Community Storytelling

I feel it’s very important to find the stories of our communities and share them. Both the stories that our ancestors told about the landscape, and the personal stories that we have on our day to day living. Finding how a personal story can make its way from our lips, to become a folktale to another’s ears.

When researching for my book, Surrey Folk Tales, I invited people to share their stories of the locality with me. The only complete story I was told, I recognised as a story that I had made up for a workshop in a school to demonstrate how you can turn a real life incident into a folk tale. So I collected myself!

I welcome invitations to work with communities to find and respect the stories- whether its personal oral history, local events that need rediscovering and retelling, or exploring how our daily lives can become part of the future tales that are told.

Sharing personal stories of community can also help bring broken communities together, and I have been involved in projects that help address this.

Below are two examples of projects I have worked on.

Age to Age in Stories and Songs

By Roger Watson and Janet Dowling

An account of a community story and song project in Bracknell , taking the stories of older people, turning them into songs written by children in local schools, who then sing the songs back to the communities of the story givers. I did this project four times with Roger Watson, and after illness forced him to retire, I continued for another three projects with Rob Harris.

Roger compiled the stories and songs from the first four projects in Age to Age in Stories & Songs: Bracknell BERKS 2008 – 2010.

Healing Words: Storytelling as a Pathway to Peace

Storytelling offers a pathway to peace. Sharing personal stories from areas of conflict invites participants into a space where they can be heard and are able to hear the other side of the story. From that space it is possible to move to a shared place of understanding and possible resolution.

People in conflict hold their ground because they do not feel heard. In June 2009 I travelled to Israel and Palestine with a group of storytellers to explore how storytelling can support different sides of a conflict to share their personal stories. Once people feel that they have truly been heard, they can both start to listen to the other side of the story, and begin to move to a mutual resolution. We put this process into practice in communities in Israel and Palestine, culminating in an arts festival which brought those communities together. For some Israelis it was the first time they had met someone from Palestine. For some Palestinians, it was the first time they had met an Israeli who was not pointing a gun at them.

Read the account of the storytelling project in Israel and Palestine to bring communities together, in association with the International Storytelling School in Forest Row, East Sussex.

First published in Facts and Fiction 2009, and reprinted in other journals in the UK and US. To download the PDF, click on the link, Healing Words – Storytelling as a Pathway to Peace.

Storytelling in the Care of the Dying and the Bereaved

I work as a bereavement counsellor, and use storytelling to support people. This work is not for performance , but is very much part of my community storytelling. I work with people’s personal stories , use traditional stories or facilitate the client to make up a story about their own experiences to enable them to find different strategies to help them manage their feelings. I have run workshops on how to do this at Cruse bereavement care conferences and at different bereavement care groups. I also supervise bereavement volunteers.

I was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellow ship in 2006 to go to the US for this work. My report on the journey is at www.wcmt.org.uk/users/janetdowling2006