We are delighted to announce that we have been awarded The Andy Hunter Storytelling bursary 2021 to reconnect secondary schools and communities to local natural spaces through an identity and wellbeing storytelling project.
The aim of the bursary is to facilitate a continuation and development of Andy Hunter’s passion for the earth, the planet, the people in it, and his live oral storytelling, thereby giving other storytellers the time and resources to progress their own storytelling journey in response to our present crisis and challenge.
As I guide pupils and community members to remember and re-gather the stories of what natural spaces mean to them, their relationship with their community nature spaces may be transformed. Secondary school pupils will have the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world locally as they recall perhaps the first time they held a frog in their hand, or the trees they climbed when they were small, or the first time they encountered a hedgehog. Community members might consider the generous oak tree in the village that provides shelter from the hot sun or from the pouring rain, or the plants in the stream that they cross on their way to the shop. These are all features that become habitually unnoticed but are important connections in our daily lives that we would miss should they disappear. Lockdown has forced us to stay local. While some have managed to spend time in natural spaces, many have been so busy working from home or studying that they have lost their sense of place in the wider environment. As students and communities look more closely, and reconnect with their awareness of the natural world, they will have the opportunity to be more present, more aware of their environment, to grow as individuals in the landscape.
Andy combined his love of storytelling with his love of cycling to create ‘Storybikes’, a business that aimed to enable people to travel to places in a sustainable way, hear stories along the way and thereby have an impact on the participants and on the place. Andy believed strongly that by learning more about a place we could enhance our perception of it and likewise that places are changed by our being in them.
His concern for the earth and for the environment were pivotal to this idea. Travelling in a way that was sustainable i.e. predominantly cycling but also walking and travelling by train, enabled him to take time to see the world around him. to explore, and to forage. Andy would often return from a trip with something he hadn’t set out with. Whether it be acorns to roast, grind and make acorn coffee with, Himalayan balsam to make syrup with, elderflowers or berries to make wine with or pieces of wood to make a fire or carve a spoon with Andy augmented his storytelling with artefacts and lived knowledge of places and seasons. This way of working allowed Andy to enrich his own and others experience and understanding, to go deeply into the landscape and to pay attention to detail, whether it be in a story or in a place.
Our environment shapes our identity and supports our health and wellbeing, but three quarters of UK Children spend less than an hour outdoors everyday. 1 in 9 have not visited a natural space in a year! Many spend much more time in their bedrooms or on a screen rather than interacting positively in a natural space, and yet these local natural spaces are so important for our wellbeing. According to the latest Scottish Health Survey it is estimated that 1 in 3 Scots are affected by mental health issues in any given year. Having access to nature is one of the biggest factors when it comes to all sorts of health outcomes, both physical and mental.
Recent studies have suggested that we should all be spending at least 2 hours per week in a natural environment to support our mental and physical health. With guidance through storytelling and an invitation to use all our senses to take in the natural world again, our communities and our young people can become more fully available to participate in making a better world. Indeed, capturing what these local spaces mean to people, in terms of their sense of identity and wellbeing, is important for preserving them for the future. This bursary means that stories told by people about their connections to these local greenspaces will be collected and can be retold in future performances, or told again by participants, increasing the spread and awareness of the oral storytelling tradition in Scotland.