The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition Winners Week was held this November in celebration of four young writers whose outstanding poems and stories on the topic of ‘Peace’ were chosen from 12 300 entries to win the 2017 Competition. From Canada, Australia, India and the UK, they travelled to London to participate in an exclusive four day programme of educational and cultural activities organised by The Royal Commonwealth Society.
Day one began with a visit to The High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom for an introductory workshop and tour of the building. We were fortunate that the rain held off and we could enjoy the roof garden – complete with functioning beehives! Deputy High Commissioner Sarah Fountain Smith came to meet the winners and offer her congratulations and everyone agreed it was a pleasure to meet her. The day continued with a trip in to the City and lunch at the Macquarie Group in their elegant skyscraper offices, before getting stuck in to a writing workshop with Young People’s Laureate Caleb Femi, kindly hosted at Somerset House by The Royal Society of Literature.
Our busy day concluded with a delicious dinner at The High Commission of Australia in the United Kingdom with His Excellency The Hon. Alexander Downer. Though the winners were tired (especially those who had just flown in that morning following a starring role in the school play!), they thoroughly enjoyed meeting him, and spending the evening in the same building that played Gringotts Bank.
Day two played host to the main event – an Awards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace in the presence of HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. To prepare for this momentous occasion, the winners spent the morning treading the boards at Shakespeare’s Globe, workshopping Macbeth and taking a bow on the famous stage with movement coach Glynn Macdonald.
The Awards Ceremony was a wonderful event, thoroughly enjoyed by more than a hundred guests. Alongside the presentation of certificates, outstanding authors read excerpts of the winning essays to resounding applause, and we were excited to welcome RCS archivists from Cambridge University Library who exhibited historical competition entries full of beautiful illustrations. If you would like to experience this event for yourself, the BBC World Service produced an episode of Outlook on the competition, full of beautiful description and fascinating interviews. It is available on the iPlayer.
In addition to this wondrous event, the 4 young winners were delighted to receive more than ten signed books each as part of their prize from authors including David Walliams, Anne Fine, Romesh Gunesekera, Stephen Kelman and more. They were over the moon and all eager to jump in a black cab back to the hotel to begin reading.
Wednesday came and brought another day exploring the city by tube, boat, bus and on foot. Our first stop was Westminster Abbey, where we took part in a private tour highlighting its notable memorials and culminating in Poet’s Corner. 2 hours had never passed so quickly and we were sad to leave until remembering that the next stop was a visit to the sold-out Harry Potter History of Magic exhibition at the British Library. Following this, we rushed off to the Evening Standard offices before finishing the day at The Commonwealth Secretariat, who generously provided our Winners the opportunity to record their exceptional poems and stories in a real recording studio.
To kick-start out final day of activities, the winners were treated to a tour of Orla Kiely’s design studios in central London. Among the pattern cutting stations, design areas, racks of sample clothes and fabric store, Orla taught us all about designing and producing high quality clothes and bags. We even managed to get a sneak peak of next year’s collections! The day continued with a brilliant trip to Alleyn’s School – home to our Junior Runner-Up. After exploring the campus and taking part in a special assembly, the winners were whisked off for a backstage tour of the National Theatre and sunset on the South Bank.
The perfect conclusion to this year’s Winners Week was generously provided by Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, who kindly hosted a dinner at the House of Lords for our winners. We were astounded at the historical building and had a quick tour before sitting down to a delightful dinner.
Our winners had a fantastic time on this once-in-a-lifetime whistle-stop tour of London, and each commented how they would remember it forever. The Royal Commonwealth Society is grateful to every supporter who made Winner’s Week such a success and is looking forward to the 2018 Competition!
The 2018 Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition is now open, and asks young writers to explore how the Commonwealth can address global challenges and work to create a better future for all citizens, through the sub-themes of sustainability, safety, prosperity and fairness. For more details including how to enter see our youth and education page.