The Power of Stories

Blue Sail imageI suppose I should start this blog 'Once upon a time ....' because isn't that how all good stories start? Most of us remember with affection the nursery stories that were an important part of our formative years. As adults, stories continue to be part of our everyday lives, whether it is recounting an amusing incident to friends, sharing the day's activities with a partner or telling colleagues about our holiday adventures.

Places are full of stories. We see them in the design of buildings, in vistas, in the themes for festivals and museums, in the names and patterns of streets, by watching people going about their daily lives and in our memories about places. It is places and people together that engage us; the past meeting the present and our role in creating the next chapter. It is what makes places distinctive and interesting to visit.

In December Blue Sail launched Shared Story which is a people and place based approach to helping visitor destinations work well.

We start by getting together all the key interests to develop a story about their place and help them think through what that means for tourism now and in the future. We involve the many in the process, not just a chosen few. We then work with the destination in groups using Shared Story to help prioritise action and decide who leads on taking forward different activities. That means involving a wide network of organisations and individuals with an interest in tourism and a role to play in making things happen. We shape action into Blueprints for the destination – short practical documents with a clear rationale.

The emphasis is working with people rather than for them. Shared Story helps develop a mindset of ownership and involvement, exciting partners and getting things going.

We've been developing the process over the last year, trialling aspects of it in different locations and drawing on our extensive experience of working with visitor destinations. Shared Story is flexible so can respond well to local needs. Its whole place approach ensures it deals with development, marketing and management needs in a joined up way.

I'll be talking a bit more about the thinking behind Shared Story at the HTF National Tourism Conference at Blenheim Palace on 16 March. So I hope to see you there.

In the meantime I leave you with the following quote from a poem about Bury St Edmunds written by Ian McMillan, poet in residence for the Academy of Urbanism. This poem is one of several written especially for each of the shortlisted places for the Academy's Great Places Awards 2012.

Great stories, they say, have a narrative arc
And yet they should fit in a nutshell;

And there you have it; the best stories take us on a journey and manage to convey layers of meaning in just a few words.

Michele Grant
January 2012

Michele is a Director at Blue Sail and a long standing and active member of the Historic Towns Forum. She has been working in tourism and destinations throughout the UK for over 20 years.