Culture means different things to people; from art to sport, music, theatre, dance and much more. In our series of 'Our Community' interviews, we introduce you to some the many Sotonians who have helped to keep culture alive in our city throughout the recent pandemic.
Today we caught up with Matthew West, Director of ArtfulScribe;
a not-for-profit writer development agency based in Southampton. ArtfulScribe support emerging and continuing writers to create new work and develop skills through writing workshops, live events and career-development opportunities.
Tell us about yourself and your links to Southampton
I was born in Southampton and went to Bellemoor School in the early Eighties. Southampton was such a different place then. Coming from a working class family, the city was pretty much all we had. It seemed a strange idea that there were other places to visit. I mean, why would you? I grew up in Tanners Brook and spent a fair bit of time in Maybush, before going to University of Southampton in my early thirties and studying for an English degree followed by a Creative Writing Masters.
Why is Southampton special to you?
Southampton is a place where anything is possible. Unlike other cities where there’s more competition, in Southampton there’s so much potential, waiting for people with a little ambition and a good idea to step forward. I get to work with some cool people who are making a real difference in other people’s lives, thanks to their creative drive and determination.
What’s your favourite place in Southampton?
I love the Common. There are so many memories associated with that place. Choking on a boiled sweet in the old concrete paddling pool as a toddler was hard to forget; taking my niece and nephew out to scream at the top of their lungs in school holidays, or more sedately, sunbathing, reading a book, paying a visit to mother who lives on the other side of the park. I run there most days as well. There’s a sweet familiarity about it.
What does culture mean to you?
Culture opens a doorway into other people’s minds, and that’s quite amazing really. We get to build a bit more of the human picture, pulling together threads from all over the world. There’s a melting pot of different nationalities in Southampton, and as a person who’s not so keen on long-distance traveling, I’m grateful to share in different perspectives that help cast a light on who we are.
How has lockdown affected what you do?
Lockdown has been relatively kind to us. We migrated our writing groups online as soon as the pandemic began and have increased engagement numbers because now people can join our sessions from anywhere in the world. We recently hosted a poetry weekend and had people from Zambia, America, Iran, Greece, Italy, and Germany taking part. The pandemic taught us about barriers for people engaging in our activities that we might not otherwise have known; children accessing venues at the weekend, for example, can only do so with parental support and transport. It sounds obvious now, but it wasn’t clear in pre-Covid times. But we do miss live performance and personal interaction with people.
Why should Southampton be named City of Culture 2025?
Southampton should be named City of Culture 25 because it will help those who live here to see the impact arts and culture can make in everybody’s lives, regardless of age, race, gender, or education. There’s some magic in us all and sometimes we only get to see what we can do when others hold a torch for us so we can shine. I hope City of Culture can help Southampton sparkle.