The whole project began with a discussion with a friend about how vital connection, creativity, purpose and contribution all are to us. From this conversation the question arose, wouldn’t it be great if all those elements could be drawn together in one set of workshops? Inspiration answered and suggested to bring together two different groups – those with stories they wish to tell and those who love to listen and are willing to write down what they hear.
I was particularly excited by the image of bringing older people together with their neighbours to help people to get to know each other in my local community. And so, soon after, another conversation with Chorlton Good Neighbours took place. My husband and I had volunteered occasionally for them and had learned about the brilliant work they do to serve older people in my local community. After chatting to Helen, CGN’s co-ordinator, about the workshop idea, it was clear what a great partnership we would make. Amongst a multitude of other helpful tasks, she agreed to help recruit those who would like to tell their stories and conversations I had with these initial recruits led to a more informed idea of what would work practically and feel good for those “storytellers”.
Encouraged by this input, I put out more requests online and by word of mouth and this quickly led to further support and input; a typesetter and designer, two editors, many writers (some experienced but most who hadn’t written in this way since school) and the involvement of Chorlton Arts and Cholrton Book Festival all appeared as well as the suggestion to raise money on Just Giving to fund the printing of the book. It was clear this idea had its own legs. Though I’d had the initial idea of how to get it into motion, once started, I was pretty much pulled along by its keenness to run!
After a period of planning, consultation and preparation, the workshops took place over four Saturdays in August 2019. Through CGN’s involvement, residents of Adastral House kindly allowed us to use their coffee lounge and each session, we would gather for a brew and a chat and then share a moment of reflection about a theme of the day. Each section title of this book reflects these themes. The group would then have a relaxed but lively discussion about what had come up for them during the reflection time. The writers would chat, listen and ask questions to help them get key notes down for their task later.
The atmosphere in the room during the morning sessions was incredibly uplifting. Witnessing people of different generations chatting so warmly and openly about what matters to them made us all realise how little age matters when it comes to what connects us and what we value. Later on, in the afternoons of each Saturday, the writers would stay behind to get their notes typed up into a short piece of writing. It amazed us all how quickly these pieces came together. Most people, despite varying levels of experience, got their writing done within a couple of hours and yet still managed to honour some amazing details shared in beautiful and vibrant detail. Many writers reported how enjoyable this was. “A honour and a pleasure” was one typical comment. Here is a video that captures some of the atmosphere created in the sessions. https://vimeo.com/356451500/a3212fd1ce
The book itself was formed over a couple of months and many hours of collaboration. Through the combined efforts of the group, voluntary book editors and publisher, we created over 50 stories – enough to create a truly lovely collection that honours the individual and collective lives, lessons and skills of the people who took part. We shared extracts on a number of occasions, at the Chorlton Book and Art Festivals and a coffee morning at CGN. After a short while, the publication sold out and we had to get another batch printed! To get your own copy, contact me for more information.
To conclude, the book truly was a collaborative effort that I was in privileged positon to help steer. It was created by a group of like-minded people who all value spending time together and talking about what is important. In this amazing but often rushed and confusing modern world, we are constantly surrounded by information and the potential for interconnectivity, but can sometimes not have time to simple sit down, reflect, listen and talk. Together we helped each other remember how essential and enjoyable these simple things can be. A few of our storytellers echoed this with statements like “I feel really listened to.” Another added, “Sometimes it can feel like our lives and what we have to say are no longer relevant, but here I felt really heard and realised how much I have to share.”