The idea for Paperchains came from author A.G. Smith, whose ground-breaking work in prisons has been highlighted by Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire and BBC Radio 4’s PM. It was created following the Prime Minister’s announcement of the first UK lockdown as a means of providing a creative outlet to help people cope.
The platform, co-founded by David Kendall, allows those who have experience of prison, homelessness or the armed forces to share poetry, art, fiction or factual journal entries. During the second UK lockdown, Paperchains turned the spotlight on the work of young people, including armed forces families.
Army&You is delighted to share the reactions of service young people, whose winning entries captured what the pandemic and lockdown meant to them…
My military family: Dad Tony, serving with The Royal Tank Regiment, mum Grace, brother Reuben and dog Dillan.
Amelia says: “My poem highlighted a theme which feels like a taboo subject, mental ill health and suicide in young people, and the rise of it during the pandemic. I’ve struggled with my own mental health and have become increasingly aware of the lack of funding to organisations who help young people. Military children can experience difficulties accessing professional help because of long wait times and having to start the referral process again, with each move.
“This piece is very personal. People who have the feelings described in the poem often feel alone but there are so many people experiencing mental ill health and intrusive, suicidal thoughts. It’s so important to reach out and not suffer in silence. I hope that by sharing my experiences, it will help others.
“I’m extremely grateful to win as I love writing – it’s an important part of my life. I’m thrilled to be part of an exhibition at The Hay Festival, as well as having my poem published. Cambridge University Press also offered a prize, which was exciting.”
My military family: Dad Liam, who is in the REME, mum Louise, a lecturer at Fife College, and black Labrador Bonnie (3).
Connor says: “I wrote my poem Lockdown Deliveries because COVID-19 meant that I was at home for a long time. My mum and dad had to work from home, and I had to learn from home. We didn’t go to the shops, so my mum and dad would order everything on the internet. The doorbell would ring and we’d all rush to see who the delivery was for, even Bonnie. One day the delivery wasn’t for my mum, dad or me, it was for Bonnie. That’s where I got my inspiration for the poem. The poem reminds me of a strange time of everything being online. I wasn’t worried as I felt safe and we were all healthy. “It was great getting back to normal, playing football and going to school, but I still enjoy getting a parcel delivered.
“I was really shocked that I’d won the silver award. “I’m very happy that it made the people at Paperchains laugh, and I hope it makes other people smile too.”
My military family: Dad David, who is a member of the Royal College of Defence Studies, mum Natia and twin brother Oto.
Location: London, originally from Georgia.
Elene says: “There are not many things you can do in lockdown. I decided to draw. It makes me feel good and it’s the easiest way for me to express my feelings. “When mum told me about the Paperchains project, I immediately thought of the pandemic that kept us away from our family and friends, the demonstrations against racism, and the California fires.
“I knew that it should be a black and white drawing, as 2020 had no colours. I also knew that it should not be a perfect drawing, but rough, obscure, not nice and not beautiful. That is how I felt in 2020. I am proud of it. I can draw much nicer and more beautiful drawings, but this piece is a part of me and reflects how I and other children of my age saw 2020.
“It feels like I achieved something. Paperchains enables people to be heard, motivates free expression through the perfect means of communication, art. “I’ve never been the winner of such a big project. I like how happy and how proud my family are – it doubles my joy.”
My military family: Dad James is in the RAMC, mum Emma – a criminal lawyer, little sister Hetty and cat Harri.
Isabella says: “I wrote a poem about the things I love about books during the first lockdown. My favourite things are reading, history and ballet and during lockdown it made me think about how important reading is, so that you can escape and go on an adventure even if I can’t go anywhere in real life.
“I wrote about how I was feeling, and which books I’d been thinking about or reading at that time. However, if I wrote it now, it might be different because of the books I’ve been reading more recently. It could be a changing poem for anyone at any moment, in any place and no matter what kind of books you like. I feel proud that something I wrote for fun has won a prize. I’m even more pleased that Cressida Cowell read it and liked it because she’s an author that I look up to and I love reading her books.
My military family: Dad Neil is in the army, brother Noah (14), sister Isabelle (10), two dogs, Steve and Peggy, and pony, Bonnie.
James says: “While studying for my GCSEs I became very stressed at all the work and pressure to revise for my exams. I was part of a creative writing club at school and decided to write a poem about exam stress. When lockdown came and my exams were cancelled, I decided to amend the poem, describing how it felt to have your exams cancelled.
“I was mainly inspired by my own feelings of stress but also my friends as we all felt like we’d been cheated when our exams were cancelled. I drew on that when writing the poem.
“To me, this piece acts as a voice for all young people whose exams were cancelled after months of stress over revision, and not being able to show our efforts. I hope it acts as consolation for the others who felt as I did.
“I was completely shocked to be a winner. I didn’t expect anything as amazing as this to happen and I’m glad my poem has moved so many.”
To see the winning entries, CLICK HERE. Paperchains – paperchains.org – has become an acclaimed success drawing support from the likes of Anthony Horowitz, Martina Cole, Man Booker author Stephen Kelman, Cressida Cowell, Dragon’s Den’s Piers Linney and many more. In 2021 Paperchains will be an event at Hay Festival, a book and a touring theatre production. For more information on its creator, A.G. Smith, visit weepingbankproductions.co.uk