Brighton Festival tells women's hidden pandemic stories

A city-wide audio storytelling experience uncovering the stories of women usually hidden from history will be a key and fascinating part of this year’s Brighton Festival.

HERSTORY brings together real stories from Brighton-based women as they lived through the Covid-19 pandemic.

The tales have been brought together in a trail of listening posts. Each story will celebrate the “truth and power of women all around us.”

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Going live on Saturday, May 1, the website will be your guide to the whole experience, sending you out on a voyage of discovery, not just of the stories but also of Brighton itself. At the listening posts, you will access the stories by scanning a unique QR code.

The listening posts at Hangleton, Moulsecoomb, Whitehawk and central Brighton will take you into the stories and portraits of the women of Brighton, 18 of them in all, ranging in age from just seven up to 70. If you don’t have access to a smart phone or tablet, there will be hub locations around Brighton where you can also listen to the stories.

Masterminding it all is Stef O’Driscoll: “We were wanting to celebrate the truth and the power of women’s stories at this time during the pandemic, stories of loss and love and strength and resilience. How it came about was that I noticed a male-generated perspective on the pandemic. You weren’t seeing so much how it was all impacting on the women who were losing their jobs or had to give up their work to concentrate on their caring role and on home-schooling. I was seeing a lot of inequality around me in the way that it was all impacting on men and women.

“I have worked with Brighton Festival for four or five years on various story-telling projects and there were a number of organisations that I have worked with that I could work with to find the stories. I talked to the key members of the organisations to see if there were women who would like to take it up.”

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It all happened in different ways: “Some people would be matched up with somebody that would tell their story whether in spoken word or song. Other people wanted to tell their own story and there were workshops where they could develop their skills.”

The result is fascinating and varied: “There are stories where loss is a part of it, and there are stories about hopes for what the future might be. And there are also stories about relationships that have been strengthened because of the time we have gone through, new friendships as well. One of the women shared beautifully that she had really been brought closer to her mum because of all that had happened.

“Another story is about love… about different types of love that there are in life. One woman went on a dating website and had socially-distanced dates and found them more intimate because you couldn’t touch. You had to really get to know the person because none of the touching could take place.

“It has been really varied. There is also fear and loss and also anxiety and mental health. For some people it was a very unsettling time. Some of the narratives are around people navigating anxiety, just things like going to the supermarket. I just wanted to put these stories out into the world. We have gone through a world event and we have recorded what women have gone through. These stories will exist forever. For me, story-telling is a part of being human. You will go out there and scan the QR code and you will hear these stories and you will see incredible representations of these women – and you will also get to discover Brighton!”

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Co-commissioned by Brighton Festival, Arch 468 and Lighthouse, the project has been created by Stef and produced with support from Re-Imagine Europe. It features stories from Zena Rose-Allen, Jade Anouka, Mia Daliya Cunningham, Kate O’Donnell, Shirley Falchi, Sabrina Mahfouz, Yolanda Mercy, Jenny Milligan, Nessah Muthy, Julie Orchard, Anna Osella, Malasula Peace, Phonetic, Boudicca Pepper, Nou Ra, Carley Reid, Monsay Whitney and Rachael Young. It runs until May 31.

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