Lockhaugh Farm: Poetry Writing Retreat 2023

Northern Debut Award for Poetry 2023 winners: Jane Thomas, Alex Mepham, Carson Wolfe

Earlier this summer, I was delighted to find out that I had won a Northern Debut Award for Poetry. This news was soon followed by a fantastic awards ceremony with fellow winners and what seemed like a never-ending stream of writerly essentials and treats, including membership of the Society of Authors, Arvon at home, mentorship, and a writing retreat with fellow poetry winners at Lockhaugh Farm.

It was on this warm autumnal weekend that the three of us made our way from across the north to the beautiful Lockhaugh Farm in Rowlands Gill, Tyne and Wear. The farm was down a small one-way track. The farm gate opened on to a large garden with converted railway carriages, a brood of roaming chickens and the most dramatic view over the densely forested Derwent valley. At the centre of the valley was a column topped with a standing bronze female figure carrying a cap of liberty on a pole. ‘The Column of Liberty’ – could there be a more fitting welcome or symbol of the weekend ahead? A weekend for us to be free of all our usual distractions and focus fully on our poetic practice.

The Stable House where we stayed was beautiful, self-contained and with plenty of space for spreading out manuscripts, stacking up books and relaxing into words. On Friday night the three of us were joined by New Writing North’s Programme Assistant Emily and her poet partner David Spittle, along with our host, and fellow creative, Deborah. We enjoyed a wonderful vegan meal together and spent the night getting to know each other, our work and our creative dreams.

On Saturday we ran a couple of workshop sessions sharing each other’s work for feedback, and then enjoyed an afternoon walk to the river, spotting red kites, and talking poetry and nature. We weren’t far from Sycamore Gap – news of its felling had been with all of us on our journeys to the North East, so nature and gratitude for the planet was never far from our minds.

In the afternoon we were joined by the poet and visual artist Harry Man. He shared lots of useful tips and stories about life as an artist, how to create a portfolio career, contracts, opportunities, and book recommendations – in fact anything we wanted to know about the reality of being a poet and artist, and reassurance that we could have a life with our craft at the centre rather than on the sidelines.

As we all had public readings coming up, we took the opportunity on Saturday night to run through our sets to each other, invite comment, and practice timings and delivery. The TVs remained firmly unplugged – and our phones were hardly touched over the weekend (the only downside of which is that we don’t have many photos to share!).

After another peaceful countryside sleep, Sunday brought more workshopping and then a walk in the valley in the direction of the Red Kite Pub. The pub was not to be, but we took refuge in the local Greek / Italian. On our way back we did a walking workshop, testing our work just on its oral merits and tracking the cadence with our steps. Back just in time before the rain, we then shared the written pieces. The evening was spent editing in community.

Monday morning was packing and sharing final thoughts. Finally, we planned how we were going to keep connected and continue to work with each other within the safe, creative group that the weekend at Lockhaugh Farm had enabled us to create.

Find out more about Lockhaugh Farm, which is available to rent for holidays and retreats.

This retreat was awarded as part of the Northern Writers’ Awards 2023. The 2024 awards will open on 22 November 2023. Find out more.