Pen Power – Writing for Wellbeing

Nurturing personal growth and wellbeing through reading and writing

Natalie established Pen Power™ in January 2016. She facilitates writing activities within a diverse range of community groups and settings, including libraries, schools and residential care. These activities encourage people to become more expressive, self-aware, resilient and ultimately empowered to cope better with life’s challenges.

Evidence of the healing properties of words can be traced back as far as the ancient Egyptians who would literally swallow a remedy made of words written on papyrus and dissolved into liquid! 

Writing invites us to connect with our thoughts and feelings on a deeper level; we are encouraged to learn more about ourselves and the way we interact with others, whilst doing something fun.

“A poem begins with a lump in the throat”

Robert Frost

Natalie’s strong belief in the positive impact that reading and writing can have on emotional wellbeing has led her to seek accreditation from the International Federation of Biblio/Poetry Therapy as a Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator (awarded May 2020). This is an internationally recognised qualification in writing for therapeutic purposes, which includes over 400 hours of didactic learning, facilitation and close supervision.

She is a member of Lapidus, the UK’s largest Writing for Wellbeing organisation and is a regular speaker at the annual conference for the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE).

Pen Power uses the established practices of biblio/poetry therapy and journaling to create fun and varied group sessions which embrace being in the moment, in a safe, inclusive space.

A poem or word is used as a prompt to stimulate your own thoughts and help you to write a creative response. You are invited to express your feelings on the page in response to a subject, theme, image or object. You are given some breathing space to reflect. There is no pressure to share your writing but if you choose to do so, it will be received in a supportive, non-critical way. No prior writing experience is necessary. The focus of the session is on expression of ideas rather than writing craft.

Natalie – Pen Power

The resultant writing is not judged on its technical merit. It is about process not product. Therefore, if participants are able to write something in response to the text which helps them to explore an aspect of themselves, and better still if they feel confident enough to share their writing with others, then the process has worked.

Pen Power sessions may be of benefit to people who are feeling lonely or disconnected, or have experienced trauma, loss, anxiety/depression, but are open to all who wish to maintain their levels of mental fitness through expressive writing.

Natalie is a lovely, relaxing facilitator. The feeling was wonderful – really enjoyed the day!

– Rosie Malcolm-MacEwan (Campaigner and Trainer at Time to Change)

Why not try a session? Keep an eye on this page for updates about one-off sessions and courses. Or drop Natalie a message via the contact button.

Please scroll down the page to read about the many wellbeing-focused projects Natalie has worked on with her initiative Pen Power.

This was my first introduction to bibliotherapy and I have to say I was extremely impressed both with the concept and content, and Natalie’s excellent delivery of it.  She ‘held’ the group beautifully and in a very short space of time, created a safe space which was conducive to learning and sharing.  I have almost 20 years’ experience working with offenders in the Criminal Justice System and I can see how it would be very beneficial to this client group to help them explore their feelings and emotions.

Pam Bircumshaw (Project Worker)

Pen Power – Journaling for Wellbeing (in partnership with Stockton-on-Tees Borough Libraries)

First session on 21st September, 2022, 1:30-3pm Thornaby Central Library

Journaling can help us to process and manage our emotions, build self-awareness, problem solve and prioritise tasks. With a range of journaling activities designed with emotional wellbeing in mind, this is the perfect session for maintaining your levels of mental fitness whilst doing something fun in the company of others.

You don’t need to be a ‘writer’ to take part, and you don’t have to share your writing. The session is about process not product. However, a safe, supportive and inclusive space will be offered for you to share your thoughts along the way. All you need to bring is a notebook and pen, and a willingness to give it a try!

