Your Local Arena

Welcome to Your Local Arena, a unique UK tour featuring iconic films from the BBC’s Arena archives, the pioneering cultural documentary series. Come and watch these classic films and then hear brand new poems inspired by them, take part in lively talks about them or participate in thought-provoking writing workshops linked to them. From March to December 2020, Your Local Arena will be coming to a UK festival or venue near you.

Upcoming Events: Autumn events now and soon

6-10 October 2020: Caribbean Nights: Calypso, Carnival and Steel Pan and Three Kings of Calypso – YLA with Ilkley Literature Festival – online

A Caribbean Journey – YLA with Writing on the Wall, Liverpool – online

9-18 October 2020: Them and Uz – YLA with Durham Book Festival – online

23-25 October 2020: The Ballad of Ewan MacColl – YLA with Manchester Literature Festival – Digital Weekend

Your Local Arena is an original ‘film meets literature’ concept developed jointly by Lucy Hannah and Speaking Volumes and funded by Arts Council England. Its creative consultant is Arena’s award-winning director/editor Anthony Wall. Together we’ve matched each festival to an Arena film that relates in some way to the local area and invited great speakers to explore its themes. From working-class Britain to Caribbean writers, football to nineties’ music, there is something for everyone.

In the current climate, Your Local Arena is going digital to still provide an online expereince with the same festivals and venues where it was originally going to be seen. This page will give information on all forthcoming events. We’ll also share Anthony Wall’s introductions to each film and the new poems commissioned from some of the best and brightest poets around. After each event you’ll also be able to enjoy listening to audio interviews and watching video clips from each locality. In these ways, Your Local Arena online will build a mosaic of modern Britain and show how its cultural past gives us inspiration for the future.

See producer Lucy Hannah’s website for more information about the project, events and films:

Past Events:

Find out who was involved, what the events entailed, read the commissioned poems and watch the videos made in response to the original Arena films.

T S Eliot – YLA with Small Wonder Festival – online

The Banana – YLA with Bristol Libraries – online

Three Faces of Bradford – YLA with Bradford Literature Festival – online

Carribean Nights: Poetry – Your Local Arena with the George Padmore Institute – online

The Football MenYour Local Arena with Writing on the Wall, Liverpool – online

City Central – Your Local Arena with Southbank Centre – online

Life Writing Liverpool Results

To mark the end of the football season and Liverpool’s win, we have made some of the best entries to the life writing workshop, delivered by Tony Wailey, around the YLA event on The Football Men at Writing on the Wall (WOW) festival available for you to read – take a look at them here.


City Central

A journey that will take you from Sheffield’s once-glorious industrial past to the gritty urban high rises of contemporary Amsterdam, from the Afropean music of Brussels to Lisbon’s vibrant black community hidden from tourists, City Central stops at fascinating and surprising calling points.

UPDATE: City Central was supposed to take place in March 2020, but had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It will premiere at the Southbank Centre, London, in early 2021. Below is a film giving a flavour of the sights and sounds of the show, which was part a dgitial presentation which also showed a BBC Arena film about the band Zap Mama.

City Central is a collaboration between author/photographer Johny Pitts and poet/musician Joshua Idehen. Using Johny’s 2019 non-fiction book Afropean: Travels in Black Europe, and the work of Josh’s band Benin City, the pair are creating a live performance that fuses poetry and prose, music and photography, film and field recordings.

The result will be a dynamic, exciting multimedia show that focusses on gentrification and the importance of multicultural, working class spaces in cities across the continent

Johny Pitts
Benin City
left-right: Tom Leaper, Shanaz Dorsett, Joshua Idehen

Working and performing alongside the pair are Josh’s Benin City bandmates Tom Leaper and Shanaz Dorsett, and Johny’s long-time multi-media collaborator and artist Chris Morris.

Join the City Central Express for an exhilarating whistle-stop tour of unseen Europe at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on 28 February for the show’s premiere. This multi-sensory journey will start in first class, with an iconic Arena film screening setting the scene for the unique sights and sounds to come in the live show.

Johny Pitts is the author of the non-fiction book Afropean: Journeys in Black Europe, an on-the-ground documentary of areas where Europeans of African descent are juggling their multiple allegiances and forging new identities. ‘A revelation’ – Owen Jones

Benin City are the acclaimed band named after a Nigerian capital, who are known for their genre-bending musicality. They are about to release their third album. ‘One to watch’ – the Guardian

Chris Morris is a multi media artist working in music, sound and film; a specialist in working with neurodiverse musicians and artists in developing innovative practice.

A Speaking Volumes Production in collaboration with the Southbank Centre funded by ACE.

Ber/Lon – A Tale of Two (Gentrifying) Cities

For centuries the cities of London and Berlin have been transformed and re-invented by people from all over the world, who have created vibrant cultures in local areas at the intersection of art and politics. Is this all under threat now, as creative and political spaces are eaten up developers and capital cities are overrun by the power of capital?

