Stories For All

The Storytelling Centre encourages the cultural fusion of Scottish folklore and other storytelling traditions from the world over

Feature by Leo Wood | 15 Jun 2006

From Robert the Bruce to Robert Louis Stevenson, Scotland has a rich tradition of stories, myths and fables which have been told through the custom of oral storytelling. Once reliant upon the ancient traditions of folklore, the art of telling a good story might well be something we have lost today, given the digital age in which we now live, in which face-to-face communication is becoming a thing of the past. So there is something very heartening in the newly redeveloped Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile. Considering publishing house Canongate's recent Myths series - contemporary books designed to reinvigorate the ancient concept of mythic stories - we might even be onto a trend.

There is perhaps little need to extol the virtues of storytelling; being one of the oldest art forms is perhaps credit to its significance even today. Telling a story effectively can provide entertainment, stimulation and education, whether to one person or a large group, and there's a universality to telling a story as it can appeal to all. Communication in storytelling is, "eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart", an interactive relationship between speaker and listener that you won't experience from reading a book. This is why a centre, where members of the public can come and get physically involved in telling stories either by listening or learning storytelling techniques, will be so vital for this interactive genre.

This mission statement of making the centre readily available for all reflects the Storytelling Centre's focus on the enjoyment and education of children. At ground level in the new building, having crossed the reception area and café set in an uplifting space, the venue houses a free interactive exhibition, Scotland's Stories, which will no doubt grab the attention of young minds. This space will also house temporary exhibitions, beginning with the Royal Mile Storymap, which is a project by local schoolchildren led by Kate Leiper, the Centre's first artist-in-residence. As an illustrator, she will incorporate her artistic skills with storytelling events and an interesting fusion will be set up between the visual and the oral. But best of all is the bothy - tucked behind the exhibition space - which is used for the live telling of folktales from around the world.

Also within the new complex are a 99-seater theatre, storytelling garden and training and resources library which are all very much a part of what the Storytelling Centre is about. A large part of the programme will involve training events and workshops in many different aspects of storytelling. The theatre is set to be home to various plays and the Edinburgh Festival programme looks good, with old Edinburgh favourite 'The Tale of Greyfriars Bobby' on the programme amongst other things.

Observed from the outside, the new Storytelling Centre has managed to amalgamate old and contemporary architecture, as neighbouring John Knox's house - regarded as the oldest building in Edinburgh - is literally merged with the sleek minimalism of the Malcolm Fraser Architects' design. Of particular historical interest; the bell that marked the original site of the Netherbow Port has been restored within the context of a new contemporary Netherbow bell tower at the top of the building. These contrasting features have been sensitively handled and the new building is a renovation which others could look to for inspiration as they plan to carve up historic buildings of the Canongate nearby. On the outside walls of the new Storytelling Centre, mottos old and new are inscripted as if to highlight the proximity between the age of John Knox and our own. These wise words are a little more sightly than the scrawls across the side of the new Parliament building perhaps, though some might say that words are for the page and not for the face of a building. Though if anywhere has license to do so, the Storytelling centre must be first in line to take words, phrases and stories and use them as they wish.

With 80 professional storytellers all based in Scotland but often of different nationalities, the Storytelling Centre encourages the cultural fusion of Scottish folklore and other storytelling traditions from the world over. This interchange is truly reflective of the ethnic diversity of Scotland's inhabitants today and perhaps this synthesis of old traditions and a contemporary, innovative approach to storytelling is reflected outside for all to see; in the relationship between old and new as expressed in the architecture.

To find out more about events and workshops at the centre visit