the Bloomsbury Festival for some ten years or more. Each year we’ve been able to create a project (or projects) for our members that respond to the Festival’s changing annual theme. Many of you (literally hundreds) have taken part in previous projects such as 26 Leaps/Orphans/Inspirations that have featured in previous festivals. The theme for 2024 is “Human.kind”; the themes are always wonderfully flexible and open to creative interpretation.

I discussed the latest theme with leading poet Jacob Sam-La Rose, who had previously been active in many 26 events and projects. As Jacob runs the brilliant Barbican Young Poets programme, we came up with a collaboration between 26 and BYP – whose alumni are young, diverse, and international. The idea was to pair 13 writers from each organisation to create poetry collaboratively on the Human.kind theme.

And that’s what has been happening. The pairs have now put the finishing touches to their collaborative poems. It’s an extraordinary collection of work that truly expresses deep and moving viewpoints on the human connections we all share in a divided world. The work will be published in a BYP anthology in time for the Bloomsbury Festival in mid-October, and it will appear, along with essays on the process from each pair’s viewpoint, on the festival website. Watch that space.

But it doesn’t end there. There will be a physical artistic presence provided by members of the Lettering Arts Trust, whose chairman Mark Noad has been involved in previous 26 projects involving lettering art. Mark has paired 13 members of his organisation with each of the 26/BYP pairs to interpret the work through stone or wood carving, calligraphy or craft typography. The results – visual and verbal – will form an exhibition at the Building Centre in Bloomsbury’s Store Street, starting 18th October until mid-November, that promises to be a Bloomsbury Festival highlight.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

26’s neurodiversity project

This came about because we were so impressed by the winners of the 26 Awards at the end of last year.

Ann Storr won the main award, Jessica Murphy was in there too, and both had different neurodivergent conditions. That was interesting in itself – what could be the link between neurodiversity (eg autism, ADHD, dyslexia) and creativity? What is it, how does it affect people, why are most of us so little aware of it? We needed to find out more about this subject and explore it through a 26 project.

That is now happening, with a project team of Anita Holford, Ann Storr, Jess Murphy and Lloyd Harry-Davis. Fifteen writers are involved in the project that’s in its early stages. We’ll let you know more as it moves along towards publication of the written work and a public discussion at this year’s Wordstock.

And wrapping back to Wordstock…

(Over to you, Max)

I won’t go on too much about Wordstock – I gave a little introductory announcement (here) last month, and I’ll put out a more detailed note when tickets go on sale. But while John was talking about how these projects came to be, I wanted to say a little about our mission statement.

Wordstock has taken many guises, but since I took it on last year we’ve been focussing inwards on the amazing projects created by 26ers each year – aiming to give them a platform to share and discuss their work and writing. These projects have always worked perfectly with Bloomsbury’s themes, 26 Plants providing a pleasingly literal lynchpin for last year’s exploration of “Growth,” and the two projects above feeding wonderfully into “Human.Kind” as they delve respectively into what can bring us together, and what sets us apart.

We’ve also been enjoying a partnership with The Wildlife Trusts and Kaye Brennan, who will be returning to Wordstock this year, and working with emerging writers (last year the festival’s New Bloomsbury set, and this year Jacob’s Barbican Young Poets). All this alongside some individual and collective moments of writing. It will be a lovely afternoon.

– John Simmons and Max Parfitt

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