Book your free place at Thornaby Central Library on 01642 528117 or

Past Events: Pen Power – Writing for Wellbeing

Workshop for AUB Presents International Women’s Day 2022, online, March 8th 2022

Workshop for Lapidus Creative Bridges Conference 2021 online, September 18th 2021

Course of 3 sessions delivered online to students at Arts University Bournemouth, May 2020

Session for Sedgefield Book Ends Festival, October 11th 2019 at Ceddesfield Hall

Session for Crossing the Tees Festival, June 18th 2019 at Hartlepool and Acklam libraries

Day of Writing for Personal Growth and Wellbeing, November 17th 2019 at Hardwick Hall Hotel, Sedgefield

Session for Sedgefield Book Festival, October 13th 2018 at Ceddesfield Hall

Session for Darlington Arts Festival, May 26th 2018 at the Friends Meeting House

Taster for the Festival of Wellbeing, November 6th 2017 at Teesside University

Taster for World Mental Health Day, October 10th 2017 at Billingham Library

Taster for Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, May 2nd 2017 at Raindrops to Rainbows, Stockton-on-Tees

Writing for Wellbeing 6 week course, January 11th – February 15th 2017 at Norton Library

Try it at ARC: Pen Power – Writing for Wellbeing, February 18th 2017 at ARC, Stockton-on-Tees

Try it at ARC: Pen Power – Writing for Wellbeing, February 18th 2017 at ARC, Stockton-on-Tees

Words to Promote Wellbeing, May 17th 2016 at Health Warehouse Café, Darlington

Try it at ARC: Pen Power – Writing for Wellbeing, February 6th 2016 at ARC, Stockton-on-Tees

Over to Natalie now, to tell you about gaining her credentials as a practitioner, and the amazing projects she has worked on over the years in connection with Pen Power…

Awarded IFBPT Credentials

In May 2020, I gained my credentials with the International Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy to become a Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator, a role which requires extensive research into the theory and practice of bibliotherapy. Though it is not a legal requirement for practitioners in the UK to have accreditation to facilitate therapeutic writing sessions, I feel strongly about having an understanding of the potentially problematic nature and ethical implications of such work, thus wanted to develop my experience and expertise in this field. My training includes learning in many forms, including didactic, peer, facilitation and supervision by one of the only certified poetry therapists in Europe, Victoria Field.

CAPF Credentials awarded, May 2020.

Essential reading I had to complete for this training included: Biblio/Poetry Therapy: The Interactive Process: A Handbook, Arleen Hynes & Mary Hynes-Berry, The Healing Fountain, Geri Chavis and Lila Weisberger, Poetry Therapy: Theory and Practice, Nicholas J. Mazza, Journal of Poetry Therapy, Nicholas J. Mazza, ed., Taylor & Francis, Journal to the Self, Kathleen Adams, Word Arts Collage: A Poetry Therapy Memoir, Peggy Heller, Poetry and Story Therapy, Geri Giebel Chavis, Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping through Transformative Writing, Sherry Reiter, and Poetic Medicine, John Fox. For each text I was required to write a set of comprehensive annotations and reflect on my learning through reports written after every facilitated session.

I believe it is right to have accreditation in this field in order to facilitate sessions. Practitioners need to have an appropriate level of skill, knowledge and experience to be able to manage the kinds of issues that might arise during a session, with discretion, professionalism and sensitivity. I will always strive to uphold these values in my future practice. And in my recent post as Creative Writing lecturer at Arts University Bournemouth, I have the opportunity to conduct some action research into writing for wellbeing. I am very much looking forward to contributing to the wealth of illuminating studies, inspired by some of the established names in the field whom I respect and admire.   

Entering the Poem’s Room – a Workshop for Lapidus Creative Bridges 2021

Lapidus Creative Bridges Conference 2021

Over 40 participants attended this workshop I had designed especially for Lapidus. This was the description of the session: “We are often invited to respond to poems but how often do we step inside the poem’s room? In this welcoming, inclusive workshop, Natalie will invite participants to experience a poem using a method informed by poetry therapy practice, to foster empathy, the imagination, and a deeper connection with self.” I have plans to run more workshops using this model.

Writing Summer Packs for AUB Students!

Contents of the Pen Power pack offered to AUB Students over the summer of 2021

This was a collaboration between Pen Power and Arts University Bournemouth Student Union, with an aim to help students discover the positive effects of writing. The packs contained a selection of writing prompts, stationery and other goodies and were offered to students in the summer of 2021. On the strength of this project, we hope to offer more resources like this in the future, as well as in-class and online writing for wellbeing sessions.

