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Storyteller Renita Boyle took up a Creative Residency with Primary Schools in Shetland. The residency was run by Shetland Arts in partnership with SIC Creative Links and eleven Primary Schools, with generous financial support from The Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Funding.

Renita wrote this account of her residency.

“During my residency with Shetland Arts, I undertook 15 sessions in 11 schools reaching over 700 children and staff. Four of these schools were visited twice (with a week in between) and seven schools had single visits. I contacted each school prior to my arrival and asked them how best I could work with them to support or enhance their curriculum. As a result, each school had a truly personalised experience from which to further build on throughout the year.

Tell Together Folk Tales were a key feature of my residency. These involve rhythm, rhyme, repetition, silly singing and enable everyone to participate on some level. Hence, those involved naturally gain skills in storytelling with little effort. They also provide a solid basis for participants to create their own versions of classic stories.

In one school, the Three Silly Billy Goats Gruff became Da Tree Yowes and Da Trow Whit Lives under the Brig on the Loch by Clikkimin Broch.’ Another version included Da Tre Peerie Filskit Ponies. We drew pictures to go along with our stories and these included Shetland words as part of the art. I look forward to seeing what comes out of this process as I left the teachers and their pupils poring over their Shetland dictionaries!

Geography too, came to the fore in a few schools. During my amazing day with the sole remaining pupil on Outer Skerries, we spent much time poring over the atlas locating Skerries (his childhood home), Wisconsin (mine), telling life stories and folk tales from each. My experience on ‘Aaron’s Island’ is likely to inspire a picture book.

Of course, geography is not only about the physical­ we all have an emotional geography too. Those experiences that make up the ‘geography of our lives’. It was a very poignant privilege to explore life story with a group of P4 kids. Having made maps of their homes, I asked them to write in simple sentences and words of memorable experiences (on their maps). Soon they were sharing life stories and experiences with me and with each other and their ‘life maps’ were amazing. For example­ ‘This is the tree house I made with my Dad and my Brother’, ‘These are the trees I fell out of’, ‘This is where we buried our dog’, ‘We stick our noses out the letterbox to test the weather’ etc. I will most certainly be developing this thread for more of my own future work.

It was a particular delight to visit Nesting Primary School. Here I had the opportunity to tell stories in an amazing storytelling garden! We told sea themed stories in an actual boat and then made watercolour pictures with glue. This school has a wonderful atmosphere­ a sense of calm and well­being. The head teacher makes it a priority to create an integral reflective and expressive environment. The pupils from this school gave me the ‘gift of the experience of their labyrinth’, which is painted in their playground. As I walked around it, they quietly blew bubbles, rang bells, sang songs etc. Then they wafted a thank – you parachute over me. It was a remarkable and truly treasured experience.

I simply can’t express all of the wonderful experiences gifted to me through my Shetland Arts Storytelling Residency. From home-grown school tatties served lovingly on a plate with hand written graces to hysterical laughter and joyous singing of throngs of children; the benefits are immeasurable. In the words of one tearful teacher, ‘I have never in my life heard anyone tell a story. Thank you for such a great gift.”

It is with a full heart that I would like to thank you for having me.”

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