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Archive for February, 2009

Recently I’ve been involved in a number of events in my local community – the school advent fair, ‘Stories at the Mill’ to raise money for the windmill restoration (see ‘Recent Events’), some workshops – some of which I’ve organised with an evangelical zeal for storytelling, others of which people have drafted me in for.  They’re not something that makes anyone any money at all.  Yet considerably more work goes into their planning than any commercial event.  People organising them rarely talk about WHY they are making the effort – it seems self-evident.  And afterwards, organisers all agree on whether an event was successful or not.  What criteria are they using?

Take ‘Stories at the Mill’, for example.  It was a fundraising event, to start with.  In the end I don’t think it made more than £75, a day’s wage in most occupations, but nobody was dissatisfied with this.  The second floor of the half-restored mill was chock-full of people, many of them up past their bedtime on a nasty night, and they all listened, laughed, recited along.  More than that, by getting engrossed in stories and by simply being in the mill, all learnt something about what it was like to be a miller, or live in times that depended on mills.  We heard the wind whistling in the draughts and the children on the floor huddled together for warmth; we climbed steep ladders and imagined we had to do that many times a day hauling a sack of flour, like the millers in the stories. We knew the event would probably be a one-off, as the mill will be in working order next year.  So the evening was a shared experience; we had been a real tight-knit community for the duration of it.

And another thing: the age groups mix and merge together in a unique way.  Maybe some of the adults thought they were coming to a children’s event – this is often the way with community events, and with storytelling in particular.  Yet one notices that the parents and grandparents display the same ‘childlike’ reactions to a good story as their kids: their breathing slows down, their face relaxes, they open up their ears and minds to whatever might blow into them.  We are all of us, adults too, built to hear stories and learn from them.  Just like we are all social animals made to live in communities, enjoy music together, learn to play drums together, make things together.

I don’t mean to romanticise these sort of events: sometimes community fairs are muddy, poorly-attended and dull.  You’d rather be in town having a coffee in peace in a nice clean warm cafe.  BUT you can do that any day.  The individualistic side of life is developed enough in our society.  The side of us that needs to be part of something bigger than ourselves – the side that joins local campaigns or volunteers at the local school – needs careful nurturing.  For most people, after school days end, the chances to do so become few and far between.   So these amateur community events, which bring people together in a great effort and enjoyment every so sporadically, are very, very important.

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