Arvon takes inclusive steps for 50th anniversary and Borthwick steps down

Arvon takes inclusive steps for 50th anniversary and Borthwick steps down

National writing charity Arvon has made a raft of changes to encourage inclusivity, through discounted places for young people and online tutorials, as part of its 50th year celebrations as its head Ruth Borthwick (below right) announces her departure after a decade-long stint.

Last month the organisation, renowned for its residential writing courses, celebrated its half-century anniversary with the publication of The Golden Book, an anthology of stories and poems about Arvon from tutors and participants, as well as launching a range of measures to widen participation.

It introduced a programme of one-to-one Skype tutorials, from tutors such as Kerry Young and Chris Wakling, last week to ensure people who could not attend residentials could be involved. Other newly unveiled offerings include shorter three-day and four-day residential courses and half-price concessions for 18-26 year olds on selected courses. The reduced prices on selected courses with late availability “are intended to make Arvon courses more inclusive, hopefully attracting a wider range of ages to our courses”, the organisation said. 

The Golden Book was launched at an Arvon 50th anniversary event at Free Word in Clerkenwell last month featuring contributors such as Simon Armitage, Mark Haddon, Tim Firth, Patience Agbabi, Esther Freud and David Almond. The David Pease Award was also announced - an annual prize of two free places on an Arvon residential playwriting course to playwrights under 30.

The developments around the organisation's 50th are announced as Borthwick, chief executive and artistic director, revealed her decision to leave the charity. She will step down in April 2019, after a decade in the role. When she does leave she "plans to do some writing, and also to continue to find ways to improve diversity in the literature sector," Arvon told The Bookseller.

During Borthwick’s tenure at Arvon, she has directed 10 artistic seasons of Arvon’s creative writing courses at its three rural writing houses in England. One of the most significant achievements during her tenure was the planning, fundraising for and completion of a major capital development project completed in 2014 at The Hurst in Shropshire, playwright John Osborne’s former home, Arvon said.

For Borthwick, “diversity and access for young people have remained priorities”, Arvon said. The demographics of people attending courses, tutors teaching and those benefiting from Arvon’s outreach work across the country have all seen "significant improvements" under her tenure, it said, especially in respect of BAME tutors (30% of all tutors in 2017) and attendance on courses by BAME writers and writers with a disability.

Borthwick praised the changes encouraging more inclusion, commenting: “The new online tutorials, shorter courses and course concessions show that Arvon is looking to play a vital role in the future generations of writers as well.”

On her departure, she said further: “It has been a privilege to lead Arvon over the past 10 years. Arvon is unique in the world of creative writing in that it exists outside the academy and not only believes that creative writing can benefit anyone, but actively encourages adults and children from all parts of society to step away from their routines and be inspired by great writers and beautiful places to unlock their imaginative potential.

“I believe that after 10 years in the job it is now time for a new generation to take the helm and lead Arvon in to the next decade. I look forward to seeing how Arvon will continue to adapt and grow in its support of writers who have new stories to tell.”

Totleigh Barton Arvon Centre

Jeremy Treglown, chair of trustees, said: “Ruth’s dedication, firm leadership and vision have brought Arvon to a position of financial stability and enhanced reputation. Literally thousands of people owe her a debt for her role in their being helped to express their experiences and imaginings in written words.  On behalf of the Board I want to express much gratitude for a wonderful ten years and wish her all the best with her future projects. Following on from the successful events to celebrate Arvon’s 50th year, the team looks forward to finding a new chief executive who will lead the charity, building on Ruth’s legacy.”

The search for Borthwick’s successor will be handled by Heather Newill at the AEM recruitment consultancy, who can be contacted on info@aeminternational.co.uk.

Arvon was originally founded in 19468 by two poets, John Moat and John Fairfax, with the original aim of providing time and space away from school for young people to write poetry.