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The Free Word Centre

December 19, 2009

For the past month, I have had the pleasure to work for one of the organisations hosted at the wonderful Free Word Centre. Today was meant to be my last day, but some of us were snowed in so we’re having a day off. Since there isn’t really enough snow in my garden to go out and have fun, it seemed like a good time to blog about the Free Word Centre and the amazing work of the organisations there.

Free Word’s aim is, in their own words [pun unintended], “to promote, protect and democratise the power of the written and spoken word, nationally and internationally”. In this beautiful setting, previously the Guardian education building, nine organisations concerned with writing, reading and freedom of expression share their working space.

Apples & Snakes (for whom Miriam currently works) works to promote the role of performance poetry in education. Article 19 is an international charity striving for freedom of expression and freedom of information. I spoke to one of them during the Free Word Christmas party, and updated her a bit about the sad state of information in Italy (since then aggravated by the recent statements on Facebook being “more dangerous than terror groups in the ’70s” – Renato Schifani). Apparently Article 19 aren’t worried about Italy yet – it’s a slightly relief to know we’re not quite the worst in Europe yet.

More going on in the Free Word Centre: the Arvon Foundation organises writing residences with world class tutors. Booktrust, quite simply, wants to encourage people to read and love books. English PEN does a lot really, I’d find it hard to summarise – they put it as “providing an active and supportive community for writers and readers around the world”. Index on Censorship, like Article 19, is concerned with freedom of information around the world. Together with PEN, Index on Censorship have recently launched a campaign for libel reform in England. Again due to the situation in Italy, I feel strongly about this issue, and encourage you to have a look at the libel reform website.

Again also based in the Free Word Centre, the Literacy Consultancy offers manuscript evaluation services, and the Reading Agency puts together a staggering variety of programmes to encourage adults and children to read. The Dalkey Archive, to my understanding, publishes books that risk being forgotten and are no longer “commercially viable” but are true gems of literature.

The Free Word Centre is a relatively new venture – it only opened to the public in September. But as I hope you saw from what I wrote and from browsing the links, it has got enormous potential for delivering exciting new projects about literacy, writing, reading, and freedom of expression. I found it a very inspiring place to work in, and I also really have to add, everyone there was lovely to me. I will certainly be checking back on what they are up to. Starting next Monday, for a reading of Keats’ poetry.

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