From video storytelling to home education support, here’s how the Welsh team is adjusting the project activities to meet the needs of schools and families in lockdown.
Following the Covid-19 outbreak, we decided to extend the project schedule so that all the classes involved could take their time to follow up with the social reading on the Betwyll app, while shifting to forced distance learning. How are they dealing with this new situation and how did you adjust the activities planned?
KATE STRUDWICK: The Covid-19 “Lockdown” has meant that Head4Arts has had to completely review its programme of work, particularly changing focus towards activities that could be accessed online at no cost to participants. We knew that the #ProjectPont was something that was ready to be rolled out to a wider cohort of participants and that schools are currently seeking projects that can be included in home learning programmes. The virus has also brought an enhanced sense of community and people in Wales are very much aware of the hardships experienced by the people of northern Italy. This seemed like a good time to show solidarity and connect through experiencing our shared heritage of folk tales.
In this scenario of forced isolation and home education, #ProjectPont might turn out to be a particularly useful resource for Welsh families in your area. Could you explain why?
KATE STRUDWICK: Wales is a proudly bilingual nation. In our area it is very common for parents who only speak English to opt to have their child educated in a Welsh language school. They have a very good reputation and many people decide to start learning Welsh because their children are fully bilingual. However, the current situation of home schooling has caused problems for parents who can’t understand the language of their childrens’ lessons. In lockdown, families need activities that they can do together. #ProjectPont provides that opportunity, with all the resources being available in both Welsh and English – not to mention Italian and Occitan. We also like the fact that these stories are short. Where parents lack the confidence to take on big projects, we know that this one is manageable they can dip into it at the level at which they feel comfortable. Who knows? They may decide to follow some of the other projects of offer via Betwyll.
As an additional resource especially designed to support families in accessing the stories on Betwyll, you decided to record English and Welsh performances of the legends published on the app to somehow replace the live storytelling sessions planned in schools. Why did you find it important to keep the storytelling dimension in the project? When and how will they be available?
TAMAR ELUNED WILLIAMS: I think it’s important to remember that these stories come from an oral tradition, and to try to honour that even with social distancing measures in place. While storytelling normally happens with a live audience, we can still find ways of telling stories at this time, using the wealth of social media platforms that we have available. I wanted to film myself telling the stories without notes in Welsh and English to show that they are living, breathing things that change and adapt each time you tell them, exactly the way they would have been passed on by the generations before us. For me it highlights the “Pont” aspect of the project – the bridge – the fact that, somehow, we have the same story told in Italy and in Wales (the story of the Devil’s Bridge), which can only have happened because people have travelled, have bridged great distances, and taken their stories with them.
- Tuesday 28 April | Fairies: 10am (English performance) and 1pm (Welsh performance)
- Tuesday 5 May | Metamorphic creatures: 10am (English performance) and 1pm (Welsh performance)
- Tuesday 12 May | Dragons and devils: 10am (English performance) and 1pm (Welsh performance)
As professionals whose work is based on social interaction, how are you responding/adjusting your activities to the lockdown? How do you imagine community outreach, storytelling and live performance will change in the aftermath of the pandemic?
KATE STRUDWICK: I hope that this period of lockdown will have brought families closer together and that they will continue to enjoy exploring stories together, either through live performances, reading together or sharing stories they have heard. It is likely that people will not be rushing back to attending large social gatherings for a while and that we will take a time to adjust to a new way of life.
TAMAR ELUNED WILLIAMS: This is a very challenging time as a freelance artist whose work is based on gathering people together. But it’s also a time of opportunity and reflection. I’ve been telling stories via Facebook Live and running weekly storytelling nights every Sunday night on Zoom. These spaces feel important. We’re joined on Sundays by 35-40 people, some of whom have never been to live storytelling events, but who are finding stories to be a source of comfort, reflection and sharing at this time. I hope that they will join us for live events in the future. As someone who organises live performance events, this situation has also made me think about accessibility. We’ve had a lot of people joining us for storytelling who would never be able to attend a live event, because they have young children or additional needs or don’t like to drive at night. Perhaps we will continue to look at running virtual story events online even when lockdown is lifted, because they have such a wide reach and make storytelling accessible to anybody, whatever their circumstances.
MORGAN ROBERTS: Working in communities and in particular with minority group communities such as Welsh speakers, it has been an opportunity to strengthen the online presence of Welsh Language Content within the digital realm. Being a member of a minority group it is easy to feel isolated in normal circumstances, but through increasing the digital presence online this can strengthen the feeling of belonging and improve wellbeing. The focus is keeping connected online and keeping the dialogue flowing between us and the community with our collective creativity at the heart of the work.
Kate Strudwick is Creative Project Manager for Head4Arts, a creative commissioning and production company in the South Wales Valleys specialising in community arts. It operates in partnership with four local authorities (Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil and Torfaen), using engagement with the arts as the mechanism for promoting social innovation through participation in inspirational arts experiences, led by professional arts practitioners. It covers all art forms and age groups and in 2018 celebrates its tenth anniversary. Kate has previously worked for Arts Council of Wales and Caerphilly CBC and is part of Welsh folk music band Allan yn y Fan.
Tamar Eluned Williams (@tamareluned / www.tamarelunedwilliams.com) tells stories in Welsh and English. She works in schools, museums, theatres and festivals using storytelling and theatre to improve oracy, literacy and confidence. She is a creative practitioner for the Arts Council of Wales, Engagement Coordinator for Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival, and one half of the Greenbank Hags, who curate and produce STORYPUB in Bristol. She was awarded the Gwobr Esyllt Harker Award by Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival in 2016 and the national Young Storyteller of the Year Award in 2013.
Morgan Roberts is a digital officer that has worked organising creative projects promoting the use of Welsh in the community for the last 5 years for Menter Iaith Caerffili and is delighted to have joined the Head4arts team part time. He has focussed on creative digital content and creating online digital communities that bring people together.