New life for an ancient art form

6th November 1998 at 00:00
In a world in which the fiction appears to be losing out to technology Raymond Ross reports on a scheme to bring story-telling back into schools

Let me tell you a wee story. There are four storytelling clubs in Scotland, two in the ancient city of Edinburgh and two in the Dear Green Place known to us as Glasgow. One in each city is specifically for children.

But now, thanks to a Pounds 41,600 windfall from the Scottish Arts Council's New Directions Lottery Fund, a plot is being hatched at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh to set up 10 new storytelling clubs across the country in the next two years.

And this crock of gold will also be used to produce a storytelling resource pack for schools and community groups; to enable around 60 different skills development workshops for teachers to be programmed with local authorities; and to set up a mentoring scheme which will provide six bursaries for aspiring storytellers. Magic, or what?

The focus on young people and education was emphasised at last week's Scottish International Storytelling Festival, where an in-service day in Edinburgh, entitled "Children are Storytellers", concentrated on storytelling as a cross-curricular art form for developing confidence and language skills.

There is strong evidence of a genuine renaissance in the ancient art of storytelling. One important development is the appointment of professional storyteller, Ewan McVicar, as the new writer in residence for Craigmillar in Edinburgh. Part of his remit is to help in a literacy programme in local schools. He is the first storyteller to be appointed to an SAC-funded writer's residency.

Further evidence can be found in a new edition of the Directory of Scottish Storytellers, about to be published. The first edition, two years ago, had 17 entries; the new edition lists 50 recognised storytellers, many of whom will take part in the new skills development workshops with themes ranging from "Storytelling and the School Day" and "Storytelling and Early Intervention" to "Storytelling and the Curriculum" and "Allowing Children to Talk - How Story Can Help". Others cover playground traditions, storytelling for interpretation, and religious education and storytelling.

Based on the maxim that you can't have a genuine tradition which doesn't have a future, Donald Smith, the Scottish Storytelling Centre's director, sees the proposed clubs and workshops as "a breeding ground for a new generation of storytellers. This is very much a living art form".

The 10 clubs will be given administrative support and visiting storytellers over the two-year period. Thereafter they are expected to be self-sufficient.

Applications are welcome from anyone wishing to set up a club, but the Storytelling Centre also expects applications from bodies such as libraries, after-school clubs and community groups.

"The intention is to extend storytelling and branch out from central Scotland," says Joanna Bremner, co-ordinator of the Scottish Storytelling Centre and of the lottery-funded initiative.

The mentoring scheme is aimed at those who already have experience in storytelling but wish to develop their skills. It involves a 12-week intensive study programme which can be extended over a longer period for those wishing to do it part-time. In addition to fees participants will receive a Pounds 2,500 grant.

The skills development workshops are being offered on the basis of two subsidised half-day workshops. Targeted groups include teachers, librarians, museum curators, care workers and countryside rangers.

The start-up packs, which can be ordered from the Scottish Storytelling Centre, are aimed at schools and community organisations interested in storytelling as a regular activity. They provide an introduction to storytelling, information on story sources and traditions plus advice on how to start a storytelling group.

"The whole thing is a response to a growing interest. It is an opportunity for teachers to decide to be involved and to decide how to be involved," says Joanna Bremner.

For further information contact Joanna Bremner at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, tel: 0131 557 5724.

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