We got the chance to talk to Catherine from Brighton & Hove’s local organisation, Little Green Pig, who work with young people to unlock their imaginations and explore their creativity. Holding workshops and projects across the academic year, they give children the chance to write their own stories. With all the amazing work they are doing, we wanted to find out more about their projects and how students can get involved.
Can you give us a general overview about the work Little Green Pig do?
We were formed about ten years ago. Ella Burns, who remains the director of Little Green Pig, set it up. Over time we have grown hugely and our family now includes four part-time staff, a couple of freelancers and a fantastic team of volunteers.
We run a mixture of in-school and out-of school workshops that take place throughout term-time, with our priority being children who are experiencing some form of economic or social disadvantage. Our after-school clubs are one of our main focuses: children apply to join these clubs and attend week-after-week, working on long creative projects.
For example, in the past we have published Brighton’s first travel guide written for children, as well as writing soap operas and creating radio programmes and scripts. We want to show children that writing doesn’t have to be just stories and poems, it can also be scripts, journalism, in fact, anything at all.
As well as our after-school clubs we do many other types of projects. We have done two school residencies, which is when a school invites us in to their building for a period of a few months and gives us an empty classroom that we can do whatever we like with. We then work with a local design company, Sherlock, who help us create a magical environment to transform the classroom into.
The first one was in City Academy Whitehawk, which was called The Tooth and Claw Store and was a 19th century magical beasts pet shop. We had the children sitting on hay bales, there were strange things in drawers which you opened and other magical things to smell and touch.
Our second residency was BrightSTAR in Moulsecoomb Primary School, which is still going now. The idea with these residences is to build the space and then hold writing workshops there with every child in the school, from reception up until year six. There are lots of multi-sensory prompts around the room, so things to smell, touch and listen to.
We also do a lot of smaller projects, for example collaborations with other organisations, such as Fabrica Gallery. Whenever they have an exhibition on we do one of our workshops in their space, responding to the themes of their exhibition.
We have also recently started doing a similar project with Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, where we work with a local primary school alongside one of their exhibitions. This will culminate in a film that the children are going to make and will be our biggest project outside of Brighton yet.
Through these numerous projects, what is your overall aim as an organisation?
With all our projects, the through line is about having fun with writing. We are keen to engage those children who think they aren’t good at writing or who struggle at school. We want to unlock their imaginations and get them enthusiastic about creativity. Our model works really well with children who struggle with sitting at a desk and writing, as we play a lot of games and there’s so much exploration, things to awake all the senses. We hear especially from teachers that this wakes students up to writing in a way that sitting in a classroom doesn’t.
The important things for us aren’t spelling, grammar and handwriting but their ideas and imagination. The work we do moves away from school and shows them they have a wonderful imagination and ideas, so let’s figure out how to get it onto paper.
Image Credit: Simon Dax
You’ve grown into such a successful organisation, but how did it all begin and where did the inspiration come from to launch Little Green Pig?
Ella was inspired by the writer Dave Eggers, who set up a writing organisation in San Francisco called 826 Valencia.
He had lots of friends in the city who were writers, artists and other creatives who felt like they weren’t connecting with people, as they were working alone and feeling quite isolated. He also heard from friends who were teachers, who said there were lots of children in the city who were struggling with their writing. So, Dave Eggers decided to bring these two groups together and set up a writing centre where children could come, get help with their homework and do creative writing, with his artistic friends running the sessions and helping the children.
This model became hugely popular and many similar networks sprang across the States and then further across the globe. We are part of a UK and European family of these organisations, for example London’s Ministry of Stories and Rotherham’s Grimm & Co. There are many more in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and all over the world.
In setting up the organisation, where did the name itself, Little Green Pig, come from?
It comes from a play, but the meaning that we have taken on is that a Little Green Pig is something that is different to the norm, but its strength is that different.
I think because we are offering something that is quite different to what children are getting in schools, we want to stand out in that way. It is also quite a fun and memorable name that people tend to cling onto.
Talking more directly about your own role, what does an average day at Little Green Pig look like for you?
I have got a split role as I am both the Administrator and Volunteer Manager, meaning my day can vary quite drastically depending what hat I have got on… often it’s a bit of everything.
As Volunteer Manager, I am in charge of recruiting, training and supporting our volunteer team, which consists of around 50-60 people. One of my tasks is to continually recruit new people, on our website and over social media, as well as going out and talking to community groups and schools. I run training sessions for volunteers and then remain their first point of contact with the organisation. I also make myself available if any volunteers need any help or assistance with any aspect of our work.
As the Admin person, as in any small organisation, it involves a bit of everything; so answering queries from the public, updating the website and social media and doing the bookkeeping and finances. One fun job is when we do story-making workshops, where the children write a story from beginning to end, my task is to take all the things they have written and bind them into individual books the children can keep.
We are a team of four and we each have our unique role, but because we are all part-time and love our jobs, we help each other out a lot, meaning there is a lot of crossover.
