Q&A with Paul Sherreard of Spread the Word

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.30.59We spoke to Paul Sherreard, Programme Manager at Spread the Word and one of 2016’s Unsung Heroes of Publishing, about Spread the Word’s Flight 1000 programme, the importance of good partnerships and what you can do to further the reach of London’s cultural resources.

  1. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be involved with Spread the Word.

In 2010 I was working for the Keats House Museum as a community engagement officer, and I was running an outreach session in an abandoned shop in Leather Lane market. Spread the Word were there with a poet running a writing workshop. I’d been running a scheme for young poets at the museum but I’d never realised that writer development was a ‘thing’, and so I was interested in Spread the Word from then on. When the Programme Manager job opened up in 2012, I went for it. I will forever associate cheering the women’s rowing at London 2012 (watching online) with my first few weeks here.

  1. What is the planning process like when scheduling STW’s workshop and events programme? Would you say your programme’s primary goals are focused more towards satisfying the practical needs of writers or towards changing London’s literary landscape?

I love the planning process. I get to meet a lot of writers at different stages in their careers, and discuss what skills they want to develop, what issues they want to talk about at events.  Writers pitch things to us fairly often and every now and then a really good idea comes in that we would never have thought of for ourselves.  We have a strategy that we are working to, and a bit of a mission to accomplish, to find and support the best of London’s emerging writers and speak out for diversity in writing, so we try to follow that as guidance while trying to respond to the good ideas that come in.

I think Spread the Word has a role in helping change the literary landscape of London, because we support writers from a range of different backgrounds to develop their craft and their careers. We try to help writers earn money from their writing, and find platforms for their work, and to help them become visible. Some of the writers we have worked with over the years are quite well known now, and there are more coming through,  all very different to each other. We’re trying to help the the literature coming out of London be as relevant, inspiring and diverse as we can. These days, with funding much thinner on the ground, our focus is a bit more practical than it might have been in the past – helping writers earn a living and through that develop a sustainable career is the basis of what we are doing.

  1. You were instrumental in putting together the Flight 1000 scheme, which chooses three associate writers from ethnic minority backgrounds to participate in various literary and publishing projects, which include courses, placements and the creation of an anthology of short stories. To what extent are Flight 1000’s activities managed by Spread the Word? What are the central goals of the programme? And finally, what does the name mean?

The activities of the Associates on the scheme are managed by Spread the Word, with plans for their work closely led by the Associates themselves. – The Associates make a huge contribution to the overall work that we do here, supporting our programming and events as well as developing their own projects. At the moment they are developing the online journal of short fiction which was launched by the previous year’s cohort (flightjournal.org). They’ve been researching and writing an updated editorial policy and working on the branding. They’ll also be responsible for editorial decisions through the submissions process and the launch of the next edition (in June). So for all of that they are largely managing themselves.

There is a certain level of practical work experience that the Associates want to gain in their time on the scheme and it is up to Spread the Word to help them access that experience both with Spread the Word and with other organisations that partner with us to deliver the opportunities. A lot of my time is spent building those partnerships and trying to shape the opportunities to fit the development of the Associates.

The name is related to the 1000 hours the Associates spend on the scheme – they receive a paid bursary to cover 1000 hours of their time, funded by the Esmee Fairbairn foundation. It’s called Flight because this is about helping their career take off.

  1. What is the most important thing you’ve taken away from your time so far as Programme Manager at Spread the Word?

Good partnerships really matter. At a time when funding for arts and culture is reduced and constantly under threat, we all need to work together.

  1. Do you have any advice for people interested in furthering the reach of London’s cultural resources in the public sector and beyond?

As a business or organisation you can further the reach of literature organisations, libraries, arts charities, museums, theatres by collaborating on projects, teaming up on funding bids, and looking at what other sorts of contributions you can make to resources going further – volunteer some time, sit on a board, give business advice, etc.

As an individual, you could support as a volunteer or become a paid member of an organisation; or you can pay to attend a workshop, or a performance. Even if you only do that once a year, it brings vital funds into the organisation. And if you like what the organisation does, tell everyone!

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