The Writing Room

Exploring Southampton’s identity through on-the-ground stories of the city with graphic artist and educator Susanna Edwards and writer Dr Nazneen Ahmed

Workshop production by Susanna Edwards and Nazneen Ahmed
Images by Rosanna Vitiello
Sound by Nikki van Grimbergen
Journey on the Community Journalism Bus, Claudia Murg

Earlier this year we published a place portrait revealing the contrasts and quirks of the city of Southampton. Now we’re back for ‘The Writing Room,’ a workshop developed by designer and educator Susanna Edwards, to unravel on-the-ground stories of the people that truly make the city and weave it together. 

‘The Writing Room’ plays off the port city notion of ‘Arrivals and Departures’ with the workshop capturing the emotional first impressions and parting notes experienced by those who have migrated to or left the city. It sets out to engage residents of Southampton to capture and share their stories, revealing the place through different layers of time and transforming these singular pieces into a living archive of stories for the city.

Together with 9 participants, we head out into the city to explore different personal stories across time, each associated with a specific space in Southampton. From places long gone to those that capture the identity of the city today. The two part workshop starts with a carefully curated bus tour, allowing each storyteller time to connect personal experiences to places in the city and share with others. Part two allows time for reflection, transforming these stories into written and visual expressions —individual postcards to the city itself that together form a collective narrative.

What follows are 9 snapshots of Southampton — postcards from those have arrived, and those who have departed and returned.

During the first workshop, we took a bus ride through Southampton where we stopped at 9 different places to share stories

From Glasgow
Moved to Southampton in 1973
Location: Former Southampton Lido, Southampton SO15 1QJ

Maggie takes us back to Southampton in the fun-filled ‘70’s. Arriving here from gritty Glasgow she expected pastoral huts and green forest. Yet she found a generous city which welcomed her with open arms and introduced her to a multicultural community. Southampton was all about fun for Maggie, most definitely in the summers when the Lido opened its doors right in the heart of the city. “Swimming costume on, towel under your arm, picnic in your bag. And off you went - the whole day.” Even the shock of fair-skinned Maggie’s third-degree sunburn couldn’t put her off the pool’s appeal. But the lido was demolished in the 80’s and central Southampton transformed into chain-retail heaven (or hell?). Toys R Us was built on top. Now that’s going, maybe Maggie’s plea can be answered — “Where’s Southampton’s fun gone? We need more fun!”

From Southampton
Moved back to Southampton
Location: Southampton Old Cemetery, Southampton SO15 7NN

Native Sottonian Kelly takes us to Southampton Old Cemetery — a place blooming with wildflowers, weeds and wild green. A place that holds sweet and bitter memories for her as the last place she said goodbye to Southampton before leaving the city…

Kelly’s postcard to the city is a reminder that coming home isn’t always so bad. 

"This is to my 35 year old self.

So I left Southampton for London 28 years ago vowing never to return. 16 years laters when I returned, for love, I vowed only to stay for a year. The subsequent 12 year journey has been interesting and difficult and wonderful. Fitting back into old relationships with friends and family who never left, last week on the bus I was struck by how much more people saw in the city. It showed me that Southampton has lots of value for me. Places like the cemetery helped me to reconnect with the city and it gave me a new interest in plants and nature, which I couldn’t find in London"

Copy of P1590242_rs.jpg

From Devon
Moved to Southampton in 2014
Location: Ropewalk Community Garden, Southampton SO14 0DJ

Jane arrived in Southampton on a bitter winter’s night. The dampened walls of the house worsened her chronic health conditions, and her health spiralled downwards. Having to redirect her life, Jane found her connection to Southampton when she discovered Ropewalk Community Garden. A derelict, broken garden where she found pride into transforming it into a place for St Mary’s community. She’s been chair of the garden for two years now overseeing it’s daily running.

From Gambia
Moved to Southampton in 2002
Location: Newtown Advice Support Centre,  Southampton  SO14 0DJ.

Abdoulie made his way to Southampton from Gambia to study a PHD — a shock of both culture and weather that soon dissipated as he started to make connections and put his efforts into the community that helped him so much.

Abdoulie's postcard to the city is a recollection of that time:

"Dear mum,

I arrived in Southampton safely. It was on the 2nd of October 2002, I arrived by coach. It was dark, and not as we thought, it was night, not buzzing with life. When I arrived, I realised I needed a place to sleep. The university did not receive me at the coach station. I had to find my way to find a place to sleep. A lovely gentleman gave me some coins to call a B&B to book for a night. I stayed for two nights at the B&B. I found it extremely cold when I arrived in that night as I was in my usual t shirt.

My first residents was at the university halls of residence. My wife and I found it extremely challenging to live there. When I went to uni, she felt lonely and often spend most of the day crying. The good thing was, she conceived for the first time after trying for 5 years. It was a mixed emotion.

When I completed my university I set up Gambian society to address loneliness for Gambian students, just like me those who have come to Southampton to study. Then we set up TUVAA, to promote African cultures. We thought, a lot of Africans are in the city so let’s bring all Africans together. I also set up ‘I Can’ to convert abandoned alleyways to multi use spaces so that children in the neighbourhood have somewhere to play, to stop them playing on the roads.

As you can seen, a lot has happened. Mostly good things. Just to say, my family has grown to 4 now - I’m a family man.

Thanks mum, I miss you."

Listen to our other stories below: