By ELEANOR MCGILLIE 11 September, 2018
There’s one thing about growing up here and that’s having memories of your mother or father’s friend telling yarns in your home. Storytelling is a tradition. It inspires and educates and one woman who has built a reputation for her storytelling globally is our member Liz Weir. Eleanor McGillie has a chat with Liz about the Armstrong Storytelling Bursary.
As Liz Weir would say, storytelling is not just for children. We all love a good story and here at Live It Experience It we tell stories too and in this instance we are telling the story of a storyteller.
You will always remember Liz if you have met her before, but, if you haven’t met her, but have heard her voice, you will definitely remember her for her ability to tell a good story.
Liz has been hitting the headlines again and this time it’s for a new project she is embarking on a new project with a Belfast born record producer which will help keep the tradition alive.
At Live It Experience It we know the value of storytelling as we tell the story of our members and what they have to offer visitors. Without telling their story it’s more difficult for people to connect with them. Visitors coming to Northern Ireland, be that stepping of cruise ships, coming by the coach load, coming for family excursions, or family day trips, love the story of our place and they are hearing those stories through our authentic tour guides and storytellers who have the knowledge and the ability to tell a story and tell it well.
The Armstrong Storytelling Bursary, which will be launched in Belfast at a glitzy ceremony at the Grand Central Hotel on September 19, is a unique collaboration which has been created to encourage businesses like yours and ours to get involved in keeping the art of storytelling alive so people can reap the rewards.
So, how is it going to work? Well, it all starts with the tale of the collaboration between the record producer and the storyteller.
Once upon a time Roger Armstrong, a music fan from Belfast, went to London to follow his dream.
Roger, one time QUB Social Secretary who had worked in Dublin with the Chieftains and Celtic Rock pioneers Horslips, was spinning discs as co-founder of London-based independent record label, Ace Records.
At the same time his globe-trotting parents Peg and Jim were passionate about spinning yarns after falling under the spell of our own travelling bard, Liz Weir.
Now this successful record producer and the storyteller have teamed up to spread this ancient art form throughout Northern Ireland with the launch of the Armstrong Storytelling Bursary, which will train new storytellers and offer an increasing number of sessions to people young and old.
The story all began in the 1980s when Roger’s parents met Liz who was running a Yarnspinners storytelling group, prompting them to form their own group at Tullycarnet Library.
In honour of his late parents, Roger set up the initial storytelling residency with Libraries NI. After two years of programming with Libraries NI he feels it’s time to expand its scope and having invested his own money he hopes to involve interested members of the business community.
He said: “We have the personnel and project in place but need further finance to roll it out on a bigger scale. Storytelling is a vivid and immediate way to entertain, engage and inform people but it’s much more than that. It teaches core life skills, communication, confidence, critical thinking and empathy.
“It can actually be life-changing. We have seen young people, who were desperately shy, end up telling new stories to their peers and develop confidence to speak out. We’ve worked with elderly people with dementia who were almost non-communicative and these stories brought out memories and their own stories.”
The bursary is cross community and is also dedicated to bringing stories from around the world to Northern Ireland, introducing people from different cultures and experiences to entertain the public. In the pilot project run over the last two and a half years, the funding provided by Roger meant that 15,251 people listened to stories told by 32 different people and a further 437 people received storytelling training.
Liz Weir, Northern Ireland’s leading storyteller, has a long and colourful career in which she’s told stories to literally thousands of people of all ages, trained up and coming storytellers and even worked with leading stage actors and a raft of big businesses to improve their communications skills.
Liz has storytelling nights in Ballyeamon Barn Tourist Hostel based in the Glens of Antrim. Every Saturday night, tourists staying with her enjoy local people telling stories but these open house sessions also encourage tourists, from all over the world, to stand up and tell a story too.
These are fabulous nights – the visitors love them and the locals love them.
Liz said: “Storytelling is for everyone. Everyone has a story to tell so it’s just a question of providing the skills and opportunity to tell it. In this digital age where everyone is staring at screens all day it’s important to keep alive the tradition of speaking and telling your story.
“Our storytelling nights at Ballyeamon Barn Tourist Hostel are fantastic. You hear people from all nationalities get up and tell stories and we have inspired a woman in America, who was staying with us, to go back and set up her own open house sessions. This bursary will open doors for many people so we are encouraging people and businesses to get involved.”
Fellow storyteller Pat Ryan, an educator originally from the US, has been teaching storytelling to everyone from schoolchildren to premiership footballers and coaches. He believes it is essential for this tradition to continue.
Pat said: “Teachers had been required to teach half an hour of storytelling. This is something that is no longer on the curriculum but we are helping to bridge that gap. We go into schools and tell stories but we also teach the young people to tell their own stories. Many of them have never spoken before a group and this can be the first step in developing an essential life skill.”
Roger is convinced of the benefits of storytelling and wants to use his bursary to spread the word: “There is a rich supply of local talent in Northern Ireland. We have some people who have gone from being unemployed to being full time professional storytellers, going to schools, nursing homes spreading the traditional art for which Northern Ireland is famous. So we don’t just help educate. We also help create employment and produce students that are fit and ready for the workplace.
Roger hopes that other business leaders will join him now and he has set up a community interest company (CIC) that will fund the development of new storytellers and reach thousands of people in Northern Ireland.
Live It Experience It’ is a group of tourism businesses working together to promote our region through water, air and land based activities, food and drink and great places to stay. If you would like to become a member business in our ‘Live It Experience It’ cluster please submit your information through our online form – Sign Up Here. Pitch your business and meet like minded tourism businesses who you could cluster with. #liveitexperienceit