Harnessing creativity to give marginalised people a voice: An example from Brighton

Susanne SchirmerSue_Schirmer200

‘…. That’s the reason why I no longer want to be silent. I’m willing to speak up. As long as it raises awareness on what it is like to live with HIV. It means to live with HIV, the most important part of it is to live.’                 

Excerpt from one of the participant’s recordings in the Speaking Volumes project

On Wednesday this week,  IDS hosted a lunchtime seminar in which local Brighton drama practitioner Alice Booth talked about her experience with using ‘Theatre for Development’ in Uganda and Kenya, alongside her recent participatory project ‘Speaking Volumes’ in which she has been working with a group of people in Brighton, who are living with HIV.

While her experiences in Kenya and Uganda were somewhat mixed, it was the ‘Speaking Volumes’ project that grabbed my attention. When looking for best practice it’s so easy to look towards the more ‘exotic’ places and big donor-funded project and overlook the smaller really good participatory practice that is right on our doorstep. So I thought I’d introduce the project to you and I hope it will inspire you as it inspired me.

‘Speaking Volumes’ is a project that uses storytelling to allow the voices of hidden, stigmatised and marginalised people to be heard. Alice worked with a small group of HIV positive people to enable them to share their experiences of living with HIV. Before recording interviews with the participants, Alice used a portrait workshop, to enable participants to explore themes of identity and self-image and a story workshop to help them to discuss the story they wanted  to share. Participants’ stories were then recorded on a voice recorder (giving people the opportunity to remain anonymous if they choose to do so). Finally the participants worked with portrait artist Jake Spicer, to draw a representation of each of them for their record.

The stories are presented in an installation, with individually designed book covers housing each story.

book with one of the recordings

I will be heading down to Brighton Jubilee Library this weekend, where, the exhibition is exhibited until 8th June and the public can listen to the stories and explore what it means to live with HIV. The recordings can also be accessed online on the project website. Follow the project on facebook or on twitter@SpeakingVols.

As the installation flyer says: ‘Come, leave your pre-conceptions at the door and take five minutes to listen to the stories’.

Colleagues in the Participation, Power and Social Change team have done (and are doing) great work using creative methods. Find out more about how creative and visual participatory methods can be used to give marginalised and often overlooked people a voice  on the Participatory Methods website.

Sue Schirmer works as Communications Coordinator for the Participation, Power and Social Change (PPSC) team at IDS.

Read other blogs about using creative and visual methods:


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