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P-01 Things were already hard, but then: how telling stories can lead to social change around bereavement
  1. Mary Hodgson and
  2. Jan Noble
  1. St Christopher’s Hospice, London, UK


Background Stories are inherent to human culture and development. They help give meaning to life and death, explaining how and why things are as they are, and bear witness to important events in history and our lives. Telling someone a story isn’t a passive activity, it’s a social action. It can help the listener understand something, gain perspective or bear witness. Stories are not neutral and their strength and challenges often lie in the speaker’s position.

Aims This presentation will share a storytelling project which worked with ten people bereaved during COVID-19 to share their ‘unheard stories’. We will review the process and results, and ask why it is so important to hear unheard stories around challenging and unjust experiences.

Methods We created a partnership with the Museum of London and artist, Olivia Twist, to work on a participatory arts and storytelling project. The aim was to help people tell their stories through illustrations other people would understand, with the aim of helping more people understand this time or make it visible and in so doing create change. People in the workshops met together over a series of months, sharing their experiences, telling stories, and then deciding on some key aspects of their bereavement experience to tell through illustration. We also facilitated professional photography depicting people as they wished to be seen, and recorded oral histories of their time.

Results Participants rated the process highly, in particular around its impact on their grieving process and the importance of sharing stories. Some have also gone on to be volunteers, help create new initiatives, speak about their experiences as ‘experts by experience’, or submit testimony to All-Party Parliamentary Groups. The illustrations were acquired by the Museum of London for its permanent collection and we exhibited them in our CARE (Centre for Awareness and Response to End of life). We continue to use storytelling and participatory arts methods to explore bereavement and other experiences.

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