If you follow me on Twitter you’ll have seen me talking about Being The Story, describing it as the most inspiring event I had attended last year. As an aside, at least one person did because they introduced themselves to me at the event, explaining my tweets had prompted them to sign up. Which is nice. Anyhow… In the simplest of terms Being The Story is a day packed full of speakers who talk about their life experiences. It’s like a series of Ted Talks but with an authenticity that’s palpable.
The event, which is the work of Jude Habib and her small team at Sound Delivery, returned to Conway Hall in London on Friday with a line-up of speakers that was just as impactive this year as last.
Eddie Taylor took to the stage for the first time in his life (no doubt overcoming serious nerves) to speak about his alcoholism, an addiction he has replaced with photography. Amanda talked of her experiences as a street prostitute. Rachael Gibbons passionately articulated the need to tackle class inequality and The Geezers showed us that old age doesn’t have to be a lonely time.
It’s difficult for me to tell you what you will get from attending Being The Story. Firstly, there’s really nothing to compare it to and secondly, the experience is probably quite different for everyone. I was deeply affected by many of the stories, some made me question my thinking, while others inspired me to try different approaches in my work. One just made my heart ache and my eyes leak (I’m looking at you, Missing People Choir).
I sat through the day, notebook on my knee, intending to jot down odd words and sentences to act as prompts and reminders, but as the day ended I realised what I had noted was a series of quotes. So, using the words of some of the speakers, I’ll explain what I have taken from the event:
Rachael’s work with RECLAIM is focused on encouraging working class young people to become future leaders. Having grown up on a council estate in a poor area she explained that she was used to being a statistic, a line in a strategy or an ‘issue’ in a poverty report. Rarely did she get the opportunity to share her own story. Questioning how many social change leaders have actually experienced the problems they seek to address, she asked why lived experience isn’t valued as expertise.
Empathy and understanding is one thing, but experience is something different. It’s too simplistic to suggest we should stick to what we know and concentrate only on the issues we have direct experience of. But, if we have a gap in our knowledge and understanding, I would argue we can learn far more from one other than from a textbook or course.
Marina Catacuzino founded The Forgiveness Project, a charity that uses stories of victims and perpetrators to explore how forgiveness, reconciliation and restorative justice can have a positive impact. Our experiences shape us, and in the case of horribly negative experiences, they can also hold us back. In extreme cases our past might control us, shaping how we react to people around us and respond to opportunities. Talking about your experiences – sharing the information you want, in the way you want – helps you to take back control.
Simeon Moore and Dylan Duffus were members of rival gangs in Birmingham when they were brought together by an award-winning documentary maker who created One Mile Away. Having experienced life in a gang (which led to time behind bars) it’s clear Simeone feels a weight of responsibility to make sure others don’t follow his path.
He and Dylan have created DatsTV, a You Tube channel which provides an alternative to those which glamorise gang culture, and talk about wanting to be positive role models. It’s a cliché to say that if you’ve been part of a problem you can be part of the solution, but if we don’t involve people who have ‘been there’ in developing solutions, they are surely less likely to be successful and speak to those who could benefit?
We create a connection when we share stories but lifting a story from a page and bringing it to life is a challenge that requires a creative solution. Rapper Ric Flo, who grew up in care, gave us an insight into his life via music, senior homelessness support worker Bryony Albery used poetry and the women who took part in An Untold Story (a project Amanda had taken part in) chose a variety of mediums including drawing. The written word can be stark and uncompromising, but it’s also easier to ignore than the sound of someone’s voice, or the expressions on their face. Video is perhaps the best way to share a story but that’s not something everyone feels comfortable with; audio comes a close second and – in my experience – is underused.
This struck a chord with me because as I said after last year’s event, those of us who do my sort of work are merely caretakers. We look after the stories of those our charities support and have a responsibility to use them wisely and carefully. We also know the power those stories have to create change and that’s why we encourage people to keep sharing their experiences. There is a fine balance we must strike.
The final quote, from Marina again, needs no explanation:
I hope that Being The Story sticks too.
Madeleine Sugden has written a post about the cathartic nature of storytelling, and how taking a creative approach can help you connect with your audience. In her post, therapist and writer Karin Sieger considers how we can make positive change when we really understand our own stories.