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Crossing Borders

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  project history


How Crossing Borders began

In February 2001, the British Council UK invited the writer and lecturer Dr. Graham Mort to take part in a writing residency at the University of Makerere, Uganda. Graham Mort’s report on that residency and his analysis of the Ugandan literature infrastructure recorded a lack of educational access for young writers, a lack of publishing opportunities, limited access to contemporary literature in English and a desire for contact with other writers, especially in the UK.

Graham Mort with Crossing Borders participants, Kampala
Graham Mort with Crossing Borders participants, Kampala

Accordingly, a pilot distance learning scheme, Crossing Borders, was developed in 2001, linking Ugandan writers to a multi-cultural group of mentors in the UK, all of whom were professional writers and experienced writing workshop leaders. A framework for email exchange was devised and guidelines written to enable the submission of work to mentors and facilitate their response. A series of live workshops was held at the end of the distance learning scheme, culminating in a public performance of new writing before an invited audience of Ugandan writers.

Feedback from mentors and participants showed that the pilot scheme had worked well and it was consolidated and expanded to include 18 participants in 2002. Results from this expanded pilot scheme were also overwhelmingly positive.

Consultation and writer’s visits began to show that similar restrictive conditions prevail in a number of other English-speaking African countries in which the British Council is active. The current (2003/4) project is therefore a significantly extended scheme based on the successful pilot schemes in Uganda.

The project has found a new UK base at Lancaster University under the leadership of Graham Mort. As well as existing as a dynamic action-research project, Crossin gBorders will become the subject of academic research at Lancaster, where the project archive will reside.

We have greatly expanded our team of mentors to include around 30 writers who wish to be involved with the scheme. We have also appointed a project manager, Tara Duce, and a mentor coordinator, Sara Maitland, to facilitate this expansion and provide a secure and efficient administrative framework.

The British Council UK have increased their core funding and assigned Hannah Henderson, from the Department of Film and Literature, as their UK Project Leader. Kate Ewart-Biggs and Sandra Hook from the British Council office in Kampala offer leadership in East Africa, based on their experience of the scheme so far. In the coming year, Nigeria will assume a similar leadership role in West Africa under the guidance of Denise Waddingham.

Crossing Borders participant, Patrick MengeniIn September 2003 the expanded scheme was re-launched in Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In April 2004, a new development will be launched in Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa.


More information about the project:    
A Day in the life of Graham Mort    
Earlier this Year the poet Graham Mort was writer in residence at Makerere University in Uganda. Read a diary account of Graham Mort’s residency in Uganda.
the Lancaster University Alumni magazine    
Read article on Crossing Borders in the Lancaster University Alumni magazine, Steps, 2003


Crossing Borders participants, Beatrice Lamwaka
Crossing borders participant, Beatrice Lamwaka