Storytelling and Community Building

In the tapestry of community building, the storyteller or artist serves as both a custodian and a catalyst, wielding narratives as tools for unity and transformation. They act as the guardians of collective memory, preserving and disseminating the stories that define the community’s identity and values. Through their craft, they breathe life into these narratives, infusing them with emotion, meaning, and resonance.
Moreover, storytellers and artists hold a unique power to amplify marginalized voices, offering platforms for expression and representation within the community. Their creative endeavors foster empathy and understanding, bridging divides and fostering a sense of belonging among diverse perspectives.
As cultural stewards, they facilitate dialogue and collaboration, orchestrating spaces where community members can connect, share, and co-create narratives that reflect their collective experiences and aspirations. By weaving threads of imagination and reality, the storyteller or artist helps to cultivate resilience, inspire action, and shape the community’s narrative trajectory, enriching its social fabric and fostering a sense of shared purpose and belonging.

The storyteller (or other artist and creative worker) serves as a vital transmitter of values within communities, bridging generations and preserving cultural heritage through the art of narrative. Embedded within tales of triumph, loss, and resilience are the moral compasses that guide community members through life’s complexities.

Through oral traditions, literature, and artistry, storytellers imbue timeless wisdom into their narratives, passing down cherished beliefs, ethics, and norms from one generation to the next. They are the guardians of collective memory, ensuring that the essence of the community’s identity endures amidst the passage of time.

Furthermore, storytellers play a pivotal role in shaping societal consciousness by addressing contemporary challenges through allegory and metaphor. By weaving universal themes into their tales, they provoke reflection and dialogue, inviting communities to confront pressing issues while upholding enduring values.
But storytellers are also able to apply tools to works around identity construction of the self and the community. Starting from the notion that we identify ourselves through stories and the opportunities to re-author the stories we tell about ourselves, storytellers and other artists using storytelling techniques can act as change makers in values and norms patterns, reshaping society in order to support positive development.

In essence, the storyteller as a value transmitter is a custodian of the community’s moral fabric, weaving threads of tradition and innovation to create a tapestry that both honors the past and guides the future. Through their narratives, they empower individuals to navigate life’s complexities with integrity, empathy, and resilience, enriching the collective soul of the community.

Share to connect
Arjen Barel, facilitator, Storytelling Centre

We, Storytelling Centre, developed the Share to connect method to facilitate applying storytelling in community work better. This method is the back bone for application in different directions, from working with groups in vulnerable positions to give them opportunities for personal development to anti polarisation and conflict transformation work. The method starts from the art of storytelling and is very suitable for creative practitioners to broaden their scope and to find new ways to use their skills in society. The entrepreneurial aspect in this is that it opens new doors for creatives to practise their art, albeit in an applied way, for different clients.

We deliver the Share to Connect training, as we described in the pilots, two times a year for a group of storytellers, creatives and social workers. In this training we focus on working with groups in vulnerable positions as part of the learners groups will apply the newly acquired knowledge and skill immediately after in the so-called Golden Men program, a program to activate men in social isolation. We introduce the theory of storytelling to the learners and we invite them to experience the tool we hand them. One of the three training days is dedicated to the tree of life, an activity developed by the Dulwich Centre for Narrative therapy, and often one of the core activities in our trainings and story work.

The last session we invite the learners to design their own sessions and we give feedback, to prepare them for the work. We always stay in touch with most of the learners, to see if and how they applied the knowledge and skills and to inform if they need more information or support. By this, we know that quite some learners started delivering their own workshops, began working for organisation with their new knowledge and skills of even designed their own programs. So the impact of these trainings is twofold: the society benefits as more opportunities to work with strolling of personal growth and social impact are offered and more creatives get the change to apply their skills and knowledge in society.

The map (team building exercise)


The workspace is the map of the world. Ask the participants to stand where they currently live. The participants have to work together, to find out which place is where. Common discussions will include, where north is, where the different continents are placed, and other geopolitical issues. When everyone is standing, you ask everyone to name that place. Then ask everyone to stand in the place where their father or mother was born. When everyone is standing, you ask everyone to name that place. Then ask everyone to stand where one of their grandparents was born. When everyone is standing, you ask everyone to name that place.

If necessary, you can then talk to the group about the information that came out of the exercise

Storyline (creativity triggering)


Ask the participants to make a story together. One person makes up the first sentence (that serves as the beginning of the story). They’re gonna be on the left. The second person makes up the last sentence of the story and stands all the way to the right.

Invite the other participants one by one to also make a sentence for the story, and ask them to stand somewhere between the first and second person, in the line of where they think their sentence fits in the story.

Each time a participant joins the line, the participants who are already in the line repeat the sentences that belong to it now, so that the story takes shape more and more.

In the end, when all participants stand in line, there is a complete story. Or is there a complete story? Ask them to tell the story one more time. What could make it better?

Listening exercise (awareness raising)


Ask the participants to pair up, one is B, the other C. Remember there are no As!

Ask the participants to think of a ‘challenging situation’ that they have experienced in the past. Ask them to write down the essence of their story, preferably in one sentence.

Ask B to tell their story to C. C listens carefully. Then C tells their story to B.

Ask them both to summarise the other’s story. After sharing the summaries, the participants show each other the essence that they have put on paper.

Discuss whether the written down essence was found in the summary.

Bring the group back together and discuss how the exercise went. What went well and what went less well?

An Ordinary Morning (awareness raising/creativity triggering)


Ask everyone to create a short fantasy story that starts with an ordinary morning action (e.g. getting up or making yourself breakfast). Then something happens, and you end up in a whole other world. Eventually you’ll get back into your daily routine.

Give everyone a maximum of 5 minutes to think about this (maximum of 2 minutes for groups who are less focussed) and then let everyone tell their story.

Association web (story creation)


Get into pairs and give everyone a pen and paper. Ask for a word related to the theme to be placed in the middle of the paper and to start associating on that word. One of them helps the other by asking questions. As soon as the web is of a certain size and the interviewer may already see a number of connections, these questions go to moments and events that are related to the words that are on paper. This often quickly provides the basis for a story that can then be worked on.

It works well to do this method once with one of the participants, on a large sheet of paper (flipchart).

Although working in pairs is preferable, the association web also works very well when people work individually.

Way of Life (story creation)


Ask the participants to retrieve a memory. Then ask the participants to elaborate on this memory in a structured way by answering questions for each phase of the journey that is the memory. Follow the next phases and the corresponding:

1. The beginning (describing the initial situation)

  • What is the moment your story began?
  • Where were you?
  • Who was present?
  • What was the atmosphere?

2. The call (or the ‘one day/one time’)

  • What was the moment you went on a journey?
  • What was the reason?
  • Who was involved?

3. The help(er) (optional)

  • Who/what has helped you on your journey?
  • How has this (person) helped you?

4. The opponent/setback (optional)

  • Which opponent/setback did you encounter on your journey?
  • How did this opponent work against you or why was it a setback?
  • How did you deal with this opponent/setback?

5. The arrival

  • What was the last event on your journey?
  • Where were you?
  • Who was present?
  • How was the atmosphere?

The moment the participants answer (part of) these questions, a clear picture emerges of the journey they have made within the memory. The next step is to use this observation to carry out an analysis, by asking questions starting with ‘What did … mean to you?

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