In August, poet Jess Green worked with Leicester Rape Crisis on a Creative Writing walk with a group of teenage girls along the Hilton – Derby route in South Derbyshire
As a survivor of sexual violence, it can be difficult to go for a walk on your own. I love walking. I wish I could enjoy it like my husband does. Just puts on his shoes and heads out. Whereas I pack my bag with rape alarm and battery pack; the idea of being in the middle of nowhere with no way to ring for help fills me with dread. From the moment I step out the door I send him my location and he checks in with me every hour or so. I have cut routes short and made massive detours because I haven’t felt safe. I once went into a blind panic in the middle of a forest because I was convinced I was being followed.
For our “Tales From A Slow Way” project we took a group of girls from Leicester Rape Crisis for a walk in the countryside. They were given disposable cameras, notebooks and some creative writing activities to try.
We parked in the village of Etwall and walked up the old rail line. The girls are used to going on trips together but the last one was to see The Lion King in the West End so a country walk during a wet summer holiday was a harder sell. The girls who came were really keen.
Say what you like about teenagers, screens and attention spans – these girls were interested in everything
We planned to do a 3km walk broken up by a picnic, but I was impressed at the way they just kept going. We ended up doing double that. Say what you like about teenagers, screens and attention spans – these girls were interested in everything. The trees, the plants, sounds of birds, something dead on the floor, the name of a bridge, what was growing in a field. They got the hang of their retro cameras and wrote down long descriptions of what they could see, hear, smell and feel.
A friend of mine has a house nearby that looks out over a flooded quarry. It’s incredibly peaceful. We took the girls there to decompress after the walk with homemade mocktails and flapjack. They drank raspberry lemonade and worked on their pieces, writing poems in the voice of something that doesn’t have a voice. They wrote about trees, leaves, birds but what came out was their own experience of not being heard.
Before we left I asked them to write about their experience of the day and these are some of the things they said.
“I loved seeing the different flowers and berries while learning about them at the same time. I felt calm, as if it put my mind at ease”
“I loved how close we were with nature. I loved the peaceful sounds and feelings. I enjoyed the sense of freedom I felt being outdoors“
“I felt at peace. I was very calm. I would do it again“
They Just Keep Going
We arrive a cavalcade of teenage girls
park outside the post office
buy 5 packets of ready salted
in return for the key to the loo
a haze of eye lashes and pac-a-macs
passed by men with walking poles and waterproofs
We’re not here for the miles
and by 2k I’m ready for stragglers
but their bodies move them forward
hands on tree trunks
legs crouched over something disgusting
squashed and skeletal
do you reckon a bird dropped it?
they’re like tiny kids again
buttercups under chins
dandelion seed heads
pressed in to the pages of notebooks
is that corn Miss?
Can we eat it?
Are we gonna see an eagle? Woodpecker? Pheasant?
No-one complains about the drizzle and the heat
because out here no-one wants anything from them
no deadlines or pressure
they’re not being weighed up and measured
it’s not the run to the bus stop past the building site
3am with keys between fingers
or the corridor of boys with their phones out
no long wait for a taxi that never comes
no grades, no marks,
no scales no mirrors
these girls with their secrets
trying to keep it together
just big skies
and trainer tread
on grass and gravel
of a cheese cob picnic they just keep going
and at the end
as they lean against the minibus
mouths full of flapjack
the men come
with walking poles and waterproofs
and one of our gang says
have you been on the walk?
‘cause we have too.
Leicester Rape Crisis is a charity based in Leicester that supports female survivors of sexual abuse, sexual violence and rape. They have been active for over 30 years and work from the ethos of women supporting women, providing a safe space for women and girls to process and heal from sexual trauma.
Jess Green is an award-winning performance poet and script writer for theatre and TV. She has featured on BBC 6 Music, E4, BBC5Live, ITV and BBC Breakfast as well as in The Guardian, Huffington Post, The Independent and The Spectator. She has two poetry collections, both published by Burning Eye Books, Burning Books (2015) which was shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award and A Self Help Guide To Being In Love With Jeremy Corbyn (2018). Jess is also a workshop facilitator with a decade of experience teaching writing and performance in schools, prisons, care homes, universities, youth centres and corporate events.