In February 2018 I took part in a series of Digital Storytelling Training Workshops led by Dr Antonia Liguori, a researcher in Applied Digital Storytelling at Loughborough University.
Part of the ‘Europe of Our Lives’ project, the workshops aimed to teach digital storytelling skills to 30 or so adults from across Europe, many working in adult education, so that they in turn can pass those skills on to others.
We were each asked to bring along an object of importance to us which connected us to our history and heritage. I chose the key to the Old Rectory, a local museum I’ve volunteered at for many years. Through a series of storytelling activities and tutorials, we were shown how to craft a script about our objects, how to record this script as a voice over and how to add images and other media to create a film we could share with others.
The majority of us had never made a film before, but the finished results, viewed in a dedicated screening afternoon, were stunning. The act of watching them together also created a connection between us – a group of diverse people separated, in some cases, by language – in ways I would never have imagined. The screening was a truly magical afternoon and I came away from it with increased confidence in myself as a storyteller and a deeper understanding of how people are fundamentally the same, with the same needs and desires.
The possibilities for applying digital storytelling to community work are endless and I look forward to passing the skills I learned on to the children and adults I work with. I have no doubt at all that they’ll benefit from the experience as much as I did.
You can watch my film – ‘Discovering the Past’ – here.
In July 2014 I was commissioned by Leicestershire Promotions – the company behind Go Leicestershire – to gather information for a new trail they were developing to support tourism in the area.
The idea of the trail was to build upon interest in Stoneywell Cottage, a property in the Charnwood Hills designed by Leicester-born architect Ernest Gimson and newly acquired at that time by the National Trust.
My work on the trail included researching sites which would interest visitors to the area and at the same time support local businesses. I provided historical information on the Arts & Craft movement in relation to the county and on Ernest Gimson himself, sourcing a number of images for Leicestershire Promotions to use. The company edited the copy-writing I provided into a leaflet which is available at museums, tourist information outlets and hotels across the county.
You can read about the leaftlet here.
I’ve just heard about a short film that’s been released by The Hero Project about their brilliant Famous Fifty Exhibition special event held in Coalville Market one cold night last November.
I visited the event with my friend Liz Waddell and we were blown away by the whole thing: the creativity each organisation showed in decorating their soldier; the effort Deana and her team put into transforming Coalville Market into trenches, a cinema, a thinking booth, and then turning the whole thing into a darkened tunnel, visible only with head torches; and the fantastically creative mind that came up with the idea for the whole shebang in the first place. She really does think outside the box, does Deana, but the most inspiring thing is the way she manages to bring her ideas to reality, no matter how unlikely that might initially seem.
I felt very privileged to be involved with the Famous Fifty project, commissioned to run a couple of writing activities for local residents and, later, to dash in a single day between 3 schools and their youth base in the Market Place, prompting young people to imagine themselves in other people’s shoes and share their thoughts in poetry or prose. Later, I created a ‘found’ poem from snatches of their work, and their writing and mine became part of the exhibition.
The Famous Fifty soldiers are currently on display at the Coalville Co-op in Bridge Road, but plans are afoot for them to move to Yorkshire Sculpture Park very soon. In the meantime, The Heroes are working on their next project – Fifty Famous Females, a celebration of women past, present and future – to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 which first allowed women to vote.
Here’s a link to the film about the exhibition (and if you look carefully behind the soldiers on display, you’ll see occasional glimpses of a film of me reading my poem.)
I say lucky, but in truth it happened because I did that thing creatives often find hard to do: I opened my mouth and asked if I could join in. In other words, I emailed the project’s producer and let her know that I was available, have relevant knowledge and skills, and was keen to do something for the project.
Self-doubt is no stranger to the writer: we already live with that mocking voice asking why we’d think anyone wants to hear our stories. If you add to that a reluctance to push ourselves ahead of others – to queue jump, in effect – and to ask for something that we want, then we’re stuffed.
