RB Writes began as a creative writing competition. 1,600 entries later. It has grown into a blog, review site and more. Ahead of the 2022 round. Here is it’s story.
“That must be a labour of love! Are you insane?”
Comments made in jest or otherwise when Reigate & Banstead Writes slides into converstation. Whilst it has been one of the most satisfying and wonderful experiences of my life – 1,600 stories and counting. It s blooming hard work when the entry period goes ‘live’. My life filled with promotion, dealing with queries and the best bit – reading the stories.
The RB Writes seed planted itself in late 2016, bursting into full bloom in early 2017. I worked as a secondary school library manager and loved encouraging students to write for pleasure, to express themselves through writing – creatively and otherwise.
As a child, I’d won a short story competition run by the local paper and loved the whole experience – not just the winning but the thrill of unknown people enjoying my story. My words.
There wasn’t anything similar for my own students to enter. How hard could it be to establish my own? A competition that would encourage local kids to write and enter their own stories that would go before judges.
The focus less about genre, stories could be fantastical, magical or set in the past. They could be an adventure story or feature spies. Or could simply be a day to day account of life in Redhill. The one golden rule. Stories needed to be about or clearly set in the local area. and more about writing their story about their town.
Would it work? Would kids be into it. Time would tell.
There is nothing like conducting your own ad hoc market research. Who needs fancy marketeers or PR people! My school library colleague-in-arms, the wonderful Katie was full of enthusiasm and pointers, she readily agreed to run it at her (large) school. If nothing else, we thought, we had a cool inter-school competition.
I proceeded to bore friends, colleagues others re my grand plan. Friends who then told their friends about RB Writes, And just like that, I had created a buzz with people approaching me to ask how they could sign up their own kids or could I perhaps promote it to their children’s school?
Dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s’, before any promotion could occur, the finer points needed thrashing out. Sure it was a simple initiative, light on rules. But, a full criteria needed to be in place, against which stories would be judged. Writers needed to know how stories would be submitted and by what date. Who would decide on the winning entries? What would the prizes be? So many questions, so little time to put it together. Assembling judges was easy, the panel of journalists, authors, librarians and teacher agreed readily. It can’t be that bad a gig as they are still happily reading and deciding upon winners five years later.
Creating a wow factor.
Branding. said a wise friend who is something in social media advised me. It is all about the branding. A logo! Social Media presence! Social media friendly graphics. All would help give RB Writes roots and offer legitimacy.
But one small problem. There was NO MONEY behind the competition? So begging, borrowing and stealing favours had to suffice. If nothing else I could re-mortgage the house.
First stop the logo. A scholarly looking logo, Harry Potteresque design. By 2020 and the third round, it evolved into the more insta friendly pink logo. By then, Reigate and Banstead Writes was at the forefront of the first RH community Rock n Write Festival. Sadly, along cameCovid-19 and the planned events never went ahead.
Ready! Steady! Write!
Back to 2017….
Have aliens landed on Reigate Hill? Or perhaps an invasion of ducks in Priory Park? Is there a time-slip portal in the castle grounds? Can you write about a funny day out in Redhill? What is lurking underneath Earlswood Lake? Or is there a mystery to solve on Banstead Downs?
Ideas to get those creative juices flowing.
Entry forms, full details and the blurb winged their way to local schools and the RB Writes army of supporters swung into action. I expected around 50 entries, in my wildest dreams I thought perhaps we would hit the hundred mark….
The inaugural round recieved……. 402 entries!
There were two eventual winners – ‘Beneath’ which depicted a family dog-walk which ended up in sinister goings on in and around Mercer’s Lake, Merstham.
And a re-imagining of Lord of the Rings as a comic quest through the mean streets of Reigate which ended at London Bridge, via Redhill. As in 2022 there were rail strikes underway back in 2017, hampering the best efforts of the Lord of The Rails.
There were prizes of course, thanks to the generosity of local businesses. Most notably Redhill’s Belfry Shopping Centre and the Harlequin Cinema and Theatre.
Local YA authors including Eve Ainsworth, Nicky Mackay and Vashti Hardy have supported the competition, tweeting and re-tweeting, attending celebration afternoons, donating signed books
And the competition has gone from strength to strength, attracting between 4-500 entries. It is a regular feature on the borough’s calendar, has staunch supporters. It won Best Community Initiative as voted by Essential Surrey readers in 2019 and is as James Cannon from BBC Surrey’s breakfast show described it to his listeners.
Surrey’s best creative writing competition.
The format remains unchanged. Kids are asked to write about their towns. There isn’t a corner of the borough that remains unexplored in their stories. It is quite simply, a joyful experience for myself and all involved
Since 2019 there has been an accompanying website. It hosts a regular ‘cultural blog’ and reviews of local and not so local events and of course is the home of the annual competition.
It has turned into something. A key fixture on the local arts scene
And as we get set for the 2022 round of the competition. I hope we inspire many more youngsters to write about their towns and find their writing mojo.
And it shows how a good idea doesn’t need much money or promotion behind it to ‘work’.
It simply works.
Reigate & Banstead Writes began in 2017. The brainchild of Kay Hymas it is now an annual competition. The accompanying website hosts a blog and reviews of local and not so local events