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Collecting Stories with Collective Encounters

Liverpool is a thriving city for architecture, it’s also bursting to the brim with exciting businesses and steeped in rich history and culture… but what is it that makes Liverpool really great?

Well, it’s the people of course.

The very people, past and present, who have moved within our streets and have shaped our society – for better or for worse!

And now our city is apparently currently home to £912k people, isn’t that incredible? And every single one of us has our own story to tell. We are all part of the rich tapestry and diversity that gives Liverpool its character.

Working hard to save, salvage and share these stories is Collective Encounters, a professional participatory arts organisation that explores - and exposes - the many hidden tales of fascinating people who may otherwise disappear through the cracks. Collective Encounters go rooting for our roots, finding themes, connections and ideas and turning them into compelling pieces of theatre both informative and entertaining.

Tessa Bundle is one of the professional artists and creative minds at Collective Encounters. This season she has very kindly lent us her skills and time to deliver People in Action – Story Circle, a series of fun, confidence building sessions in storytelling, drama and creative writing currently ongoing at the Umbrella Centre every Wednesday 10 – 12.

We chat to Tessa about her very active career in the arts, and how creativity can play a very important part in improving your wellbeing and even incite social change.

Hello Tessa! So, how long have you been a participatory artist for? What appealed to you about this career and what are the joys of being a participatory artist?

I started making theatre and facilitating workshops about 16 years ago, at the end of my theatre studies degree. I always loved theatre and performing, and doing it has really helped me – it’s improved my mental health, helped me make sense of the world, and connect with others – so I liked the idea of using my skills to enable other people to get those benefits as well. It’s wonderful to introduce new people to theatre and creativity, and this is a job where you learn new things every day yourself as well.

Tessa (far right) photo by Jazamin Sinclair.

The participatory arts are a sector of the arts that people are not quite familiar with, but it holds so much potential! What do the participatory arts mean to you and how do you see it helping people and their wellbeing?

Participatory arts is about everyone being able to take part in creative activity. Using your imagination, expressing yourself, and working as a group can build your confidence, your communication skills, develop sociability, and enable you to address challenges in your life. But often you’ll achieve these things almost without realising it, because you’re too busy having fun! In Theatre for Social Change we also try to help people feel that they can do something to change the wider systems that are damaging to wellbeing: whether that’s creating a play about health inequalities, or giving people the confidence to get involved in local campaigns. Participating in the arts can be a first step to getting your voice heard and making positive change for yourself and your community.

Could you tell us a bit about the projects you are working on at the moment and what they mean to you?

I direct a regular drama group for women and deliver creative workshops in different community settings. With the regular group, we’re currently working on a performance based on archives of BBC factual programming from the 1960s, which we were invited to do as part of the BBC Centenary year. This has been a really interesting project because we’ve got an insight into how women’s role in society was represented by the BBC at this time of big social change. We’ve been looking at programmes that explore marriage (or the decision not to get married), family planning, and equal rights for women in the workplace. It’s generated so many conversations about what has and hasn’t changed for women since the 1960s, and about the kind of society we want to see. At the same time, members of the group are having a great time playing different characters and bringing to life some ‘lost’ programmes – using archived transcripts of documentaries that we no longer have the recording of.

I’m also starting to deliver sessions with a few different community groups for those who are newer to creative activity. These will be gentle, exploratory, sessions where people can try out drama, storytelling and creative writing, and see if it’s something they would like to do more of.

At Collective Encounters there is a real emphasis in untold stories of the community – what do you love about bringing these untold stories to life? Are there any that stand out to you as a particularly fascinating or interesting?

Last year I led an oral history project where myself and a team of volunteers interviewed Merseyside women about what they have done to support their communities. We heard about involvement in local politics, health and climate campaigning, the setting up of local services to meet gaps in statutory provision, tireless anti-racism and LGBTQ activism, and the work of volunteers in a range of groups. Some of their stories I was familiar with, but each interview uncovered fascinating new anecdotes, perspectives, and actions. There are so many in the collection, but since it’s Black History Month, I’ll mention three local Black women whose contribution to Liverpool comes through in their interviews: Chantelle Lunt, founder of Merseyside BLM Alliance; Maddy Vaz, founder of Sanctuary Family Support; and Alma Brown, a local volunteer within several groups. Listen to their interviews and listen to ‘The Ballad of 18 Women’, which brings together extracts from all the interviews with poetic narration and original song:

What does Collective Encounters have in the pipeline? And how should people get involved if they wish to do so?

We have a couple of regular groups you can get involved in: our adult theatre for social change group meet online every Wednesday afternoon and in person on occasional Saturdays. Get in touch with Abi for more information: . Our Women in Action group meet on Wednesday afternoons, with options to join online or in person. Come along and see our new performance on 9th November, 5pm at the Everyman (or online), to get more of an idea of what we do. Email Tessa for more information: or visit our website:

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