Author A G Smith has launched Paperchains, a project that aims to publish a book of writing by prisoners, homeless people and members of the armed forces about the coronavirus lockdown next year.
People are being asked to submit their responses to the lockdown in the form of a journal entry, short story, poem, sketch or painting.
Run by Smith and David Kendall, founder of prison literature project Penned Up, Paperchains will culminate in an exhibition at the 2021 Hay Festival, with the team in talks with publishers over releasing a book next year as well. A theatrical version is also planned, visiting shelters, prisons and community centres alongside theatres.
Smith, who has regularly featured on TV and radio for his work in prisons over the past 13 years, said he came up with the idea during lockdown.
He explained: “We know there's been 23-hour lockup for a lot of the prisoners which is unimaginable really for the majority of us. I started to think about the crisis we're going through and I thought for the first time ever we're all kind of getting a bit of a flavour of what it's like to be a prisoner and to be separated. Alongside that you start to think of other groups that are going through this on a daily basis. I started to think about obviously our homeless citizens and people deployed into the Army and separated from families.”
Smith said: “My goal is for sections of the chain to eventually become an exhibition that is a proud record of the voices that are crying out to be heard just as much as everyone else. I want us to create something that future generations will study as they try to understand what this time must have been like for those who lived through it.”
He said authors including Martina Cole, Stephen Kelman and Anthony Horowitz had come forward to support the project by lending their support on social media or putting the word out to contacts.
Smith said: “It's almost been a little bit like the end of 'Its A Wonderful Life'. There hasn't been a single person who's said no.
“What's been absolutely wonderful is everybody has got it straight away. It's a project for those communities, there's no agenda to it. It's shining a spotlight on those voices that we don't often get to hear about.”
Since word of the project started getting out, Smith said people had been suggesting doing something similar but separate for those in referral units or victims of domestic violence.
He said: “It feels like this is the beginning. It's the first phase and it's fabulous and it's great to get it out there and get people reading about it and championing it but I hope it's got a lot of legs to help a lot more communities as time goes on.”
Entries must be submitted by 5th July via email@example.com or sent to Paperchains, PO Box 7482, Stourbridge DY8 9HH.