I have not taken part in an online group of any kind previously and was as a result a little hesitant about joining. I need not have been. I was immediately made to feel welcome and at home, which though similar are not the same thing.
The format of the session is straightforward and easy to understand and relate to with two main sections, the major task which has a video/ and or poem which leads into and up to it with a link published in advance, and the freewriting session.
Both sessions encourage all the participants to produce writing, and manage to do so with a regularity which is remarkable. The freewriting is on a topic chosen by one of the group by negotiation with the group leader in advance but not announced prior to the session. This gives the session an element of the unknown though the format is fixed week to week. That balance between the familiar and the unknown is successful. It also allows an additional sense of ownership to group members where the sense of shared participation is already high.
The major task is provided by Jayne as group leader. The tasks are always well chosen and are set at the right level of challenge for all members of the group, though Jayne is also at pains to check for response to each of the tasks on a weekly basis. The level of challenge has if anything increased but this is appropriate given the clearly growing confidence of each of the participants.
What is noticeable about the writing which is produced is that week in week out it is both a remarkably high standard, and that it expresses the distinctive voice of each of the participants. Voice is highly personal and not easy to express or necessarily share with confidence particularly in a situation which is not face to face. This group provides a context where this is not only possible but actively encouraged and is both an aspect and measure of its success.
The tone has been set by Jayne as group leader, but there is a good deal of followership. Each of the participants regularly makes encouraging comment on the other participants’ writing. The comments are often as precise and accurate as the writing and contribute to the sense of trusting familiarity which the group has possessed from the start and has further developed throughout.
The age range of the group stretches across seven decades. In a different context this range would be an impediment to and a brake on success. In this group it is not. The writing produced by all group members regardless of age or gender is distinctive, clearly personally relevant and well received by other group members. While quality in the abstract is not the most important characteristic of the writing, it is worth mentioning that the writing is of a high finished standard, which is astonishing in such a short space of time.
It would be difficult to pinpoint what has made the greatest contribution to this quality. The leadership by Jayne is clearly one, and the quality of input challenge which shows her creative writing background. The group also provides a context in which writing of a personal but polished nature is both encouraged and applauded. The group functions as a collective attentive sympathetic reader/ listener, which is a contributory factor in the motivation to write. Each week there is at least one piece of writing produced which will stand the test of time, for the writer and for those with whom it has been shared.
While publication elsewhere is not a consideration, because the group provides a significant enough audience in itself, some of the writing from each of the participants would be appropriately given a wider audience. This group is an active model of how a group some of whom were comparative strangers can grow in each others’ confidence and company. The group is important to each of its members. It is supportive, harmonious, respectful, and well led.
It is a model which deserves examination as replicable and exportable. The strength of the group is important to each of its members but it is also an index of the success of the way it has been put together and nurtured. There's a little bit of magic here which would not be easy to replicate exactly but which could be copied elsewhere. A viewing of just one of the session recordings would be sufficient to evidence that for a perceptive audience.
The social and personal benefits to the group members would be significant in any circumstances. In the present straitened conditions of limited interaction the group provides a form and forum which is important in its own right but also has a product beyond the sessions themselves.
I have no way of knowing what criteria would be used to judge the benefit of the group or to be used in deciding whether to support it further.
I cannot imagine that there are many ventures which have already contributed and will continue to make a greater contribution to the wellbeing of its members and to a growing sense of community to which they belong.
February 20, 2021.