In 2006 I created a series of oral performances with residents from an estate in Bolton, that they delivered live and orally to their community, local and extended. Each one exploring issues affecting the estate community and encouraging debate amongst the residents.
Malcolm, one of the residents, had been asked to talk at a national housing conference about living on a council estate in Northern England. His session at the conference was given the title, ‘participation and engagement as a resident living in a council house’.
I was commissioned to create an oral communication or performance Malcolm could deliver that matched this title and met the corresponding expectation – how do we get residents to take responsibility for their own community.
Malcolm was an engaged tenant, happily participating in activities that had a bearing on his estate.
From the very beginning, Malcolm made it clear, when creating the performance, that he wanted to draw parallels with other experiences in his life. The commissioning officer made it clear, when briefing me, that they did not want Malcolm’s story of war.
He had previously written his account of being a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II. One of 4 children from blind parents Malcolm found himself as a young soldier captured and held prisoner a few months after joining the army at the age of 17.
Malcolm spent 5 years living in a close community with other men he had little in common with as a prisoner and 60 years living in a council flat on an estate with other council tenants.
Working together we began with Malcolm’s story of his experience both as a child of blind parents and as a young soldier captured and interred by the German army. This was the story Malcolm wanted to tell.
With each session we discussed aspects of the story, performing each part until it was clear precisely what Malcolm wanted his audience to understand and why. Finally translating his tale of war into a story about community engagement and participation.
In storying Malcolm’s experience as a young prisoner of war we took a simple tale of survival and turned it into a powerful message about living together Malcolm was proud to perform.
When our work was finished and Malcolm’s performance applauded he turned to me and smiling said, ‘I don’t know how you got that out of my story’.
A very special example of oral communication at its best.
‘The absolute honesty held my interest. Entertaining and I’ll bet some folk can draw parallels with tales told. Yes! This is an excellent idea that has … great potential for helping others.’ Staff Member, Bolton at Home, Community Housing and Regeneration Group.