Weaving together all our stories
By Victoria Hoyle, on 5 September 2019
I’ve spent the last few weeks working on research articles and other writing projects. As MIRRA nears the end of this research phase 90% of my to-do list involves long hours spent synthesising our findings and key messages, producing reports and putting together guidance documents. It can be draining work. So I was happy to see an exciting distraction in my inbox this morning: an email from Tabitha Millett, the artist who came to our Symposium in July, sending a batch of photographs from the day.
I should backtrack and explain. Many months ago when we first started to discuss the research Symposium we decided we wanted to have some sort of creative element. We wanted to have some way for people to capture and share their personal experiences of child social care records, whether they were care-experienced, a social worker or an information manager. We settled on the idea of working with an artist, who would collaborate with symposium attendees to produce a piece of art during the breaks and lunchtime. Having secured some funding from UCL Impact and Engagement (thank you!) we found Tabitha, an artist with experience of doing this kind of work in conference settings and with diverse communities.
She suggested we create a textile piece that soon became known as The Plait. The concept was to invite everyone attending the conference to bring a small item or piece of fabric that resonated with their experiences of social care records. They could then stitch this on to one of three strips of felt fabric. Whatever they brought had to be something they were willing to leave behind, to become part of the final piece, so it could be symbolic rather than original if they preferred. For people who didn’t bring anything along, we supplied a lucky dip bag of fabric scraps that could be personalised. We also had fabric pens that could be used to annotate pieces, or to draw directly onto the base fabrics.
The backing fabrics were white, grey and black, to symbolise the record itself: the white paper, the grey text and the black redactions that people often receive. By writing and stitching feelings, opinions and experiences onto the fabric the aim was to capture everyone’s stories, and reflect on the value and meaning of records.
Some of the individual contributions were incredibly moving and powerful. One person attached the pink legal tape that had bound up their social care file, while another attached a bear key ring to symbolise the teddy bear that they had not been able to take with them into foster care.
Attendees also reflected on resilience and how past experiences had helped to make them who they are today. Others took the opportunity to ask practitioners and others to remember the power that records have in people’s lives.
At the end of the day the strands of The Plait were laid out for all to see, and then during the final session, while people shared stories about what they had contributed with the rest of the audience, it was plaited together into a braid. As the braid formed some people’s contributions were hidden inside, while others peeped out of the weave. It was a reminder of how all of our stories are woven together, but whereas some are visible, others are hidden. But even hidden they are still there, still vital and important, still sharing the same space.
As well as giving us lots to think about and talk about on the day, The Plait is also a lasting tangible reminder of the themes of MIRRA and of the importance of the research. The idea is that it can be unwound and added to at future events, and can be displayed to tell people’s stories. If you are interested to have The Plait at your event, to add to or display it, let us know.