Stories of Covid-19

In 2020, Covid-19 hit the world with such ferocity, and at such a pace, that our social fabric changed beyond recognition virtually overnight. When the country ground to a halt in March 2020, we knew the people we traditionally work with would be among those hit hardest by the isolation of life, in a city, under lockdown. We wanted to reconnect with them, hear their voices, find out what it has been like, and how their local authority has responded and taken care of their population. It is urgent that we tell the story of Covid-19 from these perspectives – voices that we do not usually hear in mainstream media. At CityLife, we moved to making the project safe immediately, by transferring to remote working and adapting our methodology.

We have been fortunate enough to secure funding from the British Academy (, and we are using it to both continue supporting our storytelling work in the community, and to build new relationships as well. We are working on a number of new stories with storytellers from our new community partner Toynbee Hall, an amazing charity working to combat poverty and social exclusion in East London and elsewhere. We are also welcoming back a number of our elders from Cody Dock, Pepper Pot Day Centre, and Ageing Well Dagenham, and many more we have been in touch with individually throughout the years.

The writers are a mix of CityLife veterans from the University of East London, who have written and participated in previous phases, and a new group of Creative Writing students at the University of East Anglia. Welcome to our community, writers, and good luck with your stories!

We believe that helping to process this time of collective trauma through a creative practice is one of the most cathartic and healing ways forward. We also believe that research based on interactions with the community is only too important right now, so we are working to give it as wide a platform as possible, with a view to using it to influence policy at a local level. Now, more than ever, every minute we spend listening to other people’s experiences is precious. We will be back in 2021 with our communities’ stories of Covid-19, and any other life stories our storytellers and writers shared with us


New stories in 2019!

Our team of UEL student writers has just spent the last six months working with community members at four new organisations: Ageing Well Dagenham, Cody Dock, Pepper Pot Day Centre and Stones End Day Centre, all of them committed to providing activities and higher life quality to community elders.

This cycle of storytelling encounters took the form of 12 collaborative creative workshops delivered by Project Coordinator Sam Dodd, in collaboration with University of East London PhD researcher Erica Masserano and her project Invisible London: Place and Identity in Londoners’ Life Stories, funded by the Stuart Hall Foundation.

20 new creative non-fiction pieces, both biographical and autobiographical, are now live on this site, and more will be forthcoming throughout the year.

Thank you to all our community partners and storytellers. It was lovely to meet you, and we will see you again!


Making Waves in 2018

The CityLife team have been doggedly working behind the scenes to secure more funding for the 2018 new academic year and onward, to take our work into new universities and their respective communities across the UK. Wish us luck, and watch this space for more announcements of partnerships, plans and dates.


Prize Winner Announced!

The winner of the CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers was announced at our yearly writing event, Write Now, on Thursday 18th May 2017. A huge congratulations to 17 year old Rebecca Hawkins of Brentwood School, who was handed her certificate and prize of £500 by our wonderful guest judge Salena Godden – a brilliant article on the evening was written by Kiera Hay at UEL, please read that here.

Rebecca’s winning piece, London Calling, can be found here.

We hope you all enjoy it as much as we did.


Prize Shortlist Announced!

We are thrilled to announce the ten shortlisted writers for the CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers. Winner to be announced at Write Now, May 18th.

Alexandra Overton, aged 18, with On The Theme Of A Walk Up Kings Road

Bryony Streets, aged 17, with The Time of Day

Charlotte Glyn-Woods, aged 17, with Her

Flynn Ryan Hallman, aged 17, with Northern Line

Isabella Daniel, aged 17, with City on a Needle-point

James Boyle, aged 19, with A Reunion

Joshua Williams, aged 18, with Just Another Londoner

Kosana Weir, aged 17, with The Love in the Feared

Madeleine Tipping, aged 16, with A Day in the East End: from the Perspective of a Boris Bike

Rebecca Hawkins, aged 17, with London Calling


Write Now Festival & Prize Ceremony 2017

We are pleased to confirm that our yearly event, Write Now, which celebrates UEL Creative Writing graduate work, will be held in UEL Stratford Square Campus on May 18th. There will be free refreshments and snacks, and we can’t wait to see everyone. Please book your FREE ticket via this link.

This year, we will be joined by Salena Godden of The Good Immigrant, and Jacob Sam La Rose as our emcee. Salena is also our guest judge on the CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers, and will be presenting the winner with their prize on the night too.

See you there!

Address: UEL, University Square, 1 Salway Rd, London E15 1NF

Salena Godden, Guest Judge
Salena Godden, Guest Judge


We’re in The Bookseller

Industry publication The Bookseller has very kindly given us a space on their site to talk about the CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers.

Click here to read the full article!


Salena Godden announced as our prize Guest Judge

We are thrilled to announce that celebrated author and performer Salena Godden, whose dazzling poetry and prose have been performed on the BBC, published in an array of influential anthologies, and most recently in the best-selling The Good Immigrant, has agreed to be our Guest Judge for the CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers. A ground-breaking spoken-word performer, Salena brings her astute ear and eclectic writing experience to our judging panel.

Submissions for the prize have now OPENED. Get writing!

For more details, please click here.


CityLife team interviewed for the EastCast Show

Listen to Tessa & Stephen from the CityLife team, and Nicola, one of our student writers, being interviewed by the EastCast Radio Show about the CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers (scroll down for more details on this).

