History of WoW
Writing on the Wall grew from the discussions amongst those involved in creating the film ‘Dockers’, a 1999 Channel 4 film about a dispute involving a lock-out of 500 Liverpool Dockers from 1995 to 1997. WoW began as a Millennium Project supported by the John Moores Foundation, which focused on the delivery of a week-long festival of events. In 2002, recognising the success of the previous two years and in line with the ethos and aims of those involved, WoW became a registered charity. With no employees, and relying entirely upon the voluntary activities of trustees, advisors and volunteers, WoW’s first steps as an autonomous body were tentative, but it soon became apparent that the organisation was taking a very different approach to the promotion of writing than traditional literature organisations. This led to its funding from Arts Council England, Liverpool City Council, and a range of other public-sector and charitable bodies. What attracted these organisations to WoW was an agenda that focused on social inclusion, emphasising the positive benefits of reading, writing and debate on marginalised and excluded communities. From community cohesion to lifelong health benefits, WoW believes that creativity has the power to improve people’s lives and positively change the communities in which we all live and work.
During this period, WoW began to attract plaudits for organising a festival that took writing into local communities. From community centres in Netherton to libraries in Speke, and all points between, WoW worked with schoolchildren and the elderly, with black and minority ethnic groups, and with disabled and other excluded groups. This was to ensure that Liverpool’s ‘cultural offer’ was broad enough to include the creative work of all of Liverpool, and not just the esteemed publications of a narrowly defined elite. WoW also developed a reputation as an organisation willing to work in partnership with those who shared similar goals and ethos: primary and secondary schools, housing associations, local film and TV production companies, Health Action Zones, prisons, women’s refuges and advice centres, youth organisations, community theatres and other not-for-profit organisations such as Apples and Snakes, CommonWord, The Kuumba Imani Centre, North End Writers, The Reader Organisation, Liverpool City Libraries, the Workers Education Association and The Big Issue.
As well as organising public events as part of an annual festival, the late 2000s saw the organisation branch out into year-long creative projects, in particular filmmaking in schools and other creative youth work. Once WoW had sold-out The Empire Theatre, with thousands attending screenings of films scripted, produced and edited entirely by schoolchildren, the organisation began to realise that it had outgrown its voluntary base, and began to source funding for a full-time festival coordinator. This search for funding was successful, and in late 2005 WoW welcomed our first full-time coordinator, Madeline Heneghan, who is now the organisations’ full-time Co-Director. In 2010 Mike Morris, a founding member of WoW, joined Madeline as part of the leadership team, working together as Co-Directors to shape WoW’s strategic development.
WoW is now one of the countries longest-running writing/literary festivals, having delivered a festival each year since 2000, featuring many guests representing literature, spoken word and a range of other art forms. In 2008, to celebrate Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year, WoW expanded from a one-week programme, to two weeks and to 30 plus events each year during the month of May. Previous guests have included: Irvine Welsh, Germaine Greer, Walter Mosely, Anne Enright, Roddy Doyle, Al Kennedy, Benjamin Zephaniah, Lemn Sissay, Blake Morrisson, China Mieville, Debjani Chatterjee, Darcus Howe, Don Letts, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Jimmy McGovern, Alexei Sayle, Jean Binta Breeze, and many more.
Our annual programme includes a range of creative writing and heritage projects: Write to Work, What’s Your Story?, Superheroes: Words Are Our Power, and many more, in communities and schools across the region. WoW organises one-off events and writing development workshops, including Pulp Idol (our longstanding free-to-enter competition for aspiring novelists, which has showcased the work of over 200 unpublished writers), and our acclaimed creative heritage projects – The George Garrett Archive, From Great War to Race Riots and The Liverpool 8 Law Centre Archive.
In 2011 WoW became an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation, one of only 800 arts organisations to have been awarded this status. As of 2018 we have been awarded NPO again, with a four-year funding programme to support our work. We have diversified our funding base too, with Arts Council funding representing just 35% of our annual turnover. We receive support from a range of other funders, including Culture Liverpool, Heritage Lottery and The Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
In March 2017, after being offered office space by the regional library managers, we moved into Toxteth Library. This beautiful library, opened in 1902 and refurbished in 2008, is the perfect fit for our base, profile, project and festival work. Situated on the edge of Liverpool 8 and the city centre, it maintains our community base while giving us easy access to the centre and rest of the city. We are already delivering projects, book launces and showcase events within the library – including Write to Work and Rap Vs Rhyme, and in October 2017 hosted our first ever Black History Month programme.
The increased office space came at a good time for us, as we have also expanded our staff to seven – the most staff we have ever employed. They are all creative and dedicated and are having a positive impact on our ability to expand and improve our profile, projects and festival, as well as allowing the leadership team to look to the long-term impact sustainability of our work.