Project Description: An Untold Story – Voices
We are a collaboration who came together to form a voluntary group in the months following the end of a program of ‘research’, funded by The Lankelly Chase Foundation, in June 2017. This project had formed part of a larger general grant to Hull Lighthouse Project, a charity working with women affected by street prostitution, and sought to develop understandings of the experiences of these women including what factors influenced their entry to street based sex working. It was funded for three and a half years, and culminated in a book put together by twelve of the women interviewed over a long term period (An Untold Story; available to read at anuntoldstory-voices.com). This group developed the scope of the project from research to collaborative book writing, in becoming co-editors, peer researchers and bringing their multi-media creativity to the process. We had an experienced guide in Sara Scott (DMSS Research) who facilitated this process iteratively and provided her own editorial skills.
Since becoming an independent voluntary group (An Untold Story – Voices), we have been supported by Lankelly Chase to respond to invitations to attend events to which we have been invited to speak or to provide input to workshops, focused on promoting a better awareness of the experiences of the women featured in An Untold Story, and those who may have faced similar life experiences. We have also focused locally on developing a broader conversation around the specific legal collaborative approach of Hull City Council and Humberside Police toward women involved in street sex work; which we believe to be uniquely dangerous and stigmatic. In order to work systemically to approach the issues we have been supported by Lankelly Chase via their partners, the Public Law Project, who have provided expert contextual information for our campaigns.
Tensions, Learning, and Systemic issues
Since the publication of An Untold Story, we have experienced requests from various sources, including radio, TV and newspaper media, to speak or to engage further around the issues which the book highlighted. Not all of these requests have been appropriate, and have many times introduced a dilemma based around the conflicting needs and desires of the group: we want to take every (potentially very powerful) opportunity to continue to be heard, but we also want to continue to function individually and together, within the (primarily emotional) resources for health and wellbeing that we have without disempowering those who might be struggling the most. As the original project facilitator, I (Emma Crick) have been particularly aware of this tension since I was both compelled by my own circumstances (moving home and leaving Hull) and a personal decision due to the collaborative nature of the group, not to impose any directive form of leadership. It has often been very tempting to step in and take opportunities on behalf of the rest of the group which might be experiencing disparate degrees of wellness as individuals, but this has generally been resisted.
As a result of this basic underlying tension, as well as the progress of our local campaigns coming to a natural hiatus due to a breakdown in communication with local authorities, it seems we are now in a stage of ‘abeyance’*.
However, thanks to support from Lankelly Chase An Untold Story is now available digitally on our website, and we have space there for blogs and news, through which we can continue to ‘tell our story’, engage with the wider world on our own terms, and be contacted directly as a group. We are in the process of putting together a complete short history of our campaign in Hull to be published initially on the website, promoted via our social media outlets, and with the intent of issuing with it a wide general invitation to all who may want to support our campaign into a new future direction by shining a spotlight on the issues Hull’s legal context uniquely raises. Depending on the feedback we receive, this may bring a new lease of life and focus to the campaign, but also to our work in general – since the telling of personal stories in a certain context has also been said to have a ‘shelf life’ (perhaps more for the sake of the individuals’ development than the audience).
Through Lankelly Chase, Emma Crick is attending the ‘Change Makers Programme’ with the Leadership Centre this summer. Facilitators of the programme are aware of the context of the group outlined above including tensions around leadership, and are supportive of an open ended outcome to this for us.
*‘The term abeyance depicts a holding process by which movements sustain themselves in non-receptive political environments and provide continuity from one stage of mobilization to another’(TAYLOR, V., 1989. ‘Social movement continuity: The women’s movement in abeyance.’ American Sociological Review 54(5): 761.)