Frontline: Talecatching

Graham Willgoss

What it is: A six-month project run by abctales.com, it is a platform for people who are often excluded from the mainstream media to reach a wider audience

What it does: Brings together trained volunteers - Talecatchers - and people who are socially excluded in an informal weekly meeting. They are encouraged to explore their own feelings and culture through telling and writing their own stories, which are published on abctales.com

How it's funded: With an Arts Council England grant of £31,000 and through the groups and charities it partners on individual projects

"The most difficult task is getting people to turn up," admits Mark Brown, project co-ordinator and editor of abctales.com. "Because they're the sort of people who generally operate outside mainstream society, they instinctively shy away."

Talecatching is about attitude adjustment. The idea is to show participants that they can do what they want to do, and that the facilities and help exist to allow them to realise their potential.

In three-hour workshops, which take place in schools, community centres or anywhere the Talecatchers can find spare computers, each participant is encouraged to be self-reflective and works with a volunteer to craft the story they want to write. A typical session involves five or so participants, recruited through charity partners, and a similar number of volunteers.

The project is currently working with Alone in London, the homelessness charity for 16 to 25-year-olds and just one example of the groups that Talecatching targets. People recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, pensioners and care workers have also benefited from the scheme.

Project worker David Floyd created Talecatching with Brown as an extension of abctales.com. He says: "We identify people as socially excluded if they wish to take part in their society, but cannot because of factors outside their control."

There have been individual success stories. A recovering alcoholic was so inspired by one volunteer - a TEFL teacher - that he became one himself.

But that was a more modest transformation than the team had first imagined.

Floyd explains: "The original idea was quite showbiz. We had visions of writers getting published, but the project has moved more towards improving social development rather than artistic skills." Brown adds: "We keep plugging away. Eventually we want to make Talecatching available in as many areas of the country as possible. All people have to do is turn up."

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