A SUCCESSFUL collaboration between two Washington youth groups will lead to the publication of a new book.

Since the first Covid lockdown, Washington Youth Theatre and the Saturday Art Club, both based at Arts Centre Washington, have been working on The Trombone Switch, a fantasy adventure that is set to be produced as a book, an audio book and an e-book.

Youth Theatre drama tutor Neil Armstrong, who supported the group in developing and writing the story, has led the project. At the same time, art tutor Vincent Cooper guided the young artists of the Saturday Art Class in producing beautiful illustrations for the book.

Neil explained: “Back in June, and because of Covid restrictions, the Youth Theatre was unable to do our normal thing of devising plays and then performing them. So, I thought it might be a good idea to make the best of a bad job, and instead of a play, try and write a book with the kids instead. So we had a series of Zoom meetings not only to write the book, but also to create the illustrations, because the Saturday Art Class joined forces with us.”

Youth Theatre members would think of a plotline for the book, and Neil would then translate their thoughts and ideas into chapters. Members of the Youth Theatre then read the text to the Saturday Art Class, who decided which storylines they would illustrate.

Rachel Hamer, Young People and Communities Producer for Sunderland Culture, who run the cultural programme at Arts Centre Washington, said: “I would like to congratulate Neil, Vincent and all our amazing young people for their brilliant work and we hope this book will act as a reminder of their resilience in finding a way to stay positive and collaborate with each other in difficult times.”

Imogen Blyth, 11, of the Youth Theatre, added: “When everybody was told they couldn’t visit theatres anymore we were all in the Arts Centre for our dress rehearsal for our new play. It was supposed to be on the following two nights. We never got to perform it and I was really disappointed.

“Working on the book gave me something to look forward to every week during Lockdown and something to think about for the next Zoom meeting, I think the book is really, really funny. We still can’t go on the stage at the moment and recording the book is a good way for us to still perform and people to enjoy it.

“I would love for everybody to hear our story!”

This is the first time the groups have worked together and they’ve produced 16 chapters with more than 40 illustrations.

The story is about Elsie, a young girl who isn’t happy with her life at home or school.  An ‘Exchange Teacher’ (with a magic trombone) exchanges her with another version of herself into a different dimension where everything is the opposite. Elsie soon realises her ‘normal’ life wasn’t so bad and needs to find her way back home.

Backed by a £956 ‘Can Do’ grant from Washington Area Neighbourhood and Community Board, the youngsters are planning to convert The Trombone Switch into a book which will be distributed among the two groups, local community libraries and Arts Centre Washington’s older participants.

Coun Len Lauchlan, Chair of the Washington Area Committee, said: “I am delighted for the Washington Arts Centre and the Saturday Arts Club to be receiving the ‘Can Do’ grant, supported by the Washington Area Committee, to produce the Trombone Switch.

“The arts sector is such an important part of so many lives, and has been hugely affected by the pandemic, with the likes of theatres and groups temporarily closing. The creativity shown by these young people is incredible, and I can’t wait to see the finished book.”

The groups are also planning an audio book and an e-book of The Trombone Switch, the latter being shared with schools, families and placed on Sunderland Culture’s website.

“When safe to do so, we would hope to hold a book reading and celebration event at Arts Centre Washington,” added Rachel Hamer.

More information can be found here: http://www.artscentrewashington.co.uk