Six months after completing the role as poet-theologian in virtual residence for Leeds Church Institute, I am delighted to be back wearing a different hat. Between now and the end of the year, I will be sharing material (through blogs, podcasts and other media) which shows the outcomes of the Leeds Piano Trail project and in particular the ‘Power to the People’ strand of that innovative multi-media cultural event, in which phrases from local poets expressing empowerment were displayed on pianos around the city. I’ll tell you more about it in coming weeks; for now, I’ll just say that the various workshops run with participants representing Leeds Church Institute and its partner groups, Leeds Citizens and Leeds Methodist Mission, were innovative, fun and inclusive. The visible (and intangible!) outputs demonstrated the core values of engaging community spirit, and harnessing the expressive power of creativity in diverse forms.

Today I’m focusing on the creativity of one of the poets involved in this project. I asked environmentalist poet, mental health activist, and teaching assistant Yvonne Ugarte to talk to me about what Power to the People meant to her. Brought up in care, Yvonne is passionate about supporting vulnerable people, and enhancing their wellbeing – and that includes from the very youngest children to the oldest folk. . Yvonne describes writing as her ‘additional life-force’ and her ‘salvation,’ and she has been writing poems since the age of five, so it was no surprise to learn that she has a strong urge to encourage same sort of creativity in young people. Testament to this is the delightful book of her own verses for children, My Aunt Jean’s a Dinosaur (Runcible Spoon Press, 2021) for which she commissioned art work from children at Beeston Primary School where she works. As you can see from the cover illustration here, in Yvonne’s vision of the world, even ‘non-human people’ like dinosaurs can be empowered.
‘Copyright Yvonne Ugarte, Cover artwork Rebekha Burton, Cover design David Stafford of Runcible Spoon Press.’)

Empowerment for her is about social justice, care for each other and the environment, and fostering creativity without barriers in terms of access or discrimination about social class, status, gender identity or any other aspect of identity. Yvonne’s generous spirit is shown so vividly by her collaboration with the children she works with, and the book is full of examples of their vibrant creativity, illustrating poems about animals, the environment, relationships, and some of the challenges people face in society. Yvonne’s contribution to the Leeds Piano Trail included the stirring words: ‘You will feel the heat inside us/Desire for change our only reason/Stand with us, support our cause/For community cohesion.’ These words build on a poem she was commissioned to perform as part of the installation of Leeds Lord Mayor. Thank you, Yvonne, for all your commitment to empowering the citizens of Leeds.

Hannah Stone