Join artists Joshua Idehen and Adelaide Ivánova, Johny Pitts and Joanna Legid as they confront these issues in the London and Berlin neighbourhoods at the forefront of change. Through multilingual poetry and prose, photography and music, Ber/Lon explores what is lost — what we lose — when working-class, multicultural areas become gentrified.

Where and When


Wednesday 19 February 2020 at Candid Arts Basement, 3 Torrens Street, London EC1V 1NQ. Tickets £5 / £3 concessions


Friday 28 February 2020 at Literaturhaus Lettrétage, Mehringdamm 61, 10961 Berlin

Left to right: Joshua Idehen, Adelaide Ivanova, Johny Pitts, Joanna Legid
Left to right: Joshua Idehen, Adelaide Ivanova, Johny Pitts, Joanna Legid


Joshua Idehen is a poet, teacher and musician. A British-born Nigerian, his poetry has been published widely and he has performed across Europe. His interest in the impact of gentrification and the closure of music venues led him to create the online fanzine, to celebrate Passing Clouds, one of the first venues he played in. He has collaborated with Mercury nominated artists The Comet Is Coming and Sons of Kemet. The album Last Night with dance pop band Benin City was released in 2018 (Moshi Moshi Music). He is currently working on his debut poetry collection and a one man show.

Brazilian Adelaide Ivánova is a journalist and political activist working with poetry, photography, performance, translation and publishing. Her poems have been translated into German, Galician, English, Spanish, Greek and Italian. Her photos/texts have appeared in The Huffington Post (USA), Marie Claire (Brazil) and Modern Poetry in Translation (UK) among others. Her photo reportage can be seen in Kunst Museum Dieselkraftwerk (Germany), L’arthotèque Museum of Fine Arts (France) and Galeria Murilo Castro (Brazil). In 2018 her poetry book o martelo won the Rio Literature Award. She edits the anti-capitalist poetry zine MAIS NORDESTE, PVFR! with leftist poets from Brazil’s northeast. She lives in Berlin, earning a living as baby-sitter, life model, waiter and other alienating jobs. 

Johny Pitts is a writer, photographer and broadcast journalist. His book Afropean came out in the UK in June 2019 to critical acclaim and is being translated into German and French among others. He has received various awards for his work exploring African-European identity, including a Decibel Penguin Prize and a European Network Against Racism Award. He is the curator of the online journal, part of the Guardian‘s Africa Network and has collaborated with acclaimed author Caryl Philips on a photographic essay about London’s immigrant communities for the BBC and Arts Council England.

Joanna Catherine Schröder aka Joanna Legid is an analogue photographer capturing people, things and places through the lens of her camera. Born in Rwanda to a German father and a Rwandan mother, Joanna has lived in different places until she moved to Berlin ten years ago. With a love for the intimate moment between staged poses and a trained eye for imperfection, her photography focuses on portrait as well as documentary work. She is also the co-founder of, a creative platform which assembles stories of Germans with a migration background as well as BIPOCs living in Germany.

A Speaking Volumes production with Lettrétage, funded by the Goethe Institute

Come On In: Life Journeys

Devised as a riposte to the present rhetoric of fear of the ‘other’ that spawned the Windrush Scandal, StrongBack Productions’ core programme of activities is contained in Come On In.

Life Journeys is an invitation to each of us to stop for a moment, look at what surrounds us, look the people that we daily pass by and ask ourselves…what is that person’s life like? 

Six acclaimed poets and musicians – Francesca Beard, John Hegley,  Midori Jaeger, Anthony Joseph, Selina Nwulu and Sarah Sayeed – have interviewed employees and participants from three Lambeth organisations: Herne Hill train station, Loughborough Farm and the Baytree Centre. Their interviews have been transformed into song-poems elevating the everyday to the wondrous through their evocative words and music and quirky sketches.

Come On In: Life Journeys will be touring London from June 2020. Stay in touch with how the project is progressing via our social media. If you are interested in hosting a performance, please email

Come On In is a co-production between Speaking Volumes and StrongBack Productions, and is generously supported by Arts Council England.


Francesca Beard

Francesca Beard was born in Malaysia and grew up on an island balanced on the equator, surrounded by eagles, lizards, cobras and a fighting cockerel for a guard dog. Her best friend was Fluffy, a smooth-haired mongrel. After a spell in real jobs, she gave it all up and now exists as a London-based poet who has been called ‘the Queen of British performance poetry’ (London Metro) and ‘spine-tingling’ (The Independent). She has performed her poetry in places all over the world, from a shopping mall in the Bangkok Book Fair to a prison in Colombia and New York’s Nuyorican Café. She’s run creative writing workshops with the British Council, The Young Vic, The BBC, The Barbican, Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, The Natural History Museum and many more.

John Hegley

Mr Hegley was born in Newington Green, North London and was educated in Luton, Bristol and Bradford University. His first public performance monies came from busking his songs, initially outside a shoe shop in Hull in the late seventies. He performed on the streets of London in the early eighties, fronting the Popticians, with whom he also recorded two sessions for John Peel, and has since been a frequent performer of his words, sung and spoken, on both local and national radio.

