I love to travel. Short journeys, long journeys – it makes no difference. I get the luxury of being able to see parts of Scotland I would never normally head to and as often as I can, I use the train. It is my quiet time, my thinking time. Katie, one of the women working alongside us on this ever developing project recently told me, “Everyone needs a thinking place.”
A busy train carriage suits me well.
(Thinking place – Katie 2017)
It was on one of these journeys that the idea for Inside Outside was born. I had been involved in other work, linking with women inside the sex industry and with those who work to support them. I interviewed them and then worked with the wonderful media co-op to turn one woman’s stories into pod casts ( you can listen to them https://stv.tv/news/features/1342905-former-prostitute-reveals-grim-reality-of-life-inside-a-scottish-brothel/)
We also worked with a local artist Catherine Weir to turn one woman’s story into beautiful art work as reported here
(Image by Catherine Weir 2016)
Whilst I was proud of these, the idea had always been to develop a long term project where women could tell their stories but also, they would lead on turning their words into something more. A chance for them to be creative, learn and showcase skills, find new opportunities. Sadly, I didn’t get the funding needed so it was back to the drawing board.
Through Encompass, we came up with a revised idea – Inside Outside. Without those services and the amazing staff, the women would not have had the chance to become involved. I know it wasn’t always easy for them, as they were all juggling delivering services and carrying caseloads but they opened the doors and gates for women. I appreciate it greatly.
The first phase was to recruit women. This was an Encompass project pilot, something new which we had not tried before. As with any new piece of work, there are always risks and bumps in the road. Our original plans (and timescales and budgets!) have to adapt with where the women want to take the work. We were also clear that we did not want to cause any harm to the women – after all they may have to relive very dark times in the retelling. We wanted to make sure that they all were linked with a service for on-going support.
The women could choose whether or not to take part and at what level they wanted involved. We originally wanted 16 which I now know was ambitious in the time we had allowed. Some women heard about the project and were keen but the time wasn’t right for them. Some women met with me and decided they didn’t have the time. Some arranged to meet and at the last minute, felt they couldn’t do it. Others met with me and told their story but didn’t want it recorded, the telling of it was enough for them. Some had their story recorded but it is not to be shared. All of this is good. All of this is learning.
Natalia wrote this piece for the blog.
“I was working with a woman’s group in Dundee. My worker asked me if I would do the Inside Outside Project and I wanted to. So the lasdy Linda came through and spent a few hours with me. We met fortnightly after that and I told her my story. She then asked me if I would take photos and I said yes. We took loads of them and they are going to Parliament for an exhibition at Holyrood. I am so pleased I did it as Linda, my support worker and the rest of the team were very supportive and I loved doing it. I would do it again. It was fantastic.”
At the start we said that we were going to “interview” women. Not the best choice of word – it conjured up ideas of job interviews, police interviews and benefit sanctions interviews. Possibly not the most pleasant of experiences either. We changed that to “recorded conversations” and in reality that is what they were. Some lasted 4 hours long, some 2. There was much coffee and cake consumed.
It is hard to capture those conversations or more accurately, everything that happened during them. They were emotionally charged at times. There were tears, there was laughter, there was anger, guilt and shame. There was also hope, courage and sharp wit.
I think because the women knew I wasn’t a support worker, a counsellor or a researcher, they opened up. It was at their pace though and they all knew they could stop at any time, they could scrap what we had been talking about. If the conversation was going in a direction they didn’t want to – we just hauled it back on path.
We were lucky to find a wonderful transcriber. I know most people hate how their voice sounds when they hear a recording but for me – it is worse to see every cough, sniffle, umm and ah noted down in transcriptions. Some were over 100 pages long. My task of editing began. All the coughs, laughs, sniffs and hmmmmmms were removed. Anything that was too identifying for the women was removed or changed. That brought some of them down to around 40 pages and that is when the women got them. We met, drank coffee and talked them through and decided which parts they wanted shared. Which parts they were offering up to those outside the sex industry.
The stories have went through about another 4 edits.
I am finally done with them. Well, as done as I can be. I don’t want to lose the sense of who they are, how they sound, their own sayings and phrases.
They have part of my every day for weeks but every time I read them, something else strikes me and I can only hear the actual voices of the women. Of Levi as she grins and laughs at a teenage escapade. Of Katie as she raises an eyebrow when I have asked something silly. Of Natalia as she laughs at how I try to pronounce local street names. Of Natasha with a shadow over her face as she talks of her childhood in her home country. Of Holly as she lights up when we talk of books and favourite authors. Of Joanne as she glows when she talks of her daughter.
I hope I have done justice to the incredible stories the women shared.
The stories are leaving my hands and going to a great designer to turn into a book – Inside Outside. It will be printed (only a small run at this stage due to funds..) but will also be online soon.
We hope others listen with kind ears, give the stories time and really hear the women.
Maybe go to their own thinking place to reflect.