Poetry workshops inspired by Victorian writer highlight the role of unsung carers

A stock image from the university of a person writing

A new series of poetry workshops to support carers in the community has been launched by Oxford Brookes University.

The online workshops, suitable for anyone with caring responsibilities, aim to give carers the time and support to express their feelings through poetry, as well as shining a spotlight on their work which often goes unrecognised. 

Dr Dinah Roe, Reader in 19th century literature at Oxford Brookes, said the inspiration for the workshops came from the Victorian poet, Christina Rossetti, who recorded in her diary the challenges of being a full-time carer, while also trying to find time to write. 

Dr Roe, an expert in Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite poets, said: “Writing poetry is about identifying and developing a voice, and we hope to help make carers' voices more audible, not just to everyone else, but to themselves.

“I’ve always believed in the power of poetry to change lives, but this belief has previously been academic. Testing this theory in the real-world context of the workshops, and watching how poetry builds community, confidence, and literary identity has been a great privilege and more importantly, a pleasure.”

Christina Rossetti is well known for her poetry, nursery rhymes and devotional writing, with her most famous works being the words to the Christmas carol 'In the Bleak Midwinter', 'When I Am Dead My Dearest' and 'Remember Me When I Have Gone Away'.

Workshop logo, designed by David Knight Designs

The online workshops, called Occupations & Interruptions, were made possible by a £50,000 grant from the British Academy.

In addition, Carers Oxfordshire, a free service offering advice and support to adult carers, Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre,  Oxford Brookes School of English and the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Strategic Research Fund also provided support.

Two workshops have taken place so far with up to 15 participants in each session, led by Dr Roe and writer and poet Sarah Hesketh. An online anthology of poetry written by participants has been created and audio recordings of the poets reading their work can also be heard. 

Sarah Frideswide, a carer and current MA Creative Writing student at Oxford Brookes who took part in the workshops, said: “I loved taking the carers’ poetry workshops. I found that it was a space where I could be very honest and share my experiences with people who understood the reality of being a carer in ways that most people don't. 

“I looked forward to the time and space for myself which the workshops gave me each week. During the writing exercises I was able to safely re-enter some traumatic past experiences which I haven't thought about in years and finally express them as writing.

“It felt good to know that people who are not carers will read them and be able to see some of what we deal with in our lives as carers. I met some lovely people during the workshops and we have stayed in touch.”

To take part in the workshops contact Dr Roe at d.roe@brookes.ac.uk or visit the website.