Being such a small team, what are some of the challenges you’ve met as the organisation has grown?
One huge obstacle that is ever present is funding. It is very important to us to continue working with children in Brighton, Hove and Sussex who are suffering from some kind of social or educational disadvantage. They could potentially live in a low-income area or be in the care system, for example. This means it is vital to our work that we never charge people to come to the workshops, which means we have to get the money from somewhere else.
My colleague Emily is our Deputy Director and she’s in charge of fundraising and development, so she is always busy writing funding bids.
Thinking about a personal challenge… I have been working here for three years and over the past two years we really grown quickly. There was a slight gap in the middle where I hadn’t recruited enough volunteers to cope with that growth, which meant I had a frenzied few months trying to recruit as many people as possible. But, I think we are at a pretty good level now and it seems like we have the right amount of volunteers for the workshops we are running, but as that’s always in-flux as volunteers’ life circumstances change.
We are always looking for more student volunteers from Sussex, so it’s definitely worth getting in touch with us.
That’s great to hear, so how would a student go about getting involved with Little Green Pig?
A good first point is to go to the volunteering page on our website, which has a lot of information about volunteering and an application form. Or, you can bypass that and just get in touch with me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org. When someone applies, I arrange a meeting with them, either one-on-one or in a small group, for an informal information session. This gives them the chance to learn more about our organisation and our volunteer scheme in particular, to figure out if the role would suit them.
If they are still interested, they would then be invited to the training sessions, which are longer and more involved. The first steps are always more informal, just to make sure the person knows what they are committing to.
I am always really happy to hear from people, so even if you are not sure it would completely work with your schedule or your interests, it is always worth getting in touch to find out more.
Would students also be able to get involved with fundraising for your organisation?
Of course! Probably the best thing to do would be to contact me directly and I can put you in contact with Emily. In the past, people have done things like run a marathon and raise money for us, or host bake sales and book sales. We also organise a number of fundraising events throughout the year, so there are always chances to get involved.
We are always open for collaborating with anyone. Obviously we have issues of time and money, but these two things can be worked out when someone approaches us. If any student organisations or societies have any new projects or ideas, we would love to hear from you.
What exciting ventures do you have scheduled over the next year that people can get involved with?
We just had a big meeting about this the other day actually. One of the projects we are going to do with our after-school clubs is a graphic novel project with illustrator Ottilie Hainsworth. She is actually one of the volunteers and illustrators who normally comes along to our workshops and will be co-leading this project, which is called Six Boxes. It is all about young people telling stories within six boxes of a cartoon. We are quite excited about this as we haven’t organised a long, illustrated project before.
In the Spring, we will also be doing a project with teenagers, which we’re very excited about – but it is top secret for now!
When embarking on these projects, what is your favourite part about working with the young people?
I think because I am generally based in the office, my favourite part is at the end of a big project, like the travel guide project for example, as we always hold a celebration launch with the young people. Their teachers, parents and friends can come along and we do readings from the books they have created and a Q&A with the writers. That’s my chance to come and see what’s been happening and see the pride the young people have in seeing their writing turned into a book. It’s just joyous and inspiring.
Like any job there are days that are difficult, boring or stressful, but having that amazing outcome makes it all so much more enjoyable and worthwhile.
Image Credit: Adam Webb
In more general terms, what are the long term goals for Little Green Pig?
We have started slowly expanding, doing one-off workshops around East Sussex and now we are doing the six week workshop in Eastbourne, as I mentioned earlier. That will be part of a general expansion over the next three years, with the aim of working more in Eastbourne. With that we will need more staff and more volunteers, whilst also retaining the standard of work we are doing in Brighton.
I would say then that our long term goals are to spread out so we are not solely based in Brighton, but those things take time and we want to do them right. We want to work alongside organisations already working in those areas and we are in the process of building relationships and dipping our toe in those waters.
In general terms, we want to keep growing but we want to make sure that we don’t grow for the sake of it, keeping our work is as high quality as it could be. We want to both satisfy a desire for growth and make sure we are doing it as well as we can.
Is there anything else you want to emphasise about Little Green Pig that we haven’t already discussed?
I think one of the best ways to get a sense of the work that we do is to engage with our finished products. On our website, there is a page called ‘Showcase’, which displays some of our previous projects, including the films we have created documenting our work. There are two films that particularly show-off our residencies, Tooth and Claw and BRIGHTStar, featuring interviews with the children, teachers and staff members. It will also show you what those spaces look like and they do a much better job of conveying the feel of them than my talking about them will [laughs].
Also, you can pick up a copy of our travel guide, or one of our other books, to see the quality of writing the children are doing, as well as the wit and imagination they have.
I think if someone is interested in Little Green Pig, then looking at the work is the best way to get a sense of what we do.
Yes, definitely. Thank you so much for taking the time to come and talk to me today about Little Green Pig and the incredible work you are doing as an organisation. To share this with a student demographic further will be beneficial to your organisation, I hope. Thank you again.
Featured Image Credit: Tero Vasalainen