Case Study
  • Posted on December 1st, 2022

Scientist-Artist partnership: Translating the science with National Centre for Writing

Ariel shot of farmland

During the COVID crisis of 2020, while our doors were closed, we commissioned several pieces of new work for digital dissemination that asked writers to reflect and record this moment: a time of immense upheaval and distress and fracture, but also a time in which, in standing still, the impact of the climate crisis was making its presence especially felt. 

We used this opportunity to build upon and deliver several initiatives to explore the climate emergency, this helped to inform our creative approach in 2021 and beyond. Our attitude to programme production has fundamentally altered, both for staff and artist travel, in ensuring that we travel by train and boat instead of plane when it’s viable to do so. A focus on our environmental responsibility has also led to us starting a ‘Greener Organisation Group’, a cross-team working group to explore, implement and embed better environmental practices across the organisation.

We are also part of a global UNESCO network of 42 cities of literature in total, with whom we are able to explore and share best practice in this, and other, areas of our work. As a member of the Creative Cities network, we agree to abide by UNESCO’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, at the heart of which are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries in a global partnership

Virtual residencies throughout 2020 – present:

COVID-19 necessitated a revised approach, we pivoted to deliver ‘virtual’ residencies instead. Although, we welcomed writers virtually to our city, to our organisation and to each other. In ‘Imagining the City’, February 2021: we welcomed five writers from other UNESCO cities of literature to Norwich for a month-long virtual residency.

International Literature Showcase:

In 2020-21, our International Literature Showcase featured 50 writers curated by 5 curators; in his selection, Owen Sheers shone a light on ‘ten writers asking questions that will shape our future’. Read more on the showcase.

Translating Science, January 2022: 

This period, we produced “Translating Science”, which was a collaborative project which brought seven scientists from the Norwich Research Park together with established writers so that experts within two very different fields of work could gain fresh insight and inspiration from each other. The scientist welcomed the writer into their world and explained their research, and the writer went away and responded creatively to what they were shown. The result is a series of stories, poems and essays. Hopefully this will inspire, excite and trigger a deeper understanding of the benefits of science-based research for solving the many challenges we face, and help to influence policy and decision makers to make the right choices.

Norwich Research Park is a partnership between the University of East Anglia, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, four independent research institutes namely the John Innes Centre, Quadram Institute, the Earlham Institute and The Sainsbury Laboratory. The BBSRC and the John Innes Foundation are also partners. A unique world-leading cluster of organisations, all located within a 1km radius.

On the project, the writer Shey Hargreaves:

‘Writers are always looking for inspiration and to have such a wealth of fascinating research at Norwich Research Park to generate ideas is fantastic,’ said Shey. ‘It is only when you speak to someone like Anne that you really realise the seismic difference the researchers’ work can have on the future of our planet.  

‘Not only am I truly inspired by it, but I also feel compelled to share her knowledge and expertise through my poems. I hope my writing can help articulate what Anne is doing and that I can continue to create further pieces that will be inspired by this sort of research.’

FCC Environment competition:

NCW teamed up with FCC Environment, one of the largest providers of waste management in the UK, to run a competition across Norfolk to celebrate the positive spirit of young people and gift books on the theme of a renewal to schools in the county.

In a year in which there had been so much bad news, the campaign commissioned a poem on the theme of renewal and hope, by Mathilda Armiger, one of the Young Norfolk Laureates. Her incredible poem, ‘Incantation for a Garden’ was shared with 15,000 readers via the NCW e-newsletter.

Through the partnership a selection of books was hand-picked to celebrate a green future and the active spirit of young people across the region. The books were selected by Peggy Hughes, then Programme Director at the National Centre for Writing:

Examples of suggested Primary school age books:

The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson

Secondary school age books:

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Following a region-wide competition NCW and FCC Environment gifted four book bundles to schools in Norfolk. 

On receiving the FCC books Sarah Arnold, the Librarian at Caister Academy said:

‘We were delighted to be one of the winners in the Book Bundle Giveaway run by the National Centre for Writing and FCC Environment. The books will be included in our Key Stage 3 reading group; I look forward to introducing the students to new and exciting authors and to share our passion for reading.’


We are driven by a desire to use our artform to explore complex and pressing issues, including the climate emergency, and the part we have to play in it, and therefore to use our platforms to share information and solutions in engaging ways. We’re also driven to engage young people on the topic in ways that are illuminating, participatory, fun and thought-provoking: when it comes to the planet, we wish to manifest our belief that, in the words of Greta Thunberg, none of us is too small to make a difference. 

Our commitment to the environment and awareness of our artform’s part to play in the global narrative of the climate crisis and environmental sustainability means that our work in this area is of fundamental importance, not only to us as an organisation, to our audiences and stakeholders, but also to the writers to whom we are giving space and resource to explore these issues which are critical to this moment in time and the times to come. 


Image credit: John Innes Centre