Author Ann Cleeves helps Unite bus drivers get creative with words

Bus drivers in Bristol got the chance to be creative with their words thanks to two days of sessions set up by their Unite Learning Coordinator that included a Q & A with award winning crime and Quick Reads author Ann Cleeves. 

Ann Cleeves supports Unite learners
Ann and Unite members get reading - Rachel Carter, Ian Lassman, Sally Gardner, Lou Guy, Ann Cleeves, Sue Jacobs (TULR), Lis Jeffery, Kath Williams, Catherine Powell (TULR) and James Freeman (First Bus MD)

Louise Guy is a bus driver and the Unite the union Regional Learning Coordinator with First West of England and set up the sessions to support creative writing in her workplace. 

Louise explained:

We have a number of colleagues throughout the region who are either self-published or, dipping their toes into Creative Writing and yet whenever competitions are run the response is always really poor from our region so... I wondered whether it was a lack ofconfidence that was causing this.” 

I am also aware that there is a real issue around dyslexia, lack of confidence in reading and writing, and a huge group of drivers who are desperate to improve their English, spoken, written and read so this seemed a perfect way to build confidence in the region.” 

The two days of sessions started on a Thursday morning with a Creative Writing Workshop, the afternoon was a reading group which turned out to form part of the editing process of Ann Cleeves' as yet unpublished novel 'The Long Call'. Friday Morning was a Creative Writing Workshop and the afternoon was a Question and Answer session hosted by local author Lis Jeffery. 

These proved very popular and over the course of the two days the union played host to 35 people from First Bus, library services and Unite - many signed up for one session then attended more. 

In a bit of coupe for the branch Ann Cleeves ran both Creative Writing Workshops, the Reading Group as well as taking part in the Q&A.  

Louise explained how she persuaded Ann to attend:

The event came about because I work with Ann’s nephew, Simon, we both drive buses out of Marlborough St depot in Bristol. Before attending a book signing and Q&A with Ann as part of the launch of 'The Reading Challenge' last year I joked with Simon about cool it would be if she came to Bristol to work with us on Creative Writing. He dared me to ask her at the launch! And... the rest is history.” 

Louise desperately wanted to kickstart a reading and writing initiative within her region and had been really floundering as to how to go about it. Thanks to the workshops events Louise now has the beginnings of: 

  • an Anthology of Crime Short stories (begun in the Creative Writing Classes),  
  • A short story competition which we are hoping to throw out to the whole of the region both within First Bus and the Unite Community  
  • creative writing workshops and a reading group to be held initially at Tony Benn House in Bristol with the aim of rolling out through the region, which have been organised by Tazim Ladhu. She will be supported by Kay Hinde, a community activist and Sue Jacobs, the TULR for Marlborough Street Depot.
  • a liaison with library services, initially in Bristol, to support the reading initiative for children through the summer and the Reading Challenge from September whilst tying it in with work with Read Easy to gain support for those with Dyslexia and give support to non-confident readers.

Louise said:

Not only was I incredulous that the event even took place but, the connections and offers of help it created have been truly mindblowing!” 

 Louise was also really pleased with the support she had from the employer, saying that:

First Bus paid for us to hold the venue in St. James' Priory which is right next door to Bristol Bus and Coach Station. They also covered the event through their own publicists and our MD, James Freeman, my Operations Manager, Gavin Hawkins, The Director of HR, Kevin Watson-Griffiths and our Employee Director, Steve Scott all got involved.” 

Lunch was paid for by the Cityline Branch of Unite, through their Branch Convenor, Jim Stevens, who also took part in Friday morning's Creative Writing Workshop.” 

In addition to this Louise was given an extra day's release to run it, and her Unite reps were all released as part of their learning days to attend. 

Louise really can’t believe how well the events went, the support she received and how inspirational they were. 

Louise said:

Through the generosity of Ann, and the support of Pan McMillan we had two completely magical days which have already created opportunities I could have only dreamed of this time last week. In addition, everyone who attended received a proof copy of Ann's as yet unpublished novel 'The Long Call' and we have spares which we'll be able to use as prizes and incentives over the next few months.” 

Everyone who attended came away inspired. And Ann Cleeves was a complete joy to work alongside. It will be a very long time indeed before I stop smiling!”