How to fill a room with stories

I spent the early part of this year buried in stories. Leading the Castle Park Stories project for Lancaster Litfest involved weeks of workshops and research visits. I had the pleasure of collaborating with many creative and enthusiastic people, volunteers and professionals, and together we filled a room with stories.

This was a project that required participants to ask questions of the landscapes they pass by everyday, to dig out answers and to respond to what they found. The project made me think a lot about why this kind of work matters. All kinds of organisations and companies are struggling at the moment. People are struggling. It can be hard to ask for support for the arts in this climate. In fact I don't want to (I agree with this article, support is the wrong word). But I do believe that the making and sharing of art can make life better, more bearable, more enjoyable. It can change the stories we tell ourselves. It can work for anyone and everyone. And it is always possible to find ways to do it.

The Castle Park Stories exhibition has travelled from the Storey to Lancaster library, and will soon be coming down. But the stories that were unearthed, retold and passed on have lived at least a little while in the light. And the people who took part came away with their own stories, saying of the experience that it was challenging, inspiring, life-enhancing, confidence-building and that they learnt new skills. There was an overwhelming sense of pride in having come together with strangers to make something. For those who took part, and those with whom the exhibition was shared, there was a nudge to keep looking for stories in the landscape, to question what they've been told, to seek out the hidden and the misrepresented, and to understand the difference stories can make.

Right now, it seems to me that an understanding of story, and of who tells the stories and why, couldn't be more important.

photographs by Andy Darby and Graham Dean