The winners of the 2023 Wicked Writers: Be The Change writing competition, a collaboration between the National Literacy Trust and the stage musical Wicked, as part of its Wicked Active Learning cultural and social education programme, have been announced. From climate change to clean water, food banks to football, children across the UK have made their voices heard about the things they would like to change for the better in society.
The winner in the 9-11 age group is Amélie Arumugum, 10, from Powell Corderoy School in Dorking, who wrote an inspiring essay on deforestation and how humans can change their behaviour to protect the planet. Natalia Hrickova, 10, from Thomas Deacon Academy Junior School in Peterborough, is the runner up, and her experience as a deaf student fuelled an inspiring and persuasive argument for British Sign Language to become a mandatory lesson in school.
The winner in the 11-14 age group is Hannah Firth, 14, from Trinity Academy in Halifax, whose essay on protecting and supporting refugees moved and inspired the judging panel. Ella Barker-Garrod, 13, from Ringwood School in Hampshire, was the close runner-up, and she used her entry to highlight inequality in women’s sports, calling for an end to sexism.
The judges were Sharna Jackson, award-winning author of High-Rise Mystery, Mark Curry, Wicked cast member and former ‘Blue Peter’ presenter, Michael McCabe, Executive Producer of Wicked in the UK, and Jonathan Douglas, CEO of the National Literacy Trust.
Tim Judge, Head of School Programmes at the National Literacy Trust, said, “The huge variety of issues facing children has been a real eye-opener. Many children who entered had experienced some form of social injustice in their own life, from accessibility issues, through to gender inequality. The competition has been a successful exercise in showing children how they can use their literacy skills to amplify their voice and raise awareness about issues important to them.”
Michael McCabe, Executive Producer of Wicked added, “We are proud to have provided this platform for young people to find their voices through writing about the issues that matter to them. With concerns for the planet, a plea for us all to learn sign language, ongoing sexism and inequality in sport, and the inhumane treatment of refugees, these four incredible pieces of writing inspired us all.”
Sharna Jackson, award-winning children’s author, also commented, “It was a real pleasure to judge this competition, and to host a workshop as part of the prize! Speaking with the winners and their classmates during the workshops has demonstrated just how important it is to provide children with a platform for them to raise awareness about issues close to their hearts. The wide range of subjects featured in the competition entries demonstrates the variety of challenges facing schoolchildren from different backgrounds across the UK and gives a valuable insight into how we can better shape the future for this next generation. I hope everyone who entered continues to use what they have learnt to fight for social justice!”
The judges described Amélie Arumugum’s winning entry in the 9-11 age group as “an exceptional piece of writing. A very well crafted, well-researched piece which utilises emotional and intellectual appeal and includes a strong call to action.”
After hearing about her win, Amélie said, “I was overjoyed. Out of all the participants across the UK, many of whom were older than me, I had won! I am so excited to see Wicked with all my classmates and since the title of the competition was ‘Be the Change’ I think everyone should not just write about positive changes but make them too!”
Explaining why 14-year-old Hannah Firth was chosen as the winner of her age group, the judges said, “This piece commanded our attention from its first words, engaging us on both a societal and personal level. The writing is highly effective, with a variety of styles deployed, emotive and fact -driven. It’s highly persuasive, conveying deep personal pain about injustice.”
Hannah was delighted to have won, saying, “I feel incredibly lucky to have won the ‘Be the Change’ competition! I wanted people to read my piece and feel something, be moved, and see refugees not just as statistics but as individuals who need our support. I spent a long time editing and re-drafting my piece of writing due to my dyslexia as if I wanted people to care about my chosen topic, I realised I needed to show how much effort I was willing to put in too. I even conducted research online to ensure my writing was accurate.”
Amélie’s and Hannah’s schools have both received class trips to see Wicked and workshops with Sharna Jackson, in which they will learn more about writing compelling stories and arguments, and how to use their voice to champion social justice.