In 2004 I was asked to write an article on our approach to storytelling and I just had to make a feature out of the wonderful ‘Sands of Time’ publication, shown above. [Art by local artist T.E.J. Brooker] A dream oral history project which was completed before I had even started in working with narrative. Anyway, this is the beginning of the article I wrote:
“Back in the mists of time when only the monks and the monarchy could write, there were three ways in which we learnt: first by having a go at it. When that didn’t work, or you wanted to improve – by watching someone who knew how to do it. Then at the end of the day when the sun had set and it got too dark to see what anyone was doing – by listening to that ‘someone’ tell you about the time when they …”Clair Weaver – Grazing Animals Project, 2003
This passage is written by Claire Weaver, one of our conservation officers who, despite no contact with knowledge management as such, encapsulates in one short paragraph the heart of what I now hold to be important in communities and knowledge sharing.
I met Claire back in 2000 at the beginning of my journey to find the supposed Holy Grail of knowledge management and of my personal quest to uncover the secrets of communities and storytelling. Twelve months ago what began as a sideline turned into a full-time English Nature project, of which I hope, in this short case study, to recount my current thoughts in relation to communities. I make no apologies for occasionally following the signposts towards storytelling, because I now believe there to be a unified theory hiding between the two paths of narrative and community.
The sands of time
Claire suggested, edited and produced a marvellous book entitled ‘The Sands of Time’ in which she and her colleagues collected the anecdotes of everyone in any way connected with the Saltfleetby National Nature Reserve (NNR) on the Lincolnshire Coast. The exciting and informative tales about smugglers and nudists, unexploded bombs and shelduck held me spellbound until I had read every last word. Her comments on the wonderfully involving and evocative content inspired me on my journey:
“This is a collection of people’s reminiscences about a local place that holds a special place in the hearts and memories of those that have told their stories …we were surprised by the enthusiasm of everyone who participated …there is a wealth of local knowledge, both about historical information and wildlife …the project became an informal consultation on how the site is managed”. (Weaver 2000)Claire Weaver 2000
This latter point particularly caught my eye, as consulting with local people is a very difficult, resource intensive activity. Yet this relatively straightforward approach seemed capable of delivering valuable benefits. I began to wonder how such a simply constructed book could contain forces powerful enough to encourage me to visit the site, including the Prussian Queen public house at Saltfleetby, where the storytelling sessions had been held. According to the landlord, the locals still reminisce about the enjoyable evenings they spent telling tales around a roaring fire and drinking traditional real ale.