If you cast your mind back to early March of this year, 2020 was just getting started and the year seemed full of possibilities. We had just selected our shortlist of nine writers when the global conversation became dominated by something called Coronavirus. Then lockdown hit.
Five months later, the world is looking very different. The arts and culture sector has been hit hard by the crisis, and while we’re not sure how long this difficult period will last, it’s clear that recovery will be a slow process. We are immensely proud of how our cohort has dealt with the pandemic and are amazed by their resilience and determination to create something new - despite doing most of their R&D through isolation! Many of them have had to change or pivot the original ideas, but they have each created a unique experience that demonstrates the possibilities of this format.
What have we been up to?
In October 2019, we launched an open call to find writers that wanted to work in a different way through our project, Alternarratives. We set out to explore what the future of short-form fiction could look like and wanted to know how stories could come to life if writers used all the tools at their disposal to tell them in new and exciting ways, and to find out what support they might need along the way.
Research has shown that reading for pleasure dramatically decreases in young people after they leave primary school, despite the fact that we know children who enjoy reading and writing are happier. Reading for pleasure has a four times greater impact on academic success than one parent having a degree and yet 1 in 11 disadvantaged children in the UK say that they don’t have a book of their own. Sadly, the recent UK lockdown has only exacerbated the problem, with the gender gap in children's reading increasing dramatically. Nesta was keen to explore this and so we decided the prize would encourage storytellers to imagine how short-form fiction could help re-engage young people at secondary school, focusing on those aged 13-16, with the act of reading.
Having shortlisted nine writers, we supported the cohort to bring their project ideas to life with £1.5k of development funding, three days of workshops (virtually, of course!), 1:1 mentor sessions, creative technologist support and three months of R&D time.
We now want the public’s help to choose the final £15,000 prize winner. In collaboration with BBC Taster, we’re looking for 13-16 year olds from across the UK to test, rate and share their thoughts on the final projects. The selection process will have multiple stages and we will use the public feedback to select a final winner with our expert panel.
Why the age range?
Anyone can view, rate and give feedback on the projects, but we’re really keen to understand how to encourage more people at secondary school to engage with reading and to capture this learning. Research has shown this is where the biggest drop in engagement happens, and we want to know how to make exciting content that this audience will want to experience.
How do I get involved?
You can view all the projects on the BBC Taster website and give feedback to help with the selection from 7 August to 14 September 2020. Don’t forget to add your rating, along with answering some quick questions on the BBC Taster website to capture your thoughts.