New exhibition compares communities in present day Leeds to Wordsworth’s Lake District

An exhibition opening at Leeds Central Library on 9 January is the culmination of a University of Leeds project with older Leeds residents and primary school children exploring ideas of community.

Caring Together participants, with Anna Fleming


Through weekly reading and discussion groups with people from Caring Together - a neighbourhood network scheme for people over 60 in Woodhouse - and with children from Shire Oak Primary School in Headingley, PhD student Anna Fleming encouraged participants to read Wordsworth’s poetry, and discuss what community means to them and how they picture it.

The exhibition, ‘Creative Communities: Wordsworth in Leeds’, features photographs and original artwork from the participants alongside paintings and photographs from the Wordsworth Trust.

Anna is part of a collaborative partnership between the School of English at the University of Leeds and the Wordsworth Trust. In 2015 she spent a year based at the museum in Grasmere, where she researched the archive and delivered another community engagement project, exploring the responses of present-day Cumbrian people to Wordsworth's work.

Anna explains: “Wordsworth was fascinated by community life in the Lake District and often wrote about local people. In 1810 he taught in Grasmere village school, and in 1808 he helped a subscription fund to support eight orphaned Grasmere children.

“The reading groups in Leeds have been exploring his poems about local people, thinking about the types of people he writes about, how he does it, and how that compares to modern communities in Leeds.

“We have considered how technology shapes creativity, for example photography did not exist in Wordsworth’s time, so he uses writing to capture local people and experiences. By contrast, we can use photography to capture community, as we have shown in the exhibition.”

Caring Together member Ben Anson, 66, who has lived in Woodhouse for 36 years, said: “What impressed me about Anna’s project was that people who said they didn’t like poetry at school really enjoyed reading and discussing Wordsworth’s poems. It sparked something in them.

“The poems cover lots of subjects. There is one about a woman who begs which made us talk about how, while some things have changed, some have stayed the same.” 

Alun Davies, a teacher at Shire Oak Primary School said: “It's always good for schools to work with experts, who can bring their enthusiasm and passion for a particular subject area.

“Anna's knowledge of Wordsworth has stoked pupils’ interest in the stories and history behind Wordsworth's writing.

“After each session, the children are keen to tell me what they have learned and often regale me with details of their new favourite poem.

“On a wider theme, the related art project has helped them draw on their own communities, as Wordsworth did with his, to inspire some personal and individual pieces of work which I am very much looking forward to seeing displayed in Leeds Central Library.”

The Creative Communities public engagement project is part of the collaborative doctoral award, ‘Wordsworth, Creativity, and Cumbrian Communities’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This research examines how Wordsworth interacted with a variety of communities within Cumbria, his impact upon these communities, and their impact upon his work.

Creative Communities: Wordsworth in Leeds will be at Leeds Central Library from 9 January – 3 February.


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