Posted on Aug 24, 2020
By Peter Wyn Mosey.
Peter Wyn Mosey is a participant of People Speak Up Projects including Story Care and Share and Spoken Word Saturday
On March 23rd, People Speak Up closed its doors at Ffwrnes Fach and joined the rest of the country in implementing lockdown restrictions. This vital community hub had been running several projects including Story Care and Share, Spoken Word Saturday, Cancer Cafeas well as a project at Bwlch Youth Club. Sadly, the restrictions brought about by COVID-19 would seem to bring these to a temporary close.
Here is the story of how People Speak Up has continued to grow and develop, even when faced by the most life-changing global event in modern history.
Very early on into lockdown, a Spoken Word Saturday mash-up was created to be shared via the PSU YouTube. The collection captured the feeling of the contributors as we entered a strange new, brave new world.
Unlike traditional Spoken Word Saturdays, many of these videos showed people in their homes or in a favourite place. This brought a new level of personal sharing to the pieces.
(Spoken Work Saturday, April 11th, 2020)
Story Care and Share had been running previously in Ffwrnes Fach and there seemed to be a definite need for people to come together and to connect creatively during these difficult times. After the level of interest in the first “non-gathering” of Spoken Word Saturday, it was decided to try and run an online Story Care and Share session.
The first week a small handful of people joined the Zoom Story Care and Share, however, by the second week the numbers at swelled to around 16.
It wasn’t just the number of participants connecting to the group that was amazing to see, but the broad range of people making use of the technology too.
Pretty soon the group became like an edition of Celebrity Squares with popularity rising so much the group became so big that a second session was added.
For some people, connecting via video chat to such a large group could be overwhelming. So much so, that the second group was limited in size to ensure a safe space for those that wanted a smaller gathering.
Lockdown has been a challenging time for many people. Regardless of our existing lifestyles, the effect of isolation has been hard for even the most outgoing. With the anxieties that so many were experiencing, sessions began and ended with an anonymous mental health check-in.
A simple check-box on the general anxiety that most of us were experiencing during the height of lockdown, and a comparison to gauge how helpful the session was. Every session starts with a check-in, and it ends with everyone checking out.
Later sessions included grounding and meditation sessions via zoom run by Debs Byers to help relax or focus.
As with Story Care and Share, the Young People Speak Up group has also gone online. Again, this has been carried out on Zoom following a similar pattern to Story Care and Share.
As lockdown measures begin to ease, Young People Speak Up has started to meet once more in persons with its first socially distanced meet-up.
(Young People Speak Up, July 30th 2020)
Open to women and non-binary people, Birth Cafe is a safe space to share birth stories. This too has been held via Zoom during the lockdown.
Previous participants of Birth Cafe have said “it’s good to open it up- there are so many aspects in the experience” and “it’s good to hear other people’s experiences- everyone is different, so we get to understand ourselves a bit better.”
One of the most beautiful things to see is the connections that have flourished throughout lockdown - A project between Coedcae School and Cilmaenllwyd care home has seen young people connecting with elderly residents through storytelling. This too has taken place via Zoom.
Each week 4-6 residents of the care home would join several pupils for stories and a chat. The students would then ask the residents about their likes and memories. The residents very quickly adapted to the new technology.
People Speak Up have been providing the gift of a story from professional storytellers. This has been offered in partnership with the international storytelling festival- Beyond the Border.
Normally the storyteller would visit a person’s home and tell them the story there; however, during the lockdown, they have been carried out via phone or online.
Although throughout lockdown, and even as measures ease, People Speak Up have been unable to run face-to-face services we have been together apart. Being able to connect from the comfort of their homes has meant a great deal to many people participating in the various projects. When contact with others has been very limited, new connections and friendships have formed.
Throughout the whole process of bringing People Speak Up onto digital platforms, there have, of course, been technical hurdles to leap. Everyone connecting via their own different device has meant that there has been universal access to all of the services. But large groups gathering for video chats is not so easy to manage. The right techniques needed to be found so that everyone had a chance to speak and to be heard. This meant the creation of a nomination system. To avoid background noise drowning out the person sharing, everyone else was on mute. Out of this, the silent-jazz-hands-clap was born; a symbol of the People Speak Up lockdown experience.
As restrictions slowly start to lift, and the world returns to normal, People Speak Up is thinking about the future.
Although eventually, the doors of Ffwrnes Fach will open once more, the lessons learned during lockdown have meant that in order to ensure the maximum levels of accessibility and participation on live performance People Speak Up projects, digital options will be available. Many people may be unable to attend sessions, and having the option open for people to continue to connect from their own homes will help to build a valuable community link.