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Untold stories of volunteering: a cultural animation approach

‘Untold Stories of Volunteering’ is part of the AHRC Connected Communities programme. The project aims to give voice to ‘untold stories of volunteering’ by employing a cultural animation methodology to ensure that such stories are co-designed and co- produced with and by volunteers and other interested stakeholders.  Working closely with volunteers from Staffordshire and other stakeholders, in particular, New Vic Theatre and NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations), we explore volunteering experiences from multiple perspectives and uncover untold stories of volunteering.  We explore the potential implications of such untold stories of volunteering for individuals and communities via a documentary drama that will be co-designed, co-produced and co-performed by the participants in three locations across the UK.

The project has two phases. In Phase 1 (Feb – May 2013), the project aims to co-create and co-design a methodology that capture the complexity and richness of the volunteering experience from the point of view of different types of volunteers, academics, community practitioners and policy makers. This was achieved via five workshops (see Activities). The methodology will then be employed in Phase 2 (July 2013 – July 2014) to co-produce and co-deliver the documentary drama.

Cultural Animation

Our key methodology for this project is ‘cultural animation’, which aims to create an environment in which community members, policy makers and academics co-operate, co-design and co-produce shared themes about volunteering, as well as producing artistic outputs based on these themes. All the workshops in Phase 1 benefitted from the cultural animation techniques introduced and facilitated by Sue Moffat from the New Vic Theatre. These techniques included the development of artistic outputs such as poems, songs, puppets, tableaux and mini performances enacting themes such as ‘community’ and ‘volunteering’. For example, one group designed and built ‘Oscar the Octopus’, another group built a ship led by an angel, moving towards a light house, and a third group built a fishing tableaux with nets, water and a set of fishing rods trying to gather hearts.  The groups were also invited to imagine a ‘Generositree’ as a metaphor for volunteering and discussed how the tree could be nurtured and branch out. Oscar the Octopus, The Slippery Eel, Volunteering Angel, the poems about community and volunteering, the shadow puppetry show, the Generositree, the ‘It’s paradoxical’ song and accompanying slide show, amongst others, will form part of an installation in Phase 2 which will accompany the tour of the drama performance.  This cultural animation methodology will underpin Activities 2-8 in Phase 2.  An audio archive of the Phase 1 recordings will be edited in Phase 2 and lodged with the East Midlands Oral History Archive.

Project participants

Academic partners are Professor Mihaela Kelemen, Dr Anita Mangan (both from Keele Management School) and Dr Martin Phillips (University of Leicester). Community partners are New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations). For more details, see project participants