Jeremy Deller’s UK-Iraq Town Twinning

One work that caught our eye on a recent visit to Joy in People, the Jeremy Deller retrospective currently on at the Hayward Gallery in London, was this uncanny remapping of the relationship between the UK and Iraq through town twinning.

Folks in Greater Manchester will remember Deller from his contemporary reimagining of the rich tradition of Whit parades, and other urban processions in the North West, as part of the Manchester International Festival. Others might know his extraordinary historical reenactment in 2001 of the clash between pickets and police during the Battle of Orgreave, a project that reawakened the memory of that bitter dispute and asked searching questions about heritage and the making of history. Deller recently described the miners strike as ‘modern Britain’s defining story.’

The UK-Iraq twinning maps appear in the context of documentation of a project of Deller’s called ‘It is what it is’ which took place in 2009. The project originally involved a road trip across the US, towing the burnt out hulk of a car blown up in a Baghdad market along with dozens of casualties.  Accompanied by a US marine and an Iraqi citizen Deller wove his way across the country, pitching up in shopping malls and car parks, and using the wreckage, a trace of awful violence impossible to ignore, as a stimulus for discussion, ‘the conversation piece from hell.’

‘It is what it is’ caught our eye as a powerful and creative attempt to think with the core ideas of twinning (mutual understanding, empathy between citizens in different parts of the world) but also to think laterally beyond its current parameters. In a way it seems to be perfectly twinned with the impulse behind Tower Twinning, the citizen-led exchange between high rise residents proposed by our colleagues at The Islington Estate in Salford.


Digital Storytelling talk at Manchester Net Tuesday

This week we gave a presentation at the monthly Manchester Net Tuesday meeting at the MadLab, entitled ‘Digital Storytelling: principles and practice’. The presentation outlined the practical elements of applied digital storytelling alongside the basic underlying principles of mutual recognition, trust and respect at its core. These ideas were illustrated by the ‘100 Camps‘ project, a recent digital storytelling process undertaken with the Salford Lads Club in collaboration with the Storycircle team at Goldsmiths, University of London. This case study was used to help practitioners explore the possibilities that digital technologies can bring to the fundamental human desire to connect through the exchange of stories.

We were also joined live from Seattle by Steve Daigneault, Senior Vice President at M+R Strategic Services, who talked about story telling in a fundraising context; and live from California by Christie Brandau, who talked about TechSoup’s recent Digital Storytelling Challenge. The contributions from presenters, the audience, and the brilliant Steven Flowers as chair, lead to a rich discussion about the possibilities of digital storytelling, and provided some really useful insights and ideas that we hope to pick up on as our reserach develops further. Many thanks to all involved! The proceedings were filmed and streamed live by John Poppham (the mind behind Social Reporters and inventor of Twicket), and can be viewed in full from the following link:

Oasis Academy Mediacity UK Students showcase Storycircle Project at Quays Open Day in Salford

On 18th February 2012, a team of students from Oasis Academy MediacityUK worked together with Quays Open Day visitors to capture stories aboutSalford in the shape of photo narratives which were uploaded to a digital map using Historypin to show how and when these stories emerged in relation to locations around Salford.

A sense of loss, mapping environment as digital archaeology and conservation

One of the first visitors to share a story were two sisters with an interest in history both of whom had lived in Salford, with their families all their life. They came to share their experiences and memories of Langworthy Road Primary School which was recently demolished. The photo-narrative they brought along attested to the long history of the school, built in 1898, and a day of protest by those who felt a loss at its demolition. In sharing their story, they hoped not only to ‘dig up the past’ but to digitally preserve it.

QOD Historypin

QOD Langworthy Pub

Going beyond photo-narratives to capture culture and social history

The Langworthy Road Primary School story went beyond image and text, with one of the sisters spontaneously bursting into a rendition of the school song about friendship, drawing out the sense of loss in community that arose out of the demolition of the old building with which the song was associated. It was as if the cultural and social history of the school was given voice in the very fabric of the building.

Langworthy Primary

100 Camps: digital storytelling with the Salford Lads Club

‘100 Camps’ is a collaboration between Salford Lads Club and our Storycircle team here at Goldsmiths, University of London. This project centres on a multi-layered digital storytelling process to coincide with the recent celebrations of the Salford Lads Club’s 100th annual camping holiday to Wales. Camping remains a core part of what the club does, and offers members a chance to experience outdoor activities, learning, discipline and bonding. Over time, generations of lads and girls have participated in the club’s camping  rituals – daily tent cleaning competitions, peeling and preparing vast amounts of cooked potato, swimming in the local rivers, playing football with local Welsh teams and going dancing with Welsh girls at the Kings Hall in Aberystwth.

