I know I will be reflecting on the gains from my rich experiences at the Storytelling for Health Conference for a long time to come. There was a great variety of themes and topics to choose from, and I enjoyed the refreshing mixture of performances, workshops, exhibitions and papers.
I came to the Conference with a desire to develop greater awareness and understanding in my storytelling work, and in particular, after contributing to Dying Matters Week for the first time, to be able to offer more useful support to people at the end of life.
I was very sad not to be able to go to everything, and I know that I missed many incredibly worthwhile experiences, simply through the exigencies of the timetable, so I am only able to give a picture of a small proportion of all that was on offer.
I went to presentations on Patient stories, Stories in mental health and Stories at the end of life. I made a presentation myself in Stories with children, about my work as a storyteller at Ysbyty Gwynedd.
Two highlights for me were ‘Stolen’, by Daniel Morden and the Devil’s Violin, and the presentation of Re-Live’s work by Karin Diamond and Alison O’Connor.
I’m in awe of Daniel’s courageous and full-throttle approach to living with cancer. I couldn’t go to hear him speak about his personal journey this time. However, I did go to ‘Stolen’, and was struck by the skill with which he wove together traditional motifs to create a sustained and sustaining metaphor of the journey through life-changing illness. I will never forget the man whose body had been turned to glass and then filled with wasps. Only by drinking the Water of Death could he vanquish the wasps, and then be revived by the Water of Life.
I knew of Karin and Alison’s work by reputation, and it was inspiring to see, on film, testimony from the very many people who have been enabled to share their own stories by working with Re-Live. In fact, I was so moved by their work, that I have applied to attend their forthcoming training course.
I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere, the care and attention to detail shown by Prue and Emily and their team, the inspiring keynote speeches - especially from Eluned Morgan - and the chance to talk about things which are important to us with friends old and new.
I was impressed in particular by Prue’s energy: she coordinated the conference; created a playful atmosphere, with prizes for travelling far or inspiring people and stickers for learning and using Welsh; took care of people who were touched too deeply by the subject; chaired three sessions and introduced a multitude of keynote speakers; made all the housekeeping announcements so that everyone knew where they were supposed to be … and when. She even gave a paper to fill the gap when a speaker was unable to attend. It’s clear that her own work in this field is of great value. Thank you Prue, for being the perfect host!
My thanks go, also, to two generations of one family: to Steve Killick, who chaired with great sensitivity the session in which I presented, making it possible for a large group to really share their responses and to hear each other speak, and to his daughter Ciara, who volunteered throughout the weekend, and supported the chair of the first session I attended by carrying out, with great speed and courtesy, the unenviable task of racing with the microphone to members of the audience who wanted to make a comment from the floor. Da iawn ti!
Finally, I would like to thank the two young students who waited outside the main sessions, brightly clad and brandishing colourful umbrellas, to escort or direct delegates to the different venues. To me, they epitomized the sense of fun underpinning this remarkable conference.
I met old friends and new. I talked about death, life, despair, hope … and stories. I shared laughter, tears, good food and good conversation. And all this in glorious sunshine, by the seaside, in what Dylan Thomas, the city’s famous son, called ‘an ugly, lovely town …. by the side of a long and splendid-curving shore’. Who could ask for anything more?