For the fourth year in a row, Roland and I attended The Story, a one day conference about stories and storytelling, held annually in London’s Conway Hall. Booking the tickets roughly 6 months in advance, I often find that the event arrives in the middle of crazy diaries, lots on my plate and not much opportunity to think in advance about what the day will hold. This year was no different.
How appropriate then that the day was kicked off by two experts from The Institute for Unthinking which is based at recent addition to the Ministry of Stories family, Grimm and Co, ‘supplying evil plots, wild schemes and kitchenware since 1148 – just before lunchtime’. The choice of opening in Rotherham, a town which doesn’t often get positive coverage in the news, was intentional. The children that benefit from the storytelling and writing workshops there have not previously had the opportunity to imagine themselves in the world. Grimm and Co, as the centre for unthinking, teaches them the art of seeing things differently and unlocks the power of their imagination.
Nigerian born ‘too cynical for digital love’ Inua Ellams talked about his desire for a girlfriend during teenage years whose awkwardness was compounded by his immigrant status. His first relationship, with a beautiful Cambridge-bound young woman, culminated in the perfect break-up. “Poetry at its best is when it catches up to you in unexpected moments.” He re-told this story, updated for the Tinder generation, in The Break: Swipe Slow.
Guardian journalist David Conn gave a detailed account of his coverage of the Hillsborough disaster which was the longest court case ever heard by a British jury. Not only had these families suffer a ‘terrible loss and a grievous injustice’ but the police sought to deny any failures. None of the families were entitled to any legal representation and so 42 families contributed £3,000 each – the most that they could stump up – to begin what turned out to be a 26 year fight for justice. How many more injustices are going unresolved in the world due to a lack of resources?
— Anna Higgs (@AnnaEHiggs) February 17, 2017
Clara Gaggero Westaway, Special Projects Co-Founder, had me hooked from from one of the very first sentences she uttered: ‘Empathy is the most important skill that any creative person should have.’ She believes that good design should make you feel good and her work around humanising technology for the elderly has allowed her to tackle the stigma and prejudice around ageing. The innovative and beautiful Samsung mobile phone manual created by Special Projects – my personal highlight of the day – has earned itself a place in the Museum of Modern Art.
Writer Nikesh Shukla opened with his belief that books change lives. With the first line of Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia – ‘My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. I am often considered to be a funny kind of Englishman, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old histories.’ – he had ‘finally found a hero that I could root for’. He stressed the importance of giving today’s young people a reflection of themselves so that they may feel ‘confident, empowered, represented, included’.
This is something that Kate Clanchy has been doing during her 8 years of teaching poetry to children of refugees and migrants at a school in Oxford – aka the Very Quiet Foreign Girl’s Poetry Group. Kate’s Oxford is not the rather posh version that springs to mind but rather the one that is in the bottom 10% of the deprivation scale in England. A 20% white British, 80% ‘everyone else’ student population has resulted in a ‘semi-accidental liberalism’ where no one in the school knows how you ‘should’ behave. ‘You can be everything in our school.’ With Kate’s support and belief, she has given her students a voice and the results are stunning.
As always, it’s impossible to capture everything in one post. The line-up was fantastic and varied with Helen Andrews and Iain Tait (W+K London) on an attempt to change their agencies work culture (no meetings before 10am or after 4pm and no emails read or sent after 7pm!) to Victoria Mapplebeck’s short film 160 Characters (the result of re-discovering an old text message thread on a discarded Nokia in her kitchen drawer) to Ingrid Burrington sharing her work on data centres and infrastructure which involved her stumbling upon a ‘luxury survivalist compound’ called Trident Lakes. For me, the overriding theme of the day was one of empathy and Other – the marginalised or those of us that have to fight that bit harder in day-to-day life. Before heading home, I asked one of the organisers, Hugh Garry, if he and Matt Locke had intentionally chosen or planned the day in this way. The answer was no, that he had simply stressed the importance of telling a story that came from the heart.
Big thanks to Roland who allows me to take the time away from work to attend – and then encourages me to write about it afterwards – and to Hugh and Matt at Storythings for curating an event that always leaves me with plenty of creative fuel to go forward with.