Digital Storytelling with Community Groups

07 Sep

Last night we ran the second community media workshop at Stockbridge Library, hosted by the North Edinburgh News (NEN). I’m delivering the project in partnership with Broadcaster and Journalist Tom Allan. The project is called NENgage.

We’re working with active citizens and community groups in the Inverleith Neighbourhood Partnership (see the map here). We’re training participants to blog, to make videos, to collect and share statistics, to build an online community and to raise funds online. We’re running six workshops essentially helping people to become digital storytellers in North Edinburgh. The whole project is funded by the Neighbourhood Partnership Grants.

How did it go?

We had a full house with eighteen in total including representatives from Jack and Jill Market, Edinburgh Women’s AidInverleith Youth Forum, The Scottish Peer Education Network, Blackhall Nursery, The City of Edinburgh Council, LGBT Youth Scotland  and Warriston Residents Association. The second session included the Botanic Gardens, Broughton High School and Oaklands Special School. Active citizens came along to both workshops. I enjoyed seeing so many different types of people working together to learn to share stories online.

We used feedback from the first session to improve things for the second session. Here’s it is:

We made sure we had more time for the practical blogging exercise for the second workshop.

North Edinburgh News board member Thomas Brown wrote a post about the first session from his perspective here and Tom Allan wrote a more detailed blog post about it here. Since it’s already been covered so well I’ll try and write a bit about the background to the project, how you go about creating digital storytelling workshops, how you get people to come along and how I got involved in the first place.


Initially I met with Tom and we had fun coming up with ideas for each of the sessions from scratch, we gave them interesting titles and thought of engaging and memorable ways to deliver the practical skills and information. For example for the video blogging workshop we decided to send out a video flash mob.


When I run storytelling training I include exercises to give people confidence and highlight the skills they already have, with this in mind, we asked people to bring an image of something that matters to them in their community for the first workshop. I asked a couple of people to talk about their image and others contributed comments and questions. Here’s Ellie talking about Little Blue Bike at the first session:

It very naturally turned into a discussion and I stepped back. Afterwards I explained they had been blogging, they were telling a story with an image and responding to feedback. The exercise demonstrated they already had the skills to blog. Then I handed over to Tom who ran an excellent presentation on the practicalities of blogging. After that there was a practical exercise where participants wrote their first blog using an image. Tom set up a training blog especially for this and then we gave feedback on their work.

Getting People Signed Up

Tom was working hard for the BBC over the festival period so I did a lot of the initial phoning and emailing of community groups to invite them along. Most groups took a couple of follow ups before they got signed up.

I created an eventbrite page for each workshop. Eventbrite is a brilliant tool for hosting events, it allows you to put in information, create a guest list, email attendees and generate a report of useful information. It’s free to use if your event is free and when guests arrive you can click to check them in (which I think is a fab feature!)

Geeking Out

Every time a new person registered it sent me an email with their details. I got a little obsessive with colour coding a spreadsheet and having a mini celebration every time a group I was chasing signed up.  One good thing about working with someone else is they can tell you to chill out if you’re concerned that parts of your spreadsheet are still amber and you haven’t called every group three times! I needed that (thanks Tom).

I added events to the Greer Leith Social too, Tom blogged about the sessions. We invited personal contacts and they passed it on. We had a lot of social media support to share the session, thanks to everyone who helped and wrote about it online including Milo McLaughlin, The Edinburgh Reporter and the Broughton Spurtle.

Challenge of No Shows

The introduction to blogging session filled up so quickly we decided to run it again the following week. On the day of the first session five people got in touch  to say they couldn’t make it. We had a waiting list for that day so we still filled up a few spaces last-minute but we learnt a valuable lesson: for various reasons people won’t show up at the last-minute. We decided to try to get five extra people in next time because of the inevitable last-minute drop-outs.


Three volunteers help at each sessions. We’ve specifically invited people who have the relevant skills so for the video blogging session on the 13th September our volunteers are professional video bloggers Clear Minded Creative‘s Milo McLaughlin, former Guardian Beat Blogger Michael MacLeod and Edinburgh International Festival’s Al Innes.

