Having worked with a number of churches looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust we were asked to work with St John’s Bristol where they had a newly recently set of handling objects that help to illustrate the church’s role in the life of medieval Bristol. The volunteers needed help to consider and practice how best to use the objects with visitors. Although many of the volunteers were knowledgeable about the history they were not familiar with the new interpretation that the objects were part of. We were asked to help the volunteers find and be able to share the stories the objects related to and to develop how they interact with visitors, using the objects.
The volunteers, in 2 groups, each took part in 2 half-day workshops within the church. The first workshop involved creating a story about one of the medieval characters who were important to the church and Bristol’s merchant history. In creating this story, as a piece of storytelling, the volunteers developed how they could to select and put together information and also how best to illustrate and evoke the history so as to bring it to life. In the second workshop they examined, using their own experience and suggestions from us, what a good interaction with a visitor could or should be. Using this as a starting point and applying the techniques from the first workshop they created “conversations” involving the objects and the physical details of the church itself that explored or explained the subject or theme of the stories they had created in the first workshop.
The volunteers were of very mixed experience and confidence. But each participant left feeling happier to approach and interact with visitors. Some volunteers appreciated being able to think about (and talk about) the history in a new way, stimulated by the storytelling techniques, others were eager to try out a new, braver, way of involving visitors and everyone was open to using and experimenting with how they could use the new handling objects to inspire curiosity, illustrate a moment in time or provoke a conversation.
“The interactive workshop sessions were well planned. They made us think about why we volunteer at St John’s, and reflect on what knowledge we choose to share, how we present it to visitors and what impressions we would like them to take away. TheWholeStory’s approach of describing place, character, events, objects and context in a natural story telling way was structured, but flexible enough for us to respond spontaneously to visitors' interests. The two days were packed with useful insights that should help volunteers feel confident in engaging with visitors. Overall, this workshop was an interesting, useful and enjoyable experience.” Volunteer
Churches Conservation Trust