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Storytelling is not just for the literacy hour

A storytelling fellowship which aims to develop the traditional art in Aberdeen schools and support teachers across the curriculum has been launched to tie in with the city's storytelling and theatre festival.

The idea behind the 14-month fellowship, financed by the Scottish Arts Council and the city council, is to link the 2005 and 2006 festivals from beginning to end.

The two storytellers who share the fellowship, Margot Henderson and Cathy Low, will research and develop stories to create projects in Aberdeen libraries and schools. They will also provide professional development for teachers and librarians, showing them how they can develop storytelling techniques to deliver subjects or how they can make use of storytellers in their classes and libraries.

"The research time the fellows have will allow them to find or create stories which can link to different areas of the curriculum and to encourage pupils to think about what they are learning, and how they are learning, in a different way," says Linda Lees Hislop, the city's cultural co-ordinator for music and performance.

"The two fellows are keen to leave a legacy. Part of that will be to encourage pupils and teachers to develop storytelling techniques with cross-curricular links to reading, writing, oral and aural skills."

Cathy Low is from rural Aberdeenshire and as a child learned stories from her mother. She has worked in theatre and education for many years and has used story and drama to teach French and English.

Margot Henderson is of Scots Irish origin. She feels the fellowship post has a lot of scope. "It's a great opportunity to get to know the city, its people and the stories held in these granite stones," she says.

"Much of my work takes place in diverse settings, ranging from galleries and museums, schools and libraries, prisons and homeless shelters to woodlands and quarries. A sense of celebrating place and belonging is central to my work, which combines music, song, poetry and dance within the storytelling.

"I'm really pleased to be sharing the fellowship with Cathy, as it's a chance to collaborate and share good practice gathering stories, blethering stories."

Schools are also being encouraged to be pro-active and come up with their own ideas, says Ms Lees Hislop. One that has been suggested is to create a large storybook for use throughout the city.

"The aim is to engage the imagination of all involved through telling stories, whether new or traditional," she says.

This year's six-week festival, which runs until March 27, is the largest of its kind in Scotland, with 18 storytellers, including the two fellows, six authors and 10 theatre companies taking part.

Last year 6,160 children from 57 schools were involved in events.

The festival began in 1999 in response to the literacy hour initiative and reports of the decline in parents reading to their children. Part of the aim of the fellowship is to promote the idea of bedtime stories and parents engaging in storytelling with their children.

Both the fellows have worked with pre-school groups through to adults. The city's social work department is also involved in the initiative and hopes to help tackle family literacy issues.

Donald Smith, director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, says: "The combination of fellowship and festival means that in Aberdeen, a city with a literary and oral tradition going back to the Middle Ages, every child will be involved at a creative and participatory level."

"If the project is as successful as it looks like being, then we can only hope for further funding after the 14-month period to keep it going," adds Ms Lees Hislop.

Aberdeen Storytelling and Theatre Festival, until March 27festival administrator, Heather Evanstel 01224 346361

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