What’s it like to be a writing mentor?

Posted by theministry on 17th November 2011

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Ministry.

Without the time, commitment and dedication of our writing mentors, thousands of children would not have their names in print. But what is it really like?

Chris Cox has contributed to many sessions at the Ministry and this is what he had to say about mentoring on the Newsbreakers holiday project:

Before volunteering on the Newsbreakers project – producing a newspaper with 9-14-year-olds, in just five days – I had little experience working with young people.

But having completed my Story Minister training and a couple of workshops, I had an overwhelming urge to leap into the deep end with my arms and legs outstretched.

And while that kind of behaviour will have you thrown out of your local swimming pool, at the Ministry it’s positively encouraged.

It was an amazing experience. The young writers, who came from all kinds of backgrounds, were a joy to work with – smart, funny and focussed.

And having just finished working in an office where public sector cuts had sapped morale, it was incredibly refreshing working with a team of volunteers and Ministry staff who are all committed to the same goal – inspiring young writers – and were happy to be working towards it.

We broke up into three teams: news, features and reviews. As the only Minister on the news team who could commit to five days, I became its unofficial leader. This meant briefing a revolving group of mentors each morning, pairing them with young writers and explaining any special needs to bear in mind.

Sometimes this group included teachers with ten years experience (i.e. a lot more than me), but the point about the Ministry is that there are no egos. Really, there aren’t.

And that sometimes means you can find yourself in leadership positions you wouldn’t have expected; but it also means that you’ll be trusted, respected and supported in a way that makes everything seem possible. This really was one of the most rewarding aspects for me.

There were some golden moments during the week. A particular favourite was one of our youngest reporters interrupting an interviewee and demanding to see some evidence to back up her claims. (Now there’s a journalist, I thought.)

Or when we took our news team out to find some last-minute stories, only to find ourselves interviewing some of Hoxton Street’s gruffest shopkeepers… but we still came away with the scoop.

The most inspiring thing I realised was that sharing your skills with the Ministry is not just a one-way transaction. If it was, there wouldn’t be any magic in it. So it wasn’t just me teaching young people about journalism: their curiosity and creativity taught me something too.

I realised what I love most about journalism is that it depends on your curiosity and your hunger for stories; how you have to pull those golden threads out from the weave of daily life. Working with young writers getting their first taste of journalism took me back to its most simple but most thrilling elements.

We can’t thank Chris and all our other volunteers enough. If Chris’s story has inspired you to join the troops, the Chief is always looking for new writing mentors.

Remember, you don’t have to be a teacher or writer or even a 16th Century poet; you just need enthusiasm. So read more and sign up here to join the ranks and be part of this story.

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