Schools enjoy Young Writers Festival at Downing 

On 30 March, more than 240 school students (aged between 11 and 18) from 15 schools came to Downing as part of First Story’s Young Writers Festival 2023. It was the first time that Downing had hosted the festival.

The day kicked off with the schools arriving at the Chemistry lecture theatre for an introduction to the university from Dr Bonnie Lander Johnson. 

The event was headlined by children’s author and playwright, Manjeet Mann, with sound and spoken word performances from Broken Orchestra.

After the welcome, the young writers moved over to Downing, where they enjoyed writing workshops, and an expo which included a book stall, a poetry tombola and stalls from Cambridge University museums and BBC Young Writers Prize.

At lunchtime, students had a tour of Downing led by current College students, many of the young writers appreciated the chance to ask students questions about their university experience.  

This year’s festival also saw the launch of a new writing competition, with Downing alumnus Sir Quentin Blake (English, 1953) drawing an image especially for it. The students will produce a 750 word-maximum story, using Sir Quentin’s image as a writing prompt. The winning entry will be printed alongside the picture in the 2024 issue of Downing’s literary magazine, The Leaves.

The day finished with everyone returning to the main hall for a showcase of the day’s best writing, with students volunteering to take the mic and perform their work.

Many of the young writers spoke of how much they enjoyed the festival and their day at the College.

“The atmosphere was so warm and supportive, and all the writers were really nice and inspirational. The Cambridge student volunteers who toured us around were also nice and helpful,” said one of the festival-goers.

One student said: “It was a really fun experience. The workshops were really fun and it made me more excited for university.”

Another described how they had appreciated having “the chance to enjoy the beauty of a campus of a university college first hand.”

First Story said: “Downing College was a fantastic venue for the festival, giving students a real taste of a Cambridge college and a very special day out. First Story was incredibly grateful for the hard work and enthusiasm from Downing staff and Cambridge student volunteers.

“It was an excellent collaboration and produced an extremely slick festival that was appreciated by hundreds of secondary students and teachers from across England.”

Published 22 May 2023