As part of the 14/19 WWI commemorations, the RSL commissioned The Audience Agency to evaluate the impact of a two-tier program, developed to celebrate the centenary of Wilfred Owen’s death. The program aimed to give both RSL members and school pupils the opportunity to re-consider Owen as a poet of peace, rather than war, reflecting the sentiment more than the setting of his poetry.
- The first part of the initiative hinged around the British Library RSL members’ launch of a new edition of Owen’s work, published alongside contemporary poets’ responses to it. In addition to being present to assess the mood of the event itself, The Audience Agency collated and analysed attendees’ e-survey responses – a revealing exercise in the difficulty of reframing such a prominent and established poetic profile.
- Secondarily, assessing the impact of the publication’s companion schools programme was a more involved process. The contributing poets themselves delivered workshops in schools to encourage students to respond to “peace poet” Wilfred Owen’s life and works through their own creative writing. A specialist learning and participation consultant then followed up with pupils to understand the workshops’ impact on both their creative confidence – curricular or extra – and their lasting perceptions of Owen as an artist. The reported positivity of the findings in terms of pupil’s ability to begin articulating an understanding both of war as a human (more than historical) experience and of the acute differences between poetry and reportage in that context, was a very rewarding project legacy.
“A Room of My Own”
To mark the centenary of the publication of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, the RSL developed a project called ‘A Room of My Own’, in honour of Woolf’s treatise on what a writer needs in order to be a writer. This piece of research aimed to understand what those needs look like for writers in the 21st century... Is it about financial support? Is it about space? Is it about recognition? Or something else altogether?
The Audience Agency supported the RSL in designing a survey which was then distributed among writers’ networks, with an invitation for recipients to forward it to further writers in their own personal networks. The analysis and reporting that resulted from the responses is therefore underpinned by three important aspects:
- Neither The Audience Agency not the RSL imposed any sort of external definition of what constitutes a ‘writer’, but allowed respondents to identify as such for themselves.
- Respondents were, therefore, entirely self-identifying, in terms both of identifying themselves as writers and of their responses to questions around class, financial stability and so forth.
- Similarly, the invitation for initial respondents to pass the survey along makes it self-selecting, so whilst it reached a broad church of ‘writers’, it could not, of course, encompass every self-identified writer in the country.
This fluidity was an intentional aspect of the survey, as the RSL wanted to understand the responses in the writers’ own voices. The sample size transpired to be robust, if skewed – large enough to give a reliable indication of the landscape of writers currently working in the UK and the direction that things might need to go in order to support them in future.
The published report was a key positioning piece in the RSL’s efforts to demonstrate the extent to and manner in which writers need support in order to pursue their profession. It is an important tool to evidence the, perhaps expected, reality that writers from lower socio-economic backgrounds feel less supported, less well-remunerated and consequently less financially independent, whilst those from self-identified privileged backgrounds are significantly more likely to be regularly earning at least £30k per annum.