For the Old Fire Station, Oxford – an amazing arts and community venue – communicating the real impact of what they do to funders and commissioners was proving challenging. More to the point, they needed to find a way of identifying rich information that they could use to improve the services they provide.
I met them recently to find out how they are using the power of stories to communicate. Over the last year or so, a small team of listeners drawn from across the organisation – clients, staff, volunteers, trustees and supporters – have worked together to decide what they wanted to know and to develop the skills they needed to listen well. Between them they conducted 10-15 in depth interviews with those who have benefited from spending time at the Old Fire Station. Each resulted in a rich and detailed narrative that identified the changes, both planned and unplanned, that came from their time there. The narratives are in the individual’s own words and interpreted only through conversation – so different to the traditional ‘case study’. Listeners and storytellers are now working together to develop an artistic piece to help express the powerful findings that emerged. The themes that emerged run across all the stories and will be used to inform the charity’s future work.
Stories are powerful tools that shape our world. In developing this project, the evaluators came to the realisation that stories can be used not only to communicate but also to inspire and support change. Change-maker Ella Saltmarshe has written a powerful account of how stories can be used for social change ‘Telling the Difference’, which can be downloaded here.