Doors at the Wales Millennium Centre. Photo credits: Zeenia Naqvee

Children’s Laureate draws on his life story to inspire others

Connor Allen hopes his latest show, and his poetry workshops in schools, will encourage others to aim high in the arts  

PLAYWRIGHT Connor Allen never expected to become the Children’s Laureate for Wales but now he uses the role to encourage children to believe in a better future.

His story, he was raised in a struggling family on a Newport council estate, inspired his latest work, The Making of a Monster, which is being staged at the Wales Millennium Centre.

Connor did not have role models growing up.

“I grew up with an absent Jamaican father on a council estate near Pillgwenlly,” said the 30-year-old. “I didn’t want that life, that day-by-day struggle to get food on the table.”

His life hit a low point when, as a troubled youth, he was convicted in court of hitting his mother. It was a turning point, a shock to the system, and his mother is proud of what he has achieved since.

“Our past doesn’t define us, it makes us the people that we are if we accept that,” he said.

After studying drama at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Carmarthen, he decided his true passion was writing plays.

“I chose through creativity to channel my energy into a constructive way rather than a destructive way. I see art as my escapism,” he said.

Soon after graduating, Connor won a writing competition, and that play was staged.

He was appointed Children’s Laureate Wales in 2021.

It is a national ambassadorial role aiming to inspire and empower children and young people across Wales through the power of words, according to Literature Wales.

Promotional posters at the Wales Millennium Centre. Photo credits: Zeenia Naqvee

“I really want to empower children to just look at themselves in a way that they might not (have) before, whether that’s through language, through poetry, through anything,” he said.

“If they can be empowered to think differently and think about a better future for themselves then I’ve done my job.”

As Children’s Laureate, he delivers poetry workshops in schools all over Wales.

“Creativity is sadly a privilege due to the lack of economic and cultural capital afforded to working-class people of colour who can’t afford to go to higher places,” he said.

Through his creative workshops he engages with children on important issues like climate change.

Often teachers tell him that he does not look like a Children’s Laureate, but he insists that his strong South Wales accent and his appearance add to his relatability.

 “I’ve had comments like ‘Connor only got this because he’s the right shade of black’, but I don’t care what people think because I can’t please everyone.

“A child once nominated me as their inspirational figure for Black History Month. I’m not the spokesperson for every mixed-raced person in Wales, but a key part of my identity is being mixed-race.”

Connor incorporates his family background, childhood struggles and mixed-race identity in his play, The Making of a Monster, which has already been broadcast on BBC Sounds.

“As long as the work I make makes people feel and reflect then that’s success for me. As long as people empathise and resonate with my experiences — whether they’re white or black.”

The Making of a Monster is showing at the Weston Studio in the Wales Millennium Centre from Wednesday, November 9 to 19.

  • Tickets for the event can be bought here and you can see Connor’s updates here.