Click here to be taken to the EastCast website.


The CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers

In September 2016, the CityLife team and the University of East London announced the launch of a brand new and exciting literary prize, the CityLife Prize for Fiction by Young Writers. It is open to all London-based writers aged 16 to 19.

For theme, entry requirements, prize details and more, please visit our dedicated prize page here.


EastLife Launch Event, 25th May 2016, Stratford Circus

On this jam-packed and wonderful evening, we not only launched EastLife with an introduction from the editors Tessa McWatt, Stephen Maddison and Sam Dodd, as well as extracts from Jo Lazar & Craig Britton, but we saw the launch of The Gallion too, a student-led creative writing anthology, and heard work from graduating students Raisa Hassan, Charlotte Bone, Amir Aziz, Jack Pascoe & Justin Tuijl. The evening was hosted by the inimitable Jacob Sam La Rose, and our guest speaker was Linton Kwesi Johnson. See some wonderful pictures of the event on our Gallery page – credit and huge thanks to Roy Wilson for kindly giving his talent and time to take these for us. Thanks to all who came – especially the EastLife Writer team and our community elders!

And a huge congratulations to Nicola Peard, Suzanne Wilson, Samuel Hardy, Jack Pascoe and Amir Aziz for coming up with the idea of selling the books donated to the Writing Centre by Pete Ayrton of Serpents Tail, to raise money for Richard House, the hospice we are working with in the second phase of the project which is now underway, CityLife. We’re very proud that they raised a whopping £170.27!! Amazing! Below, Shahina Haque of Richard House receives the (GINORMOUS) cheque.

EastLife CityLife book table cheque


EastLife Launch Event, 25th May 2016 @ 6pm, Stratford Circus

Only a few days left till Write Now! Book your tickets here.

Write Now is an annual showcase event sponsored by UEL’s School of Arts and Digital Industries. It showcases Creative Writing at UEL, bringing the talents of creative writing graduates, staff and special guests to the wider community.

This year, we are also launching the publication of EastLife: An Anthology of Life Writing, an on-going civic engagement project, which paired UEL students with East London elders to tell their stories and produce autobiographical and biographical life writing pieces.

The event will feature readings from this Anthology, along with readings from the new issue of The Gallion, our student-run creative writing magazine, published each year. Graduating students will be reading from a selection of their finest work. In addition, this year we have a very special guest: Linton Kwesi Johnson, who will be reading and in discussion with poet Tim Atkins. There will also be a Q+A with the audience. This event will be MC’d by Jacob Sam La Rose.

Books will be on sale during the interval and after the event. Some proceeds of sales from EastLife: An Anthology of Life Writing will be donated to Richard House, a hospice for children with life limiting conditions.

To book your tickets, please visit the Stratford Circus box office site. We look forward to seeing you.


EastLife lives on in our next phase, CityLife

We’re very happy to say that we’ve now entered the next phase of our on-going civic engagement / creative writing project, which began life as EastLife, by kickstarting CityLife. We have four fantastic newly graduated writers working on the project with us: Nicola, Suzanne, Samuel & Jack. These students are interviewing parents and staff at Richard House, a hospice for children with life-limiting conditions in Newham. Stay tuned for more wonderful stories, coming soon.


Community Book Launch Visits, March 2016

In March 2016 we visited Age UK in Bow, and Canning Town Library, to meet with all the community elders who took part in EastLife and present them with their books. Both occasions were incredibly rewarding, and we were able to read some of the pieces out. It was truly a pleasure to have worked with these incredible people. For pics, go here!



The Books Have Come Off The Printer!

We’re thrilled to announce that the first EastLife print run is complete, and we have in our possession a hefty hoard of beautiful books ready for our launch event in May, where we’ll be graced by Linton Kwesi Johnson and limitless third year creative writing talent. Please join us! Scroll down to our last post for more details.

In UEL shape


EastLife Launch Event, 25th May 2016

We are excited to announce that EastLife will be celebrated, along with UEL Creative Writing achievements by graduating students, on Thursday 25th May 2016 in Stratford Circus at 6.00pm.

The event will be a celebration of Creative Writing & Civic Engagement at UEL. We have a feature slot from none other than Linton Kwesi Johnson, and are very pleased to also welcome Jacob Sam La Rose as the MC.

Rough schedule:

6.30pm: EastLife

7.00pm: Student Showcase – Creative Writing and ‘The Gallion’ work

8.00pm: Linton Kwesi Johnson

9.00pm: Q&A

To RSVP, please email:


Website Launch Event, 12th November 2015

12th Nov invite

We are launching our website, and the project officially, on Thursday 12th November 2015 at UEL.

To attend, please email


A Visit to Canning Town, 3rd September 2015

Canning Town (1)Once the writers who had been paired with elders from Canning Town Library had written their stories, we organised a day for us to all meet up, with the stories in hand, for the people we had worked with to read through and comment on. There had been a month, sometimes two, in between the initial interviews and the finishing of the stories – so all of the writers and elders present that day had a lovely time catching up since their ‘life chat’, and seeing their lives told creatively. One of the comments we received was:

“I never knew how much I did – what good things people thought of me – till now. Thank you.”

On this particular day, we were joined by the UEL Comms Team.

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