Lapidus Research Project

Lapidus official logo.

Since beginning my training in poetry therapy, I have been a member of Lapidus International (read my profile page here) and supported the fantastic variety of events on offer. In July 2020, I was invited to take a leading role in a research project organised by Lapidus International who is working with Professor Tony Wall at the University of Chester on a new research project that looks at the changes in provision of creative writing for wellbeing groups in England during Covid-19. My role was to manage research for a regional area of the UK, investigating writing for wellbeing provision currently available in that area and speaking to facilitators to find out how their practice was affected by Covid-19. I presented my findings in the form of an official report which will contribute to Professor Wall’s final outcomes for the project.

Community Project: My Town My Future

Left: Day residents of the Teesside Ability Support Centre (TASC), Middlesbrough, who took part in the project, with project leader Ruth Cull (centre). Right: Cover of the anthology published by Sixth Element.

In 2017, I was approached by Ruth Cull at Middlesbrough Libraries who invited me to be the writing tutor as part of a collaborative project named Middlesbrough: My Town My Future, which aimed to encourage local residents a to take photos and write short pieces as a way to share personal stories about their experience of living in the area. I worked alongside Ruth and photographer Mark to deliver a series of 6-week courses to a diverse range of community groups including vulnerable women, day residents of an ability support centre, children excluded from mainstream education, youth apprentices, library members and the elderly.

I especially enjoyed my time working with day residents of the Teesside Ability Support Centre (TASC), as it presented some new challenges for me as a practitioner and I had to react more instinctively in the sessions. It wasn’t always easy getting the group into the mood for writing, but a more hands-on approach of using discussion as the starting point and then writing words and phrases on large coloured sheets worked well as a way to engage everyone in the process. A good way-in with individuals was to talk about their interests as a way to encourage the telling of their personal stories. This was the case for Andrei, who was a painter first and foremost but could articulate his experience very evocatively in his choice of words for the poem we created together.

Andrei’s painting and poem published in the My Town My Future anthology.
Image and poem ©copyright 2018, Andrei Bianchi, no usage without permission.

All of the poems and stories were featured alongside the images in a celebratory anthology which I helped to edit and launch at The Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough in April 2018.

Natalie adapted each session to meet the needs of the participants and provided clear guidelines to approach the writing. She worked empathetically to encourage less confident participants and developed a good relationship with all those attending. Natalie works well with all staff and has been an asset to the My Town My Future project.

Ruth Cull (Library Development Officer)

Read more about the MTMF project here.

Community Projects: Dementia

In 2016, I facilitated sessions for Equal Arts, working with those living with dementia in residential settings. Some sessions I co-facilitated with Nicky Rushton who is a singer/songwriter, and we used singing and reading song lyrics as a way to engage the group (I also love to sing, and have fond memories of a Blues workshop led by Jacqui Wicks!). I was soon introducing poems for the group to read aloud and respond to, and was always impressed by how many poems were known by heart – ‘Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth was always a popular choice as it encouraged discussions and writing about spring. Other sessions were themed around the seasons, holidays, childhood games, and I combined activities which responded to objects and poems connected with these themes. Depending on the stage of dementia participants were experiencing, I acted as a scribe in some instances to create individual or group poems, or used a cut-and-paste-poem method which was always well-received. This group taught me to be flexible and able to adapt quickly because unexpected events can happen in these settings. Sometimes, participants wanted to talk and not write at all and I had to respect that wish. But I was always amazed at the stories that could emerge from just chatting over a cuppa and a slice of cake. A poem or story was usually just around the corner!

Residents responding to ‘cut-and-paste-poem’ and ‘observing objects’ activities. Selected poems written by residents were printed as table stands to use in the local café.

I have also facilitated sessions in conjunction with Teesside-based projects Staying Out and The Memory Café, working with participants in community settings.

I found Natalie to be ultra-supportive, totally professional, and she led the sessions with empathy and knowledge of both writing and people. Natalie has a wonderful persona, calming and caring. She interacted with individuals and groups in the same compassionate way, bringing out the best in each, advising and giving encouragement.

Michelle Tripp (Staying Out facilitator at ARC)

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