He has produced ten books of verse and prose pieces, two CDs and one mug, but his largest source of income is from stages on his native island. An Edinburgh Festival regular, he is noted for his exploration of such diverse topics as dog hair, potatoes, handkerchiefs and the misery of human existence.

Selina Nwulu

Selina Nwulu is a writer, poet and essayist based in London. She was Young Poet Laureate for London 2015-6, a prestigious award that recognises talent and potential in the capital.  Her first chapbook collection, The Secrets I Let Slip was published by Burning Eye Books in September 2015 and was a Poetry Book Society (PBS) recommendation. She also writes for a number of online outlets such as the Guardian, Free Word and Red Pepper.

Selina has toured nationally with Apples and Snakes, representing London as part of the Public Address II tour, as well as more widely at a number of festivals including Glastonbury, Edinburgh Fringe, Cúirt Festival in Galway and Fiery Tongues Festival in Ruigoord, Holland. She has also taken part in a literary tour in India with the British Council. She was Writer and Creator in Residence at the Free Word centre and Wellcome Trust, looking creatively at food and how it connects to our health and matters of social justice.

Midori Jaeger

Midori Jaeger is a cellist, singer and songwriter who performs in the realms of folk, classical, jazz, world music, and free improvisation. Midori graduated with Distinction from the Masters course in Cello at the Royal Academy of Music in 2016 and has performed in Macbeth and King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe, tours as the cellist and backing vocalist for Heather Nova, and gigs regularly in London and abroad with many artists including Ex:Re, Shammi Pithia, Cherise Adams-Burnett and Daisy Chute. Midori is a regular session musician and can be heard playing cello and keyboards on Heather Nova’s upcoming album Pearl, playing cello for Joseph Lawrence & The Garden, and as a cellist for Glass Animals. Midori’s album of experimental ambient cello music, co-written with British record producer ‘Youth’, will be released in September 2019 on Painted Word Records and her debut EP of original songs with her four-piece band is due for release in Summer 2019. 

Anthony Joseph

Anthony Joseph is a Trinidad-born poet, novelist, academic and musician. He is the author of four poetry collections and three novels, The African Origins of UFOsKitch: A Fictional Biography of a Calypso Icon and The Frequency of Magic (forthcoming in October 2019). Kitch has been shortlisted for The 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize, the OCM Bocas Fiction Prize for Caribbean Literature, and the Royal Society of Literature’s Encore Award. As a musician he has released seven critically acclaimed albums. The most recent, People of the Sun, was recorded in Trinidad and released in 2018. In the same year, he curated ‘Windrush: A Celebration’, a series of five events which reconsidered and celebrated the literary and musical legacies of the Windrush generation, culminating in a gala concert at the Barbican as part of the London Jazz Festival. In 2019 he was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship. He lectures in literature, critical theory and creative writing at De Montfort University, Leicester. He lives in London

Sarah Sayeed

Sarah Sayeed is a musical artist whose practice focuses around contemporary works that have influence from Western classical choral works, orchestral ideas, Indian and Bengali classical vocals & instrumental works and Western contemporary jazz and urban music. Sarah plays tanpura, shruti and swarmandal, and is the lead vocalist in international duet Myth of Her with violinst and electronic artist Anne Eltard (Copenhagen, Denmark). She is currently training in classical vocals with leading Classical Indian Music maestro Swati Natekar.

Credits include Principle Musician in Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe (2019), Composer & Musical Director for the Royal Shakespeare Company adaption of Moliere’s Tartuffe (2019/2018) and Sound Designer for Contact Theatre’s production on Suffragette Movement, She Bangs The Drums (2018) 

Artistic commissions include: Sound and Music‘s Portfolio composers programme and Curating Sound Travels with the British Music collection/ Google Curate.

Sarah has developed key projects such as  Sufi in the City with The Whitworth and New Art Exchange where Sarah is Experimentor associate artist. Her performances include Manchester International Festival, Brighton Fringe, Cargo, Queen Elizabeth Hall & Nottingham Mela.

Breaking New Ground

Breaking New Ground is a project celebrating British writers and illustrators of colour who are creating stories for children and young people. It was launched at London Book Fair 2019 with a new booklet featuring over 100 contemporary creators.

30,000 copies of the booklet were distributed to every school in the country, as well as to librarians, festivals, venues, publishers, agents and all key people working in this sector of literature.

Celebrating British writers & illustrators of colour

This latest iteration of Speaking Volumes’ Breaking Ground series is created in partnership with specialist children’s literature organisations BookTrust and Pop Up Projects. Both organisations have been coordinating activites to make positive changes for contemporary writers and illustrators, supporting their careers, offer them opportunities and generally helping them break into the industry.

You can read the new booklet on Issuu by clicking the image below.

Check back to find out the progress of the project.

Speaking Volumes produced this film to explain what Breakng New Ground is. It features Sarwat Chadda, Yasmeen Ismail, Polly Ho-Yen, Peter Kalu, Tariq Mehmood and Ken Wilson-Max speaking about their experiences as writers and illustrators of colour and why this project is so important and needed.