What goes on at SlamJam?

Check out the impressive work SlamJam is doing to encourage young people into poetry and spoken word.

What goes on at SlamJam?

Could you first introduce yourself for the reader?

Hello! I'm Jan, Creative Director of SlamJam, which is a spoken word programme for young people aged 11-18 which takes place in the East Midlands and beyond.

What happens at the organisation?

SlamJam provides poetry workshops for each school, with professional poets working with young people to investigate new ways of writing poetry. 

Each year, schools sign up to take part in SlamJam, which is included as part of a poetry unit in the normal school curriculum. Young people learn about how different spoken word poetry is from page poetry, and they then get the opportunity to write their own. Schools hold their own internal slam events and their winners go on to represent their school in a regional competition. 

What do you offer to young people?

SlamJam offers a rare opportunity for young people to write about whatever subject matters to them. It can be a protest, a humorous observation, the sharing of a secret, a description of something wonderful or horrifying. There are no limits so it’s very liberating. And although of course we look for quality of expression in both the writing and the performance, SlamJam is not interested in spelling!

Performing your own work in front of an audience is a huge risk. For many young people it means stepping firmly outside their comfort zone, so the sense of achievement afterwards is fantastic and can be a real turning point for many.

What activities are most popular for young people and why?

The workshops with professional poets always go down well – the poets are experienced in working with young people, and use a variety of writing techniques that are engaging and new. An impressive 71% of all workshop participants said that they felt an improvement in how they felt after the workshop from how they felt before they began, so I think young people enjoy expressing themselves and getting the opportunity to release creativity.

We always ask SlamJam participants to complete an evaluation of their experience, and the most frequent comments refer to the pride they felt in completing their own poem for the first time, and that they managed to have the courage to perform it to their peers. They also comment on how good it is to be able to write about whatever they like. 

Could you give an example of a recent project you have run, and the impact it had?

In June we held our 2019 Final – 22 amazing performances from 26 awesome young people who wrote their own pieces. 

Each piece had to be no more than 3 minutes long, and performed without the aid of a script. The audience was blown away by the variety of subjects covered, as well as the power of delivery; the overall winner this year was Jasmine Ashworth, from Louth, who wrote expressively and beautifully about being autistic, in her poem ‘Green’. 

Have you seen any change in the industry over the last few years? Is it positive or negative?

The biggest problem for SlamJam recently has been the reluctance some schools have to take young people off timetable to attend a writing workshop. The intense scrutiny of results now means that schools are reluctant to make any changes to the normal school day, and some schools do not see the value in this type of opportunity. 

In addition, the huge budget constraints that schools are currently experiencing means that it becomes difficult to find the necessary funding to transport young people to competition events. SlamJam recognises this is a problem, and so far – thanks to financial support from Arts Council England and the Rotary Club - has been able to make participation in the programme free to schools. 

Do you run Arts Award or offer a Trinity College qualification?  If so, what do you offer and how can young people get involved?

SlamJam runs a Young Producers programme, which enables young people to achieve the Silver Arts Award by planning and producing the Final of the competition. Each participant undertakes their own personal Arts Challenge, as well as working as a team to produce the spoken word event, which is open to the public and held in a local Performing Arts Centre. Young people volunteer to get involved, and they have a weekly session consisting of workshops, visits and talks that help them to understand the different aspects of running an event, working in an arts venue, marketing and audience development.

Where can people find out more about the work you do?

If a school or Youth Club wanted to get involved in SlamJam, they could email us at [email protected] to find out more. You can see this year’s video clip on our new YouTube channel – https://youtu.be/PlnGZrSFzW0 - this will tell you a bit more about us!


Sienna James

Sienna James Voice Team

Formerly Assistant Editor, Sienna now studies History of Art at the University of Cambridge and loves to write about the intersection of politics, history and visual art. Sienna is author of the Creative Education and Instaviews series.

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