For the first introduction to blogging workshop we had crime writer Marianne Wheelaghan (who is soon to publish a new book), club night organiser and founder of the Mondo Loco project Paul Glynn, and photographer Ros Gasson. The second blogging workshop our expert volunteers were Clear Minded Creative’s Milo McLaughlin and the team behind Lunch Quest and literary journal The Istanbul Review – the brilliant Blythe Robertson and Miriam Johnson.

The Pub

I told the Antiquary Bar about the project and explained we would like to come for a beer after each workshop. They agreed to provide a free buffet, hurrah! It’s good to be able to thank our volunteers with a drink and continue conversations with the course participants over a pint.

Guest Speakers

We’ve been inviting guest speakers along too. We’re delighted the Broughton Spurtle and The Edinburgh Reporter have agreed to share their expertise at the building an online community session.

On Tuesday I visited Maggie’s Centre to meet the famous Run With Mark. It’s a centre where people with cancer can come and take part in workshops or just have a cuppa and a chat. Here’s a picture of the kitchen table, it’s overly large because they want it to be the place where people connect and conversations can happen.

They have an open day every Thursday if you would like to find out more.

Mark decided to stop smoking and start running and his journey included raising thousands of pounds for charity. He now has his dream job as a community fundraiser with Maggie’s and he’ll be sharing his story at our online fundraising session along with Peggy Hughes. You may know Peggy from Edinburgh City of Literature but she’ll be talking about the wonderful West Port Book Festival. West Port is a festival run entirely through donations and the support of volunteers. Peggy is brilliant – she makes things happen and gets people inspired. She’s also an expert at sharing via social media. We’re looking forward to learning loads from both of them.

Video Trailers

We’ve been making comedy video trailers for each session. We had lots of fun filming all around Inverleith. Volunteer Milo McLaughlin joined us for that day and he edited the second film below. Tom edited the first film. One thing I’ve loved about this project is working with passionate and committed volunteers like Milo, people who want to give something back to the community and have fun in the process.

NENgage video flashmob from Milo McLaughlin on Vimeo.

How did I get involved?

If you wondering how all of this started, I first met Tom a couple of years ago as part of the Edinbuzz Social Media Surgeries. Tom was leading a team of volunteers (or social media surgeons) and I was one of them. We worked helping community groups to work across digital platforms such as twitter, facebook and wordpress.  I wrote about it here.

After that Pilton Community Health Project wanted to pay someone to deliver social media training to help with their facebook page. Tom put out a tender to the social media surgeons. I came up with a programme of interactive exercises, things like playing facebook bingo as an ice breaker (find someone who has uploaded a photo, find someone who has created an event) again to show the group that collectively they had lots of skills between them, to give them confidence and to make the training more interesting. Tom was impressed by my ideas and I got the job. You can see the Pilton Community Health Project Facebook page here.

After that Tom had been wanting to work with me for a while (I didn’t know this!) so I was delighted when he asked me to partner with him for this project. I had relevant experience having been a community group volunteer (writing a blog for Greener Leith for 2 years) and with me being a workshop facilitator and storyteller.

Tom is brilliant fun and has so much experience and technical expertise, it’s great to get the chance to work with him on a project that combines community engagement, social media and storytelling.

Come Along to NENgage?

If you live or work in Inverleith you’re most welcome, find details and book a place on the eventbrite pages here.


Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Education, Events, Film, Media, Writing


Tags: , , , , ,

4 responses to “Digital Storytelling with Community Groups

  1. Sarah

    September 12, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Hey Emily, Thank you for this post. Really inspiring and some worth-while ideas. Many congratulations on your reader residency at the Leith Library, too :). You’ll be brilliant!

    • auntyemily

      September 12, 2012 at 11:49 pm

      Thanks very much Sarah,
      I’m excited about the library, start in a couple of weeks – yikes!
      Glad you enjoyed this post – wasn’t sure if it was too long but figured if I broke it up with headings people could always read the bits they’re interested in and leave the rest.
      All the best,


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