Student Writing Competition and Winners

Asia House holds a Schools Writing Programme and Student Writing Competition for young people aged 12 to 18 at schools across the UK each year. This is part of the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival.

In partnership with London’s Eastside Educational Trust, authors and creative writing facilitators visit schools and hold workshops with young people exploring Asian literature and culture. In 2016 the children were introduced to a series of books and themes around this year’s Festival theme of alternative voice. They were then asked to write either a poem, short story or essay under the title of ‘difference and conformity’.

The 2016 winners have now been announced and the winning entries are available for you to read below.

The 2016 winners were announced at a workshop held at Asia House on Wednesday 29 June, 2016. They were given prizes of Amazon vouchers.

Approximately 500 students entered this year’s competition, a similar number to last year’s and doubling the numbers when the writing competition first began.

The competition, held annually, provides an opportunity for young people to explore other cultures around the world through literature, with the programme creating awareness of the work of Asian writers. It also aims to increase literacy and integration.

Anisa Rafaqat, 15, from Saltley Academy in Birmingham, won the non-fiction prize for her piece Reflection. Rafaqat said that the workshop she participated in at Asia House made her realise that “if you like writing, just go for it. Follow your passions.”


Anisa Rafaqat, 15, from Saltley Academy in Birmingham

Adonis Haxholli, 14, from Haverstock School in London, said that participating in the sessions had opened his eyes to the range of diverse poetry out there. He said: “It’s good to be unique. Being the same doesn’t make you stand out.” The competition has made him want to write more poetry in the future, he added.

Ahead of the competition, Eastside’s creative team held workshops across the country. Countries of focus this year included China, Japan, India and Pakistan. Following the workshops, the students were invited to submit their pieces into the competition.

An introduction to the 2016 schools writing programme

By Rakhee Jasani, Director, Eastside Educational Trust

Eastside Educational Trust is a registered charity that aims to inspire young people from different backgrounds to discover their talents through creative workshops and sessions. Eastside encourages children of all ages and abilities to work together and to learn from one another, giving them the opportunity to build on what they learn at school, to acquire new skills and to have fun trying something new.

It has been a joy to have developed the schools writing programme for Asia House which runs alongside the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival.

Over the past four years, the programme has changed and grown and has become a way in which young people can broaden and develop their reading and understanding about Asia.

Schools across England have been involved in exploring the festival theme of ‘alternative voice’ by reading the books in the programme and adding their own voice and ideas by writing their own pieces to submit to the annual Student Writing Competition.

Bringing these voices and endeavours together in a celebration event this summer has enabled students to feel like they are a real part of the Festival.

This year our literary exploration focused in particular on ‘difference and conformity’ and we built on the debate this generated and the pupils submitted their pieces on this theme.

One of our writers, who led the workshops, Paula Varjack reflects: “The schools workshop took place a few days after the EU referendum which couldn’t have been better timed with regards to the theme. I was really impressed at the heartfelt and articulate responses from the students and at the way they read, listened to and supported each other. Their responses to the theme in the main urged for unity despite differences and looked to a future which embraced wider global friendships. “

We asked two of our visiting writers, Bobby Nayyar and Patsy Isles, to reflect on their experiences of being a part of the schools writing programme.  You can read their thoughts below:-


My third year on the Asia House project has undoubtedly been my best, not only because it has given me the opportunity to travel to Leeds, Leicester, Birmingham and around London, but it has also been the first where a book I’ve written has been used as one of the texts.

At first I was had some trepidation about my poetry collection, Glass Scissors, being used. My fears were ‘What if the students hate it? What if it doesn’t inspire them?’

These must be the thoughts that go through the mind of any writer when confronted with a new audience. Thankfully these students were receptive to my poems and their responses formed part of our discussion about writing pieces around the timely theme of ‘difference and conformity’.


Poet Bobby Nayyar reads from Glass Scissors

I enjoyed my discussion on politics in Leeds, discovered that there are postcode rivalries in Birmingham and learned more about the pressures of being a teenager in a digital age in Leicester and London.

The theme inspired writing of short stories and poems predominantly along the lines of identity and exclusion

In an age where what it means to be a British, to be Asian and to be connected are under question – the work the students produced was suitably inspired.

I always take inspiration from these workshops because they remind me how much talent there is out there and that the future is bright if we are prepared to work on it.

The pinnacle of this experience is that two students I worked with went on to win prizes. I look forward to working on this project in 2017 – who knows where we will be?

Poet Bobby Nayyar


Life stories: a richer, more rounded term than the self-apologetic word ‘non-fiction’ which is a bland term that only seems to exist because it isn’t something else.

But it was the compelling, real stories of mothers forced to give up their babies, or watch them killed, that captivated the pupils I worked with by far the most.

We were discussing the idea of conformity – how and why it was good and bad. I asked for examples of both. ‘Having to wear school uniform,’ said one. ‘Our country’s laws,’ said another.

I asked if they knew of a law that had in the past been imposed on the people of China. Every hand went up. And so our conversation turned to China’s one-child policy.

We read a short piece from Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love.  In the extract, the author, Xinran, visits a rural village and witnesses a healthy, newborn baby being thrown away, discarded in a slops bucket simply for being a girl. When a tearful Xinran tries to help the baby, she is restrained by two policemen who explain that this is how things are done there. They forbid her from helping.

The extract brought up strong feelings, which we explored further by discussing how each person in the extract might be feeling: the father, the mother, the midwife, the policemen and Xinran.

It led to pupils writing their own stories about life experiences where they too had felt strong emotions as a result of being forced to conform or for being different.

“Did this story really happen?” asked a pupil towards the end of one session.

It was an interesting question – as though shocking or unimaginable things are somehow reserved for fiction, as if they are somehow more digestible if we believe they aren’t true.

But all fiction has its seed in fact. Life writing is merely the diving board into a sea of possible stories: real or imagined.

Editor, writer and workshop facilitator Patsy Isles


Reflection by Anisa Rafaqat


Kosovo's Loss by Adonis Haxholli


To be Frae by Eliot Taylor