Hello and welcome to the new Arts Council England
funded project from Offa’s Press
If you’ve attended any of the workshops Offa’s Press has run over the years at Pant or The Stiperstones, you’ll know we’re passionate about the beautiful countryside we have here in the West Midlands. Humans have a long, complex history of living and working in the countryside – sometimes to its benefit, sometimes to its detriment.
Poets have been inspired by the human impact on nature (and vice versa!) for centuries, and we want to explore this relationship further with the In the Sticks project.
One such example is the ‘lost’ village of Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. Brindley Village started life in WWI as a military hospital built to support troops returning from the battlefields in Europe. After the war, the West Cannock Colliery Company repurposed the hospital buildings to house the families of their mine workers.
For thirty years, families lived in the converted bungalows, sending their children to play on the surrounding heathland. In the 1950s, the village was demolished and the residents were moved to council housing in Hednesford. Shortly afterwards, Cannock Chase was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Today, the area is a mixed woodland, home to abundant wildlife, and is a popular spot for walkers and cyclists. Some of the animals and birds you can see in the woodland include speckled wood butterflies, nuthatches, long-tailed tits, robins, squirrels, fallow deer, and greater-spotted woodpeckers, while the surrounding heathland is home to stonechats, swallows, buzzards, cuckoos, common lizards, and pipistrelle bats.
You can still see signs of the village’s history if you look closely. Domestic plants such as rhododendron and laurel have overgrown to form tunnels, and the trees which were in gardens have grown into a woodland. Foundations of buildings can be glimpsed amongst the undergrowth, and the entrance stone to the hospital is a focal point for floral tributes which are left around the village to remember the former residents.
As we’re in a very strange time of lockdown and social distancing, it’s not possible to run a workshop on Cannock Chase right now. However, we’re inviting you to take part in a virtual workshop, writing in response to the history of Brindley Village.
We’ve compiled a host of resources for you to learn all about the history of the area – and even to visit yourself, if you like! Alternatively, you can take a tour of Brindley Village from the comfort of your armchair. You can still see signs of the village’s history if you look closely.
Take a look through our notes, photographs, and walking guide to get a feel for how the area has changed in the past 100 years, and plan your own visit to Brindley Village.
Read our recommended poems to consider the impact of people moving out of the countryside (on both communities and nature), and finally, work through our writing exercises to get those creative juices flowing.
Get Involved with In the Sticks
Over the next 12 months, we’ll be running more workshops all over the West Midlands, focusing on different aspects of how people interact with the countryside around them. At the end of the project we hope to create an anthology which represents the reality of life ‘In the Sticks’.
In the meantime, we’ll be providing updates and publishing some of the best poems right here on our blog. We’ll also work with you to provide feedback on poems you produce as a result of our workshops. Make sure you polish those poems up and submit them when we open our submission window!