Sharing stories: The 8 Billion project

Two international projects bring together environment, heritage, arts and faith groups to share support and experiences through films and stories.

Milton Keynes Mystery Play, City Discovery Centre, 2020. Image: Gordon McLellan

CelebrationEarth! has been a project based on hope. Despite all the environmental crises, despite the anger and despair, we wanted to remind people that there is still so much beauty in this world and that there are a lot of successes in environmental causes. CelebrationEarth! reminds us that we live in a world worth celebrating and works on the principle that for environmental change to really take root and to become sustainable it needs to be anchored in love and hope rather than anger. Funded by WWF-UK and FaithInvest, CelebrationEarth! set out to encourage a new recognition of inspiration: that people learn best from other people, by working together, listening to other people’s stories and that inspiration comes from faith, passion and creativity as much as from science and debate.

Throughout the spring and summer of 2020, CelebrationEarth! worked towards a weekend event at St Albans Cathedral where groups could share experiences, find new partners to work with and new inspirations to act from. We gathered groups and supporting activities (including the Bradwell Abbey Mystery Play) from widely different perspectives. There were faith communities, museums, artists and environmental organisations ranging from church congregations and mosque communities to local drama groups to county wildlife trusts and specialist organisations. With plans changing every couple of weeks due to the ongoing pandemic, by September we accepted that we could not assemble the company we had hoped for and that even a small gathering might put participants at risk. We changed direction. Representatives of our key partners were interviewed and the film company Off The Fence put together a remarkable series of films exploring the relationships between different faiths, creativity, nature and environmental action. Films introduced Cambodian Buddhist monks, Anglican churches and puppeteers in the woods of Derbyshire. Tanya Steele, the CEO of WWF-UK, talked about 8 Billion, a new initiative inviting anyone anywhere to share their own environmental story.

Now, as CelebrationEarth! possibly draws to a close, the 8 Billion project and another, the Faith Long Term Plans, are picking up those threads of hope and celebration and encouraging a continued dialogue between conservation (and heritage) organisations, artists and faith groups. 8 Billion (with funding from various sources, including several WWF national organisations, FaithInvest and the Resilient Foundation) is creating a new film platform where community-generated films explore a group’s relationship with nature. Those relationships might be practical, creative, faith-based, come from places of social change and climate justice… the project is open to possibilities. Aiming to be more than just another social media platform; by encouraging conversation, 8 Billion will offer possibilities for making connections so that groups sharing issues, problems or solutions, can make contact, offer support, or simply share their story and have it heard.

The heart of this is storytelling: distilling a project down to its simplest essence and then telling that story in three or four minutes: finding the emotional thread that runs through a project: the people, the sense of hope, or fear, or optimism, even failure. Tell the story. Everything else can follow but it’s the storyline that captures imaginations.

8 Billion is not an exclusively ‘environmental’ project. The principle is how do people relate to/ work with/ work for the world around them. Groups might bring films from a conservation perspective but similar themes might also be filmed as social change or as religious practice. Organisations from nature reserves and wildlife trusts to museums and art galleries can all find their place. As international faiths become more involved, the relationships between people and place invite new discussions. There are conversations to have here around what inspires people to act, how we can support each other, learn from each other and how we can share our stories. 8 Billion might not hold the answers to those questions but it will become a place where stories can be seen and conversations held. Follow the links below to find out more.

CelebrationEarth!

Faith Long Term plans: https://incrworld.org/

8 Billion: in February 2021, the 8 Billion web platforms are still in development. The CelebrationEarth! sites will be posting news and links as sites open up

To register interest or discuss a film idea, talk to Gordon on creepingtoad@btinternet.com.

Gordon MacLellan is a zoologist, artist and storyteller working with environmental themes. Better known as Creeping Toad (creepingtoad.blogspot.com) he has worked in environmental and heritage education and interpretation for more than 35 years.  He is the arts coordinator for CelebrationEarth! and arts advisor for 8 Billion. He can be contacted at: creepingtoad@btinternet.com.

To cite this article: McLellan, Gordon (2021) ‘Sharing stories: The 8 Billion project’. In Interpret Europe Newsletter 1-2021, 28-29.

Available online: http://www.interpret-europe.net/fileadmin/Documents/publications/Newsletters/ie-newsletter_2021-1_spring.pdf

If you can give your son or daughter only one gift,
let it be enthusiasm.

Bruce Barton