It’s National Storytelling Week, which in past years, would mean a packed week of schools visits and storytelling events in the community both near home and travelling further afield. Stories would be told and created afresh in a shared space, storyteller and listeners sharing the same electrified air tingling with stories.
However, with the country still in the grip of the pandemic, this years’ National Storytelling Week, (NSW), is literally a different story. Storytellers across the country have had to adapt their usual live and in person delivery to pre-recorded stories and live sessions through virtual platforms. Whilst pavement pounding and road and rail journeys are not being navigated, the minefield of devices and cables and ethernet are.
I was lucky enough to be invited to Frank Wise School to help them celebrate NSW through a storytelling assembly for years seven to ten. Frank Wise is an inspirational community special school in Banbury, Oxfordshire and it was an absolute pleasure to tell the story of The Freedom Bird with these young people aged between 11 and 16. Although only ‘virtually there’, we still held a very special space together through the story and whilst I may not have been able to hear the enthusiastic joining in, I could certainly see it.
Ordinarily this kind of school visit may not have happened due to the distance and therefore the economic viability for the school to cover a day’s fee and travel for a relatively short amount of engagement time. However, travelling through the virtual ether breaks down these barriers and makes such visits possible. For this I am very grateful, as I have now connected with a wonderful group of both staff and pupils that I may not have had the opportunity to otherwise.
Another benefit of being ‘virtually there’ is the lack of travel involved. In a typical year I can spend hours on the road with only my GPS for company and very often the journey can take longer than the time spent at the destination. There is still a lot of work in setting up a virtual visit and negotiating working from a home environment. Also, working on a screen certainly requires a different kind of energy and can be draining, but at least the stress of negotiating travel is avoided and the only traffic jam experienced is a human or animal generated one!
There are certainly benefits for both storyteller and audience to being ‘virtually there’ and whilst it will never replace actually ‘being there’ it should not be discounted as an excellent alternative. I just hope more schools will be prepared to engage with virtual visits from storytellers and give their pupils the opportunity to hear and create stories. With it being Children’s Mental Heath Week as well, it strikes me as no coincidence that storytelling and mental wellbeing are talked about and celebrated in the same week, for they go hand in hand. Igniting young people’s imaginations and giving them the tools to express themselves and see their anxieties and concerns reflected and discussed through story is definitely worth talking about isn’t it?
I’ll end with the toughing feedback I received from the school:
“I just wanted to send an email to say thank you once again for this afternoon. The pupils adored it, as did the members of support staff! It was such a wonderful opportunity for me to observe the pupils and their responses to you too. To see how engaged they were was a joy and I am so grateful that you were able to do this for us.”