Case study

A sense of
purpose

Jamie Thrasivoulou is an inspiration. There’s no denying it. Anyone who has seen him perform We Are Derby from the centre circle in front of a packed Pride Park Stadium will agree. Jamie is a poet. And a writer and a storyteller. And he’s passionate about taking poetry and creativity to places it might not normally go.

Talent spotting

Jamie wasn’t always a poet. That talent was first spotted by our Creative Writing academic team. Now he’s had two collections of poetry published. He’s written commissions for the BBC and ITV, including a poem to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of Second World War. And his work has appeared on BBC Arts, ITV, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, and TalkSport.

But his 2018 poem We Are Derby for Derby County Football Club is the piece of work that continues to resonate across the city and beyond.

“The Derby County stuff is massive to me,” says Jamie. “Being asked to write a poem for the football club that I love and have supported since going to the Baseball Ground as a kid. That’s massive. Watching my poem get played live on the big screen at Wembley Stadium at the EFL Final against Aston Villa in 2019. That was massive.

“There’s not a week goes by when I don’t get a message about the We Are Derby poem. Three years later I still get messages about how it’s impacted positively on the community of Derby. All these people getting in touch: ‘I love your poem, it’s given me a sense of identity’; ‘it was so nice to hear a Derby lad saying words about the city I love and the football club I love’.”

Jamie has also written a play, Extra Time, centred on the 75th anniversary of Derby County winning the FA Cup in 1946. Commissioned by Derby Theatre and Derby Creative Arts Network, it’s due on stage in October.

And he's an award winner. He won the 2018 Culture Matters Bread and Roses Award for Songwriting and Spoken Word and the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Performer. He was also a member of the winning slam poetry team in both the UniSlam and the Hammer and Tongue national poetry slam finals in 2019. 

A massive influence

Jamie joined our BA (Hons) Creative Writing and American Studies after completing a foundation degree as a mature student. At that point in his life, the closest he had got to poetry was singing in a band with his mates.

He says: “The first time I ever got on a stage in a band I was 14 years old so I always had this creative side. That was my first outlet for my poetry, I suppose, my lyricism.

“Then it was on the first year of my degree and there’s a poet called Matthew Clegg, who is a Lecturer in Creative Writing, and he was a massive influence on me. He did a lecture on creative process and he just said to me: ‘Jamie, have you ever thought that you might be a poet?’

“And I was like: you what? But then it was about a month later I went and did my first open mic night as a poet. On my own, without a band. It was really unnerving to be honest. It took me about 20 performances to settle in. But that was a long time ago now, I suppose. It just becomes first nature, not even second nature.

“I can’t really champion the creative writing team at the University of Derby enough. Matthew Clegg, Simon Heywood, Moy McCrory, and the late Carl Tighe. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for them. There’s no doubt about it.”

Working in the community

Jamie’s passion is being creative. He is also passionate about encouraging creativity in others. He does that by going out and working in the community – and as a guest lecturer at the University.

“I work a lot with charities, with schools, pupil referral units and in prisons,” he explains. “Creative writing helps with confidence, it helps with the basic stuff like building vocabulary, and building a better awareness of language and how we use language. But I also think it helps people develop a sense of identity, a sense of self. And it gives some people, who may not feel they’ve been heard, a chance to voice themselves and their own experiences.

“Storytelling is an innate thing for human beings, it’s an important function of being a human being in every aspect of the way we live. And I sometimes feel like it’s undervalued by society as a whole. And I also think that a lot of people don’t see themselves as storytellers even though they are.”

Why choose Derby?

Jamie is the first person in his family to go to university. He had left school thinking it wasn’t an option. Then he found himself in a job he didn’t enjoy and without a real sense of purpose.

He explains: “I was just sort of floating and hoping. Then there was this moment I decided: you know what, forget this. I’d heard there was an Open Day at the University to go and see about joining the foundation degree. So I got on a bus, went up to the uni and it just happened from there. They were really supportive from the off.

“I really just used to like the feeling of rocking up there every day with a purpose. Because I’d perhaps not had purpose throughout my life until I went to uni. It was a really good feeling. You just felt like you were growing all the time.”

Jamie Thrasivoulou headshot

I never saw university as being a place for someone like me. I’m just a working-class lad from Allenton. And then, when you come to the realisation that not only is it a place for someone like you but you can do really well there, it’s empowering.

Jamie Thrasivoulou
BA (Hons) Creative Writing and American Studies

What does the future hold?

Well, there’s the play. And a novel. And, post-pandemic, Jamie hopes to be back working in schools and prisons and elsewhere in the community helping people find their voice. And continuing to inspire the next generation of writers.

“There are up-and-coming writers in Derby now who have reached out and said they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing if it wasn’t for me,” Jamie says. “So that in itself is nice. Just the fact that you’ve gone on to inspire somebody.

“My passions are to create my own work and to continue doing that, and I’ll be writing till I die. That’s 100%. There’s no way I can stop. It’s like a need. I need to talk about things, I need to address things in society, whether that’s through my more political writing or just through representing Derby and being proud of Derby. It’s like I don’t have a choice in it.”

Jamie has been a full-time poet, writer, storyteller and facilitator for the past five years. In that time, he has also achieved a distinction in a Creative Writing MA from the University of Birmingham, graduating in 2020. He says: “It’s not an easy area to build a career in. It has its struggles, it has its ups and downs. I think one of the things you learn when you get into a career like mine is you are going to get a lot of rejection but that just makes the acceptances sweeter.”

Kedleston Road, Derby Campus entrance

Undergraduate Open Days

The best way to find out if studying at Derby is right for you is to experience an Open Day. Get a feel for the city and campus, tour our first-class facilities and see where you could be living.

Book your undergraduate Open DayBook your undergraduate Open Day