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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Change the Word Collective

Change the Word is a collective of new poets from around the world – DRC, Ethiopia, Guyana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Pakistan, Sudan, UK – who have now made Sheffield their homes.

The collective was formed in October 2019 with workshops at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, and is part of the Good Chance family – an international theatre company that built a performance dome originally in a Calais refugee camp, before taking it around the world to create welcoming spaces for conversation and creation. At the heart of Change the Word Collective is connection: a belief in the power of art to connect, and sharing in the process of growing connections with one another and with Sheffield.

Since these poets first came together, they’ve performed at the Good Chance FreeDome Festival when it came to Sheffield in February 2020. They’re currently preparing for a performance at Migration Matters Online Festival on 17 June 2020, alongside their counterparts from Change the Word Coventry, in a show called The Hum of Words Beneath Our Feet. The show will interweave ideas of journeying, memory and home, exploring what it means to be separate, to be connected and to find hope – click here find out more.

Members of Change the Word Collective spoke to us ahead of their online performance at Migration Matters 2020, sharing their thoughts on poetry and Sheffield.

What makes the Change the Word collective unique?
Yordanos Gebrehiwot:
First of all, as the name ‘Change the Word’ indicates, we all use words which can have a positive or negative impact on human nature and our world. So, changing those words for the better is an opportunity. Change the Word gives that opportunity to each of us, from different backgrounds and different life experiences, to whisper, and for those different voices to come together to make a beautiful loud voice! Change the Word has helped us to be heard louder and clearer.

It helps us to make friends, create belongingness, and it’s a free school where I’ve learned different cultures and human behaviour. It is a beautiful place to start dreaming, to plan to achieve those dreams, and to celebrate each and every step of my achievement.

It creates dreams which I never thought I could do, and flares up those dreams so I feel like I can pursue them. That is the uniqueness of the Change the Word poetry collective.

How do you choose the themes you write about?
Nazia Khan:
To me, poetry is a way of your heart touching other people’s hearts. Poetry is not just wanting to write – it is flames of your burning thoughts, that you have to share. Poetry to me is unplucked roses – you feel its beauty when you touch its petals.

I love to write about the trees, about the rain – the rain is my soulmate! On my poetry journey, I have discovered that poetry helps you to find hidden treasure – it helps you find new words, and now I carry more new words than coins in my purse!

What are you working on for Migration Matters Festival and beyond?
Diyo Mulopo Bopengo:
We are working on an exciting showcase for Migration Matters. A brilliant virtual collective poetry performance, The Hum of Words Beneath Our Feet brings all our words together and will be broadcast on various platforms on Wednesday 17 June at 6pm UK time.

I am very honoured to share some of my original works, which I have been working on for the past few months, and to be part of Migration Matters Festival. The festival last year helped me overcome self-doubt and has assisted so many to have a voice and to share these many words we carry in our minds.

Beyond that I have the privilege to co-run a virtual workshop with Good Chance and The World From My Window, together with the amazing Inua Ellams, on Monday 15 June at 2pm UK time. We'll be creating a huge collective poem of voices around the world, and we're asking everyone to share their stories – so join us all the way through Refugee Week to do this!

Who, what or where do you think should be better known in Sheffield?
Sarah Orola:
There’s a beautiful view of Sheffield behind the train station. A little gem sometimes forgotten. I sit there sometimes and soak up the atmosphere. The air is light and comforting. The large expanse stretches across city. Sun rays beam down and highlight everything within its reach. I see couples on walks – hands intertwined. Puppies yapping.

I think everyone should see Sheffield from this amphitheatre-type park. That’s the best I could explain it. I do not know its name. I find solace there. I think. I dream. I am present. 100 steps and counting. Juxtaposed by the hustle and bustle of people scurrying to catch the next train. Going nowhere soon. It sits there in solitude waiting for visitors to come again. Google tells me it’s Sheaf Valley Park. Oh the joys of instant access to information.

What would you change about the city?
Cerowyn Browne:
I think Sheffield is wonderful. However, as in many big cities, there is divides between different groups due to class and culture. This has been highlighted in the recent elections. I’d love for the different groups of the city to come together and understand each other’s point of view, not just throw blame around. It’s the only way we can move forwards together!

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