But several years as a freelance have shown me that simply having a good set of skills and being in the market place isn’t enough to get you picked for things. Sometimes there’s no turn-taking. Sometimes when you spot an opportunity, you’ve got to be brave and just go for it before somebody else thinks to do it instead. To send off what Creative Coach Pete Mosley calls a ‘cheeky letter’ and suggest yourself for a piece of work.
What’s the worse that can happen? They might say no – and your ego will be bruised for a bit (and, for a while at least, you’ll probably hate every artist who does get taken on for the project!) Even then, they may well remember you for next time, when your skills and experience are a better fit for what they need someone to do.
But they might also say ‘wow, that’s a fab idea – let’s talk!’ and you’ll be one step closer to running that workshop, or book reading, or the contract with the new agent.
It’s then that luck comes into it – luck that they’re running workshops at all, that they haven’t already got someone who can do what you do, that your style and experience fits with what they’re looking for.
That’s what happened to me. I was lucky, but I wouldn’t have achieved that luck – and the freelance fee – if I hadn’t first been brave and let LU Arts know that I was out there.
And that means that I wouldn’t have run the writing workshop at Charnwood Museum which introduced me to new members of the local writing community nor heard the fantastic things that they wrote.
I wouldn’t have read my children’s story to an appreciative audience in Queen’s Park (thus achieving my New Years’ Resolution 7 months early!)
I wouldn’t have flagged my ‘writer’ status to 45 pupils at a local primary school nor worked with artist Chiara Dellerba on the workshops we delivered there.
I very nearly didn’t hit ‘send’ on my email to LU Arts because it felt a bit ‘spammy’ sending it. But I’m so glad that I did. Because they clearly didn’t mind and the project ended up being a wonderful opportunity for me – to my standing as a writer in the community and for my creative output, too.
What ‘cheeky letter’ could you send to move yourself forward with what you want to do?
Yes, I definitely do! And we need more people to love Loughborough’s Old Rectory Museum, too, so it can be preserved and made use of for generations to come!
The site is a twenty-year-old, 150-acre ‘centre of remembrance’, much of it planted with nicely maturing trees which extend the wildlife corridor of the National Forest surrounding it.
There are lots and lots of memorials there, too, designed and paid for by the many groups who applied to have their comrades, workmates, friends and townsfolk commemorated forever on the site. Including those who served in the Armed Forces.
Coalville Hero’s are currently working on a project – the Famous Fifty Exhibition – to honour the memory of the Coalville men who served in World War I. The trip to the Arboretum was to find out more about their experiences and about post-conflict acts of remembrance in general.
I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t think I’d enjoy the place much. I’d imagined it would be aggressively patriotic, applauding the sacrifice of dying for your country instead of highlighting the sadness of such needless loss. That sadness was over-whelming at times, it’s true – there’s nothing like seeing rows and rows of trees and knowing that each represents one lost life (or, in the case of the wooden stakes of the Shot at Dawn memorial, one life that never reached its full potential).
But the whole thing was dealt with very tastefully and I came away with an understanding of the place as somewhere for the grieving to focus their grief, to share it with others who have experienced loss as they have, and to ease the pain a little. For many, it seems, parking the weight of it there lightens the burden they must carry elsewhere in their day-to-day lives.
There’s something life affirming about trees, too, isn’t there? They’re a fantastic metaphor of the cyclical nature of life. Leaves fall, but spring brings new growth. Seeing the trees of the Arboretum in autumn, with their leaves turning to such beautiful colours, was very special.
I’m very grateful that Coalville Hero’s invited me to go along for the visit, and very honoured to be involved in their wonderful remembrance project.
It was fantastic to be invited to the opening of the ‘For and Against: Art, Politics and the Pamphlet’ exhibition staged by Loughborough University’s Radar Arts.
Thrilling, too, to see that so many of the exhibits grew out of my involvement with the project: creative pieces from the writing workshop I ran for adults, art work produced by local primary school children at workshops led by myself and artist Chiara Dellerba, and also the pamphlet that artwork was reproduced in, displayed alongside genuine political pamphlets from the project’s exhibition at Charnwood Museum.
It was good to see the pieces validated alongside the work of the other creative artists involved in the project.