Featured Border Lives In Numbers Infographic

Published on January 28th, 2015 | by EJC

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Ethical Storytelling: Lessons From The Border Lives Project

This article was written by Conor Mc Gale  and originally published at DME for Peace on 16 December, 2014. Republished with permission.

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What is Border Lives?

Border Lives is a storytelling/oral history project that is being managed by the Tyrone Donegal Partnership and funded by the European Union’s PEACE III Programme, managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by Pobal. It has produced six short films capturing people’s lives and experiences along the border region of Northern Ireland, from the Troubles to the present day.

The project aims to ensure that the stories and experiences of those living in the Border Region during the Northern Ireland Conflict are captured, replicated, and shared in innovative ways that are accessible to both new and wider audiences locally, regionally, and internationally.

Border Lives tells the everyday stories of how people adapted their daily lives and routines amidst the violence, fear, isolation, and uncertainty of the conflict, but also shows the humour, friendships, and community spirit that existed. In short, it shows ordinary people telling stories of extraordinary times, capturing life away from the headlines and the TV news bulletins.

What was the project’s process for ethical storytelling?

90 people took part in the six films. The project used ethical storytelling principles including,

  • Ethical storytelling is inclusive: The storytelling process was open to anybody within Northern Ireland society that felt they had a story to tell. Advertisements in local press and radio encouraged people to come forward and the project held 18 public information events that were open to people to come forward to talk about their experiences during “The Troubles”;
  • Interactions with interviewees have clear boundaries: Participants were all given a project “Code of Practice” explaining what the project’s staff conduct and the project’s approach would be whilst working with them;
  • Relationship and trust building are key: All participants had a minimum of 3 meetings with our staff and filmmakers to explain the documentary process, to record their interview and for follow-up work. In reality the project met with many participants up to 5 times;
  • The process and final portrayal of a story must respect the wishes of the interviewee: All of the participants had the final say of what their interview looked like and what it contained, so that they were happy with its contents before it was included within each of the films. This involved showing each participant their recorded interview in full;
  • Work with communities: The project worked “with and in” communities, meaning that it partnered with a number of key not-for-profit gatekeeper organizations that worked with specific sections of society to ensure inclusiveness of the initiative.
  • “Duty of care” to participants: The project had a “duty of care” for each person. To ensure that the project did not re-traumatize the participants, it developed a signposting and referral service to counselling services in Northern Ireland that specialize in post-traumatic stress disorder and the Troubles. The project also had a budget to pay for participants’ initial consultation and some subsequent appointments if necessary.

The project’s ethical storytelling process enabled the project to collect remarkable stories from participants, including: a woman who spoke of watching a British Soldier dying outside her home, a retired RUC (the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the former British state police force in Northern Ireland) officer who spoke of never wanting to have to use his gun, an IRA (the Provisional Irish Republican Army, an Irish republican paramilitary organization) member who shared memories of growing up amidst the turmoil of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and a part-time UDR (the Ulster Defense Regiment, a unit of the British military) member explaining how he and his family were constantly under threat. Out of 90 participants, 80 people chose this project as their first time of talking about their experiences of The Troubles.

What has the project delivered?

In total, the project has developed:

  • Six 30 minute documentaries of how the Northern Ireland Troubles impacted on border communities;
  • 20 extended Interviews with participants explaining life in the area during this conflict;
  • A purpose built website, borderlives.eu, which contains films and interviews, maps detailing the local area, and an interactive timeline about the development of the Northern Ireland Border;
  • A social media presence that includes apps, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.

The project has also devised an e-learning course, based on the footage gathered from 90 participants. The course, http://www.borderlivesrethink.eu, is free and features four modules: Restart, Remembering, Renewal and Reconstruction. The modules feature video clips, external links, questions and key learning points throughout the course and covers topics such as the role of narrative in conflict and moving forwards, the role of a border in conflict, identities in conflict, the Iceberg model of conflict, and Border Impact Stories.

About the Author:

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Conor Mc Gale is Project Manager of Border Lives & has worked in the Community and Voluntary Sector in Northern Ireland for 20 years. He was formerly the Manager of Omagh Independent Advice Services, was Chairperson of Advice NI for 8 years serving two stints, and was a Board Member of Advice UK . He also worked previously as Coordinator of the Omagh Community House project, a £1.3 million community facility that was built on the site of the Omagh bomb. He has a keen interest in all sports particularly football, rugby and golf and his hobbies include travelling, trekking and reading.

Further information on the Border Lives project:

Border Lives In Numbers Infographic

The Border Lives project is run by Tyrone Donegal Partnership and funded by the European Union’s PEACE III Programme, managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by Pobal. The project began in February 2012 and will finish on the 30th November 2014.

The project tells the ‘everyday’ stories of how people adapted their daily lives and routine amidst the violence, fear, isolation, and uncertainty of the conflict but also shows the humour, friendships, and community spirit that existed.

Each of the six films focuses on a different location along the border and gathers a breadth of perspectives and stories from local people. Once the series of screenings is completed, they will be available on a new website www.borderlives.eu to be used as an education tool and historical documentation.

In total, 90 people took part in the six films. They include Isobel Cleary of Belleek, who talks poignantly of watching a soldier dying outside her home, a retired RUC officer who speaks of never wanting to have to use his gun, and remembers having to pick up pieces of dead bodies, an IRA member’s memories of growing up in and around Bessbrook. But mostly the interviews reflect ordinary life lived around extraordinary circumstances – the humour, pathos, loneliness and hope for the future.

As well as the 6 films, the project has also produced:

  • A purpose built website that will host the films, some extended interviews from project participants, a photo gallery of locations that the films are based in, and an interactive timeline highlighting these stories within the history of the Northern Ireland Troubles (www.borderlives.eu);
  • An e-learning course on Reconciliation, Remembering and Reconstruction (www.borderlivesrethink.eu ) based on footage captured by the project;
  • A Smartphone & iPad App allowing people to access these videos whilst on the move;
  • 4 Social Media campaigns through its Facebook and Twitter feeds that will create & build positive relationships with individuals and groups throughout the project period;
  • 7 web virals that preview each of the films that people can share on their own Social Media pages;

Tyrone Donegal Partnership was established in 1996, TDP is a successful cross-border, not-for-profit organisation, which aims to contribute to the improvement of the social and economic conditions, primarily in the counties of Tyrone and Donegal and the adjacent counties including Fermanagh, Sligo and Leitrim. To date, it has attracted almost £17 million of funding, most of which has delivered direct benefits to the target areas and its end users.

Follow the project on Twitter at @border_lives and like on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BorderLives

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