High Street Tales: Hastings – short story commission

October 15, 2020
Hastings town centre c 1960

We’re looking for a socially engaged writer, experienced at working with local communities and arts and culture organisations, to write a short story as part of a nationwide project to celebrate the future of the local high street. 

The project

High Street Tales is part of the cultural programme of the High Street Heritage Action Zones (HAZ) project run by Historic England. Its aim is to create a set of stories to be broadcast and distributed online that celebrate the local high street, the people and communities who depend on them and centre their lives around theirs, and the roles they have played – and will continue to play – in our lives.  

You can find out more about New Writing South in the ‘about us’ section of our website.

The Trinity Triangle Heritage Action Zone in Hastings is an area rich in history and built heritage – it is home to the story of the America Ground rebels, Victorian and Edwardian buildings, the iconic Observer Building and the beautifully renovated library. The residents of the area are diverse and it is home to many small, independent businesses and a growing number of creative people live and work in the area. 

What is the commission? 

England’s high streets have a long history and have always been at the heart of our communities. They are our landmarks and points of reference; our meeting places and marketplaces. Across the centuries people have gathered together on high streets, from market days to turning on the Christmas lights; coffee dates to national jubilees. In a recent survey, 45% of respondents indicated that their primary high street use was non-retail related. 

Every high street in England, whether it is in a medieval market town or a post-war city centre, has a unique and distinctive history that creates identity and a sense of place. Despite this, high streets are struggling, and need to adapt to survive. Your commissioned story would be a way to help people reconnect with their high streets, helping them see it as a place that can thrive and be of relevance to them and their lives. 

The full set of High Street Tales will capture the everyday magic that plays out on high streets across England. We are looking to work with a writer committed to co-creation and uncovering untold stories, who will create an inspiring, thought provoking and entertaining story from their research, consultation and documentation. 

About the story and its creation 

(1)  Your short story will be 3,000 words or the equivalent of 15 minutes’ listening time. It will be aimed at a confident, engaged readers who are keen to dig beneath the surface of places, learn more about history and heritage and expand their understanding of places, communities, cultures and contexts. We can share more information about the audience with the successful applicant.  

As well as the story itself, we would like you to work with us to provide six high quality images relating to the story and its genesis (pictures of locations, people, experiences, contemporary or historical documents) that will form part of the story’s context when it’s published and shared. We will provide access to a photographer to help with this if needed. 

The creation of each of the stories will feature as the central element of a podcast, so we’d like you to take part in that recording too. A 45 minute radio programme will be made about the collective endeavour too. 

Finally, each story will be featured in an eBook (not for sale) to be featured on the website of English Heritage and the partners of this project. 

(2)  As part of your application, we’d like to hear about how you would go about creating your story and there’s more information about that below. 

The current COVID-19 pandemic is making community engagement and face-to-face working complex. However, we’d like to hear about the ways you feel you could safely engage the community/communities of Hastings in your approach to writing the story. This might include setting up virtual meetings with community groups that NWS can help you access. It might include (COVID-19 secure) research visits to Hastings and the places or communities you are planning to write about. It will include two (virtual) workshops with communities in Hastings, that NWS can help you set up and manage during the early part of the commission period. 

We’d love you to be as creative as possible about the creation and development of the story and we will work with you to develop a risk assessment of any work undertaken and to create a plan to ensure your safety and the safety of any community members you work with.  

What we can offer in return 

Fee: the fee for the development of the story – to include delivery of two workshops, research, documentation – is £3,000 

NWS will pay for the hosting of the workshops and their management, any photography needed, the creation of the podcast and the production of the eBook text.  

There are additional funds available to support access needs. There will be space to tell us about these in the application form. 


Applications open: 15th October
Applications deadline: 2nd November
Writer to be contacted: 9th November for initial briefing via Zoom

We will commission the writer by 9th November so they can start work the following week. 

A first draft of the story must be ready for sharing with NWS on 7th December. 

A final version of the story must be agreed by 13th December. 

How to Apply 

In addition to the usual details and data monitoring we’re required to collect, we’d like you to provide the following information in support of your application. 

  1. Tell us about your idea. What’s the approach you’d like to take to this commission? What aspect of the high street and its community in Hasting intrigues you? Which stories do you suspect people would like to know more about? Which voices have not been heard? Which buildings and shops open up access to Hastings’ rich past or show how it might thrive in future? Tell us about your creative approach in no more than 400 words. 
  2. Share with us an outline of your approach to the commission detailing your proposed methods for engagement with the place, communities and high street in Hastings. We understand things are complicated at the moment and might get more so, so demonstrate your experience and ingenuity and describe how you’d go about the commission in a safe way and how and to whom you’d like to pitch the two virtual workshops that we’ll help you host to engage people and communities from Hastings. 
  3. Share with us a summary creative CV (including any links if relevant) outlining the creative and community work you’ve done that is relevant to this commission. 
  4. Please upload a sample of your writing. This can be in any genre. (max 300 words)

Please submit your application through this online form before the deadline at midnight, 2 November 2020.

Our writer development agency partners

New Writing South is one of seven writer development agencies working across England. Find out more about the other agencies at:

New Writing North
Spread the Word
Writing East Midlands
Writing West Midlands
National Centre for Writing
Literature Works

Image credit: “Hastings Town Centre.” by Phil Sellens is licensed under CC BY 2.0