The Portico Sadie Massey Awards - News


On Tuesday 7th August, my mum and I travelled to the historic Portico Library in Manchester for afternoon tea and a tour of the library itself. I had won the trip due to taking part in the English department’s ‘I Am’ competition, which saw KS4 students earn points for taking part in extra-curricular English activities, such as attending the Cake and Classics book club, helping out at Reading Mentoring, and writing reviews, articles or stories in their own time. 

The Portico Library opened in 1806 as a private library, after four years of fundraising and building on behalf of a pair of wealthy Mancunian cotton merchants, and has had members such as John Dalton, Peter Roget, Sir Robert Peel, and more recently, Eric Cantona. Its collection, over 25,000 books, is mainly 19th century, and provides an insight into Victorian and Georgian culture, being read for pleasure and research alike, however, the library is also home to more modern works of fiction too. Michelle took us to the members-only reading room, with bookshelves as high as the ceilings, explained the nature and meaning of the library’s large Polite Literature collection, and showed us books and drawings over 200 years old!  

After all that excitement, we settled down for afternoon tea under the library’s beautiful and historic glass dome, with the small kitchen offering us tea and juice, as well as scones and flapjacks, which tasted amazing! We debriefed our tour as we ate, before taking a look around the mind-boggling art exhibition, featuring stunning work by Dan Hays, and pondering the gifts for sale in the shop. All in all, we had an interesting and fantastic day out, and want to thank the staff at the Portico Library for being so welcoming and kind, and the English Department for arranging and allowing us such an insightful experience. 

Post by Kiera Quinn

Kiera Quinn outside the entrance to The Portico Library

Kiera Quinn outside the entrance to The Portico Library

creative writing Award Winner, Emily Graham meets with rosie garland in the portico library

Rosie Garland, member of The Portico Library and author of  The Night Brother ( Harper Collins UK).

Rosie Garland, member of The Portico Library and author of The Night Brother (Harper Collins UK).

Early 2017 I was encouraged by my high school English teacher to partake in The Portico Sadie Massey Awards. I entered genuinely thinking I wouldn’t even be recognised, never mind win! The Portico Sadie Massey awards changed the way I see my writing, encouraging me to carry on writing and to be confident in myself. I remember holding ‘The Time Travellers and the Crystal Dome’ for the very first time. I was taken aback when seeing my own work published. The words that were once scrawled upon rough pieces of paper finally perfectly printed inside a book. I was inspired beyond belief.

I was later invited to be on the Radio alongside Paul Morris, a judge of The Portico Sadie Massey Awards, as well as an author who encourages me to write and inspires me to have faith in myself. Being on the radio was an overwhelming opportunity and allowed me to talk to the presenter, Hannah, about what it is like to work in the Radio industry and allow me to contemplate more future ideas.

Early December I also had the opportunity to meet an author who inspires me and makes me want to write, Rosie Garland. We sat down in The Portico Library and excitedly talked about poetry and prose. Rosie took the time to talk to me about the possibilities and choices that are available to me as a writer as well as read some of my writing and highlighting the lines she enjoyed most.

Having the chance to meet both authors and poets who inspire me greatly really allowed me to see my writing in a new light. Partaking in The Portico Sadie Massey Awards encouraged me to write how I enjoy writing, as well as giving me opportunities I did not think were possible at sixteen.


Post by Emily Graham



Jacob Polley and Urmston Grammar at The Portico Library

The Portico Library's painted Georgian dome.

The Portico Library's painted Georgian dome.

You really have to start a report on an event at the Portico Library with a comment about being seated under its magnificent domed ceiling. On this particular Thursday in November, it boasted the added bonus of sheltering an award-winning poet.

Urmston Grammar English Literature A-Level students got the chance to meet Jacob Polley, whose fourth poetry collection Jackself won last year’s T S Eliot Prize (which you can read me raving about here), in a reading and Q&A session hosted by Manchester’s loveliest hidden literary gem.

Jacob’s reading brought to life the aural aspects of poetry which are often analysed on paper but all too infrequently listened to. Admitting that poetry can be hard to listen to, he welcomed just taking it in ‘as music’, though the context which he gave throughout, and the compelling voice of his poetry, made for easy and attractive reading, and gave us a feel for the collection’s unique atmosphere.

We got a flavour of the mixture of ‘everyday and impossible’ which defines Jackself, with ancestors’ skeletons in ‘The Lofts’, familiar classroom antics in ‘Lessons’, and boyish escapades in ‘Peewit’, ‘Jack Frost’, and ‘Nightlines’, the poem which first spawned the character of Jackself.

In the engaging, funny, and relaxed question and answer session which followed we focussed on the difference between meaning and significance, the role of poetry, and the relationship between writer and reader at all stages of the process. Titles of individual poems, as well as the physicality of the book, Jacob shared, are particularly important to him, and often have a lot of work to do in supporting the poems, and enticing readers. Admitting ‘I never know what I’m doing’, and that his first response to a poem of his own is often ‘I’ve got no idea what that is’, Jacob discussed the excitement of that discovery process, and the arc of creation, shaping work for a reader once the initial ‘mess’ has been defined with retrospect. A writer has to be ‘provoked’, and then craft their work to be ‘provocative’ to their reader.

Year 12 and 13 English Literature students with T S Eliot-prize-winning poet Jacob Polley at The Portico Library.

Year 12 and 13 English Literature students with T S Eliot-prize-winning poet Jacob Polley at The Portico Library.

Jacob shook the foundations of A-Level English Literature study by revealing that he’s not particularly interested in what a poem means, that he wants to be read how he reads (and how we all best love to read), to provoke a reader imaginatively, but not necessarily to give them a puzzle to solve. Whilst literary analysis is ‘enriching’ and develops critical thinking skills (cue a ‘phew’ from our teacher), Jacob is more interested in the ‘reality’ of his poems, and his ‘web of resonance and allusion’ rather contributes to the ‘texture of the poem’ than excludes non-literary readers.

An intimate setting to grill the daunting ‘writer’ who features so heavily in essays and thinking on literature was a privilege, and sharing wise words about poetry and life, in a room full of books, was, quite simply, delightful.


Post by Jess Molyneux


'time travellers and the crystal dome' is launched at waterstones and winners join with paul morris on 'Hannah's bookshelf'

From left to right: Melvin Burgess (Portico patron), Emily Graham, Aya Ahmad, Macey Wareing, actor as Peter Mark Roget and Paul Morris at Waterstones, Deansgate.

From left to right: Melvin Burgess (Portico patron), Emily Graham, Aya Ahmad, Macey Wareing, actor as Peter Mark Roget and Paul Morris at Waterstones, Deansgate.

On the 1st of October 2017 we held an event at Waterstones to launch Time Travellers and the Crystal Dome. In this book four young adventurers go back in time, each in turn, to meet an important individual from the early Victorian period: John Dalton, Robert Peel, Elizabeth Gaskell and Peter Mark Roget were all connected to The Portico Library on Mosley Street, Manchester. But there's something that makes this book extra special: the winning stories and reviews submitted to our competitions are also published inside! If you ever wanted to be a published writer by the time you left school, then enter The Portico Sadie Massey Awards. You might just get your wish!

A few weeks later, Emily Graham from Bolton School, Girl's Division, and Macey Wareing from Oaktree Primary School in Cheadle Hulme made their radio debut to talk about books, writing and The Portico Sadie Massey Awards on Hannah's Bookshelf. They were joined by PSMA judge and local author, Paul Morris. Click here to listen to the show in full!

Time Travellers and the Crystal Dome can be purchased online. All profits go to The Portico Library's schools outreach activities.