We are experimenting and trying out all sorts of creative, word-based activity in the process of developing the historic Exeter Custom House on Exeter Quayside as a hub for literature. We have been working on this in partnership with Exeter Canal and Quay Trust for two years now and during that time several school groups have helped us explore the creative writing potential of this unique setting, home to so many tales.

In October 2019, we welcomed our partners from The Writers Block in Camborne, Cornwall, which is a project of KEAP (Kernow Education Arts Partnership). The Writers Block is a theatrically designed and lit space, tucked away in a 1970s office complex. Inside, it is a beautiful, alternate universe, crammed with curious artefacts, hand-made cabinets, resonant and strange pictures – and nooks for writing. It was designed especially to inspire young writers by creating a sense of awe and sensory immersion. We invited KEAP to come and create a popup version of something similar at Exeter Custom House this autumn and groups from two Exeter primary schools came to test it for us just after half term.

Year Six students from Cranbrook Education Campus and Whipton Barton Primary each came for a full day at Exeter Custom House. They were enthusiastic pioneers, full of curiosity and interest. They were guided throughout by performer and writer Annamaria Murphy, in role as “Story Doctor, free prescriptions for metaphors, similes, exciting words for all your word needs”, with handy Story Repair Kit at the ready.

The day began out on the quayside, observing swans and creating diamanté poems about them. This was followed by kennings and by stories sparked through mime. Ideas were lit by the many curious artefacts that the children could discover in the cupboards and on the shelves of Exeter Custom House. It was great fun working with these groups, they created fabulous work and we look forward to expanding further on this very creative approach to inspiring young writers.

During our 2019 summer Quay Words programme, writer-in-residence Louisa Adjoa-Parker ran a special poetry workshop for the Year Four Sequioa Class of Newtown Primary.

Our other very special workshop for schools was led by poet Raymond Antrobus for students from Exeter Deaf Academy. Raymond is deaf himself and he delivered the workshop the morning after his public reading at Exeter Custom House in July 2019. On a beautiful summer’s day it was special that the students were able to walk along the quayside from their school. Raymond proved a fabulous role model, as their teacher’s comments attest here –

“I teach these students the metalanguage on English over and over again. Never before have they absorbed a new concept so quickly. The fact they remembered what is meant by a concrete noun and an abstract noun after one session is nothing short of amazing. Raymond’s approach to developing a poetic mind has certainly given me food for thought. I hope this will be the start of a positive relationship between my students, Raymond and poetry.” Many thanks, Deb Thomas (teacher).

These are just some of the ideas that we have begun trialling for schools and young writers at Exeter Custom House. As so many writers have already observed, it is a building crammed with history and stories. With the help of young writers, we are adding more.