'It feels like family'

Wednesday, October 31, 2018
By: 
Alex Fairhill

A photo of Inner Gippsland writing group members and Local Mentor Scot Gardner
Inner Gippsland writing group members (from left) James, Julie, Jess, Local Mentor Scot Gardner, and Darren.

The Inner Gippsland Write-ability Goes Regional and Online Writing Group recently finished its eight-month run under the program. Write-ability Project Assistant Alex Fairhill joined the group in Moe to celebrate the participants’ work, and hear about plans for the group to continue.

The relationships developed within the Inner Gippsland Write-ability Goes Regional and Online (WGRO) Writing Group were clear at the final session, with participants saying they found it ‘incredibly freeing’ and there was ‘overwhelming acceptance and positivity’.

‘It feels like family,’ said group member Jackie.

Under the guidance of Local Mentor Scot Gardner, the group met in Moe once a month for eight months to develop their writing skills and connections – and the strong, open and supportive bond they’ve developed was clear as they shared their writing.

From responses to writing exercises presented during the sessions, to non-fiction about the Social Model of Disability sparked by discussion at the region’s Own Voices: Why Writing Matters forum in March, and an action-packed YA fantasy excerpt, the writing demonstrated the different genres and styles in the group – and highlighted the fact that the participants were all there because they had one thing in common: a passion for and interest in writing.

The program is designed for writers of all levels and genres, and the Local Mentors in each region tailor the meetings to participants’ interests. The eight sessions also include two webinars and a visit from a guest tutor who runs a workshop on a topic specifically for that group.

The WGRO writing groups are specifically for people who identify as having disability – and while writing about or with disability, day-to-day life and the NDIS do come up regularly – the focus, as participant Julie said, is ‘on what we can do, not on our disabilities’.

Through supporting people to tell their own stories, WGRO aims to tackle the misconception of a universal experience of ‘disability’. The Moe participants overwhelmingly agreed that everyone’s experience of disability was unique; and being part of the group had made them more accepting and provided a greater outlook on the everyday life of others.

The social aspect was also important, with many participants finding the regular meetings and learning new writing techniques gave them a break from home, something to aim for, and the chance to catch up with new friends.

Like the Central Highlands and Loddon groups before it, the final session of the Inner Gippsland cohort was a well-deserved opportunity to share their achievements – and cake and biscuits.

‘I love having the group celebrated,’ said participant James, ‘and diversity being lauded and celebrated in a big way.’

For me, having met many of the members at the forum, it was a highlight of my role to see the group’s connection and experience, through the moving, funny and artful pieces they were generous enough to share, how their passion for writing has grown. We’re delighted that the participants will continue to meet in Moe and look forward to seeing more wonderful words.

About Alex Fairhill

Alex is an emerging YA writer, WV’s Write-ability Project Assistant, and was the Local Mentor for the Central Highlands WGRO Writing Group in Ballarat.