[Left] Denis Lewtas and an old friend at the open day. They are standing in front of the group photograph from the SLC camp at Llandulas, Wales, in 1904 (Source: L. Holmes 2011)

While the Salford Lads Club’s long history of camping in Wales has been well documented by photography and film footage, these materials have been deteriorating and becoming disorganised. This situation presented an opportunity to explore the difference digitisation might make, not only to the preservation of this rare amateur archive, but also to the possibilities of widening interaction and creative reproduction with it. Club members of all ages worked in collaboration with the Goldsmiths research team to undertake a collective exchange of stories about their memories from attending the camp. The audio from these stories was recorded, and members were supported to illustrate them with edited, remixed and recombined archival footage.

The first of three storytelling workshops with campers in July 2011. (Source: L. Holmes 2011)

Brian recording Mike’s story. (Source: L. Holmes 2011)

Those participating in the workshops have surprised themselves with their ability to work with laptops, digital media and video editing. Several of the club’s officers have shown their natural ability for recording digital audio stories with other members, while others have already begun to consider ways of filming the next camp with these ideas in mind.

Video production workshop in October 2011. (Source: L. Dickens 2011)

The Salford Lads Club’s unique archival collections and materials have proved to be a vital narrative resource for the project. But they still contain a wealth of personal stories yet to be told. The Storycircle workshops have played an important role in simultaneously encouraging greater access and exploration of this partially digitised archive, while also supporting further digitising of these precious materials. As a result of the collaboration there is a clear sense that the Storycircle project has helped to consider more explicitly the collective value of these potential stories, and we will be continuing to provide background support to their efforts to secure a safe future for them at the club.

[Left] One of the final films made. These will be available for viewing very soon!

The 100 Camps project will be celebrated with an exhibition and opening event at the Salford Lads Club in April 2012. The plan is to display large-scale reproductions of the traditional group photo from each of the past 100 camps, alongside the Storycircle films. These materials will also be hosted on the SLC website nearer the time. Further details to follow soon…


Storycircle: Putting Salford stories on the map with Oasis Academy Mediacity UK

As part of the wider Storycircle project Goldsmiths are working together with a team of students at Oasis Academy Mediacity UK to explore ways of engaging local residents in capturing stories about Salford past, present and future and making these available to a global audience using the web-based tool Historypin.


van der graff



By the end of the second workshop, students were familiar with the use of Historypin as a tool for storing participants’ stories aboutSalfordand were able to confidently interact with those they interviewed.

Underpinning these activities was a desire to explore tools and methods for facilitating knowledge exchange across and within communities using digital storytelling and readily available web-based digital platforms to facilitate dialogue, facilitated by the Storycircle concept.

Tower Twinning: Civic Cooperation for the Digital Age

Recently a BBC article suggested that austerity hit local authorities were beginning to scrap the historic twinning arrangements that linked British cities with counterparts in France, Germany and beyond. Critics of the twinning initiatives which flourished in the decades that followed the last war have argued that these formal partnerships have typically benefitted only a few elected officials fortunate enough to participate in formal delegations and visits. Cuts in local government budgets have provided a context in which long stagnant links could be axed. Other critics suggest that the cumbersome rituals of delegations and exchange visits that have historically been a customary feature of town twinning arrangements are an anachronism in an age of increased mobility and cheap travel.

A tenants’ association representing residents on the Islington Estate in the Chapel Street area of Salford have a bold concept for the renewal of civic twinning, a vision that emphasises the increased importance of cooperation and mutual support between citizens in hard times.

Image source R L MacDonald

TIETARA (The Islington Estate Tenants and Residents Association) are working with the Goldsmiths project Storycircle and Salford University on a project that sets out to reimagine what twinning could be like: if it was initiated by citizen groups sharing ideas on how to tackle the challenges they face and their experiences of life, if the twinned partners were tower blocks or neighbourhoods facing similar challenges in different countries, and if the process of exchange fully exploited the potential of digital technologies and the internet to connect communities for their mutual benefit.

TIETARA believe that connecting tenants of tower blocks in different countries, Tower Twinning, will provide a blueprint for citizen cooperation and self-help in the digital age, and contribute to the revival of high rise living. Watch this space.