It never rains in Dundee.  The sun always shines.

Well in all my many trips to that city,  I have never seen it rain so surely that must be true?

No doubt Dundonians could provide a very different reality with common tales of streets flooding and of standing soaking wet and shivering.  Their stories, if I chose to listen, would show the reality of living there and counteract my own ridiculous idea of how temperate it is.

Storytelling is a powerful tool, not just for the teller but also the listener and reader.  Telling stories of your life can help you make sense of experiences or provide a valve to let out some of that whirling mass inside.  Stories are how we learn from each other and what happens to people when shifts happen in their lives.  How the decisions and actions of others can open doors and support our journeys, put a block in our roads, take us down paths that we never expected and send us off on what my dad would call a “wild goose chase” in pursuit of something that we thought we could reach but which stayed just around the next corner.  Those others can be individuals we are have relationships with but also people who make decisions on our behalf right up to organisations and head policy makers.  Our stories tell the impact of what we have chosen but also what has been chosen for us.

This week we went to Dundee University to the Research Symposium for the Community Learning and Development Course. Final year students were sharing their own research work carried out in communities covering key issues.  It was for celebrating  as this was it, their final day at University. If you want out find out more about the course – check it out Here

There was a buzz around.  It was great to be part of it.

Sinead Gormley from Glasgow University set the tone for the day.  The importance of community and youth work has not diminished as the huge changes happening across in our communities, mean it is more important than ever.  Policy decisions, budget cuts, benefit changes and austerity decisions are impacting on services but also directly on individuals and families.  The reality of this needs to be shared and we should never underestimate the power of story telling to bring this to the fore.  When stories are told, we need to listen.

The students then were taking the spotlight, sharing research projects they had developed and worked on.   I started to question why I was there presenting the work of Inside Outside when these folks already had the expertise.   I loved one presenter Marion, she had real fire in her belly and her passion sparked the room.  She was political, questioning policy decisions and strategies and funding and priorities. She challenged the use of certain words and how they could mask what the real agenda was.  She listened to people’s stories and experiences and believed that their lives could be made better.  She was committed to making change.

I left the student’s sessions fired up with a reminder of why we have developed Inside Outside and now excited to tell others about Natasha, Natalia, Katie, Levi, Sarah Jane and Joanne.

Kathryn arrived in her whirlwind style, leaving a trail of energy behind her.  It was lovely to see her happy face beaming as she struggled with numerous bags and a cup of coffee and cake.

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Charis from the Hot Chocolate Trust in Dundee presented.  She is a former student of the course and was back to share what she has been working on, using story telling the capture the “where are they now” of some young people involved with Hot Chocolate.  She collaborated with them and film makers to make short films and shared one of them with us. It was incredibly moving.   She was conscious of the impact on the audience of hearing one young man tell his story with honesty and humour.   He spoke of growing up in a home with violence and losing his way for a while.   He spoke about the need for support to be around. He also spoke about moving to a safe place and seeing his mother happy.  Charis was obviously passionate about her work, enjoying sharing it with us and weaving the theory of ethics and consent and power into her presentation

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I was up next with the usual surge of nerves.  No matter how often I speak in front of people it happens.  The old trick of imagining your audience naked doesn’t seem to work for me.  Instead I focused on the women from Inside Outside and that I was here on their behalf.  I knew they would be wishing me well and I could imagine Sarah Jane’s voice saying “Aw c’mon, you can do this”.    All I needed to do was lay the foundations to introduce them.

It was so interesting to see the impact their words and photos had on a group sitting facing me.  I could see waves of reactions ripple through them and was conscious that this was having an impact and being brought into the women’s lives was not always easy.  I wanted them to find their thread to connect to these women’s lives inside the sex industry.  Many of them did.

I ran a bit over time.  I knew it was happening but I wanted every last minute for the women.

Sinead was back up next. She was bringing the day to an end and tying up the themes .  She really made me think about what is deemed acceptable as evidence with individuals stories frequently dismissed as “anecdata” and not really valid.  How stories can and should highlight social injustice and inequality and be used as a tool to inform policy and strategies and approaches. That work with people should be political, have a clear value base and move agendas forward.  Storytelling is not just about an opportunity for individuals to feel “lighter” when sharing burdens but for the whole systems of inequality and injustice weighing down on them to be held up for scrutiny.

The day finished with lunch.  There wasn’t much chance to avail of the spread despite parking myself close to it.  It was like Holyrood and the exhibition in the garden lobby with a stream of people wanting to talk.  There was so much interest and offers to help out.  People wanted to find out more and when could they get to see the exhibition itself.  They wanted to know how the women are doing and to thank them for sharing their stories.   A couple of people felt it had really changed their opinion on the idea of choice and consent in the sex industry.  A few more were angry – not at me, not at the women but at the whole dynamic of vulnerability and exploitation.

Kathryn and Jean, one of the lecturers were chatting.  I caught the words ” I have an idea” from Kathryn and knew her mind was fizzing.  I could practically see those synapses firing.  I left them to it but can expect a facebook message from her any time now with an update.

I also got the chance to speak with Marion for a few minutes and thank her for her presentation.  She along with the other students and lecturers were keen to get their final day celebrations underway.  I don’t blame them.

Kathryn and I had “a walk and talk.”  We learnt that from Holyrood.  I had to stifle a laugh the first time I was asked to go for one by an MSP.  It felt like real life it” “The thick of it”   We caught up on only some of our ideas and action plans so parted with a “Call me”.   I know it will be a lengthy call.

I was in one of my thinking places on the journey home.   A few weeks ago I first spotted from the train window a vibrant patch of yellow, surrounded by green fields just outside Perth.  It makes me smile every time but I have never been quick enough to capture it as it goes by in a flash. This time I was primed and ready.  Its not quite the same as seeing it in reality but this photo cheers me and reminds me that the sun *sometimes* shines in Dundee. 😉

yellow field

 

 

 

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