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Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Story about Storytelling

by:  Kathryn Vernon
When I chose the Nerve Centre from the list of options for our class, I didn’t have an idea of whom or what I would interview.  Really, this was one that no one else had claimed – so I wasn’t in competition to interview someone with anyone else in our class.  Additionally, in my many walks around the wall in the mornings, I kept seeing this place called the Nerve Centre – intriguing – what could it be?

I had wandered into the Nerve Centre to ask a couple of investigatory questions and to see if Mr. Martin Melarkey or Mr. John Peto would be available anytime during the week to talk about the Centre and their work.  John was available the next day (Wednesday) at noon.

John is actually from England whose major in University was Irish Studies.  17 years ago, he came to Derry for graduate studies in peace and conflict.  He never left and now lives in Donegal.  John is the Director of Education at the Nerve Centre and one of his organization’s many innovative projects is Teaching Divided History.  This project revolves around providing training and support for teachers and young people to engage with the recent past through digital technology and to deal with contentious issues.

But, I am getting ahead of myself here.  How did the Nerve Centre start and why?  Back in 1990, a group of punk musicians asked the City Council to allow them to squat in a building within the walls of Derry.  Their idea was to build community across the youth of the area – those who felt left out by school, who couldn’t develop their art, to provide an outlet for creativity.  It didn’t have a political ethos, other than to be apolitical.  The City Council allowed them to use a building and the Nerve Centre was born. 

It became a place where the divide across the communities could be bridged and it developed into a safe place for the youth to meet others like them, to tell their stories, to be accepted for their music, their art, and their love of creativity. 

Today the Nerve Centre is housed on Magazine Street inside the walls of the Old City of Derry and has state-of-the-art recording studios, a 60-seat cinema, classrooms, café, and provides training in new digital technologies.  It has Magazine Studios next door to its location, as well as the Blast Furnace on Bligh’s Lane in Derry and the Nerve Belfast in Belfast. 

The Nerve Centre’s many projects include films like The Battle of the Bogside, Exodus, and Free Derry Films.  Sharing Stories is an example of a film-making project that looks at issues of identity and difference and The Pride and Beyond the Walls films have a good conflict focus.  Other films include Ulster Blood Sacrifice and Lest We Forget.

The Centre has produced a series of animations called the Animated Adventures of CuChulainn and have developed a curriculum linked education pack to go with it.  They have also undertaken a similar project about ColmCille – the patron Saint of Derry.  This was the heart of the Nerve Centre’s creative educational program for 2013 – as the Digital Book of Kells project.  Over 900 school children in Derry~Londonderry were given the opportunity to take part in the creation of the Digital Book of Kells and teachers across the city were trained and supported in delivering creative digital projects within the curriculum.

As you can guess, the Nerve Centre has grown from a place for punk musicians, to a place where youth’s creative desires are embraced and allowed to grow – in fact, encouraged.  It sponsors the yearly Foyle Film Festival, as well as numerous other intercultural festivals. The Nerve Centre is now working at a strategic level to develop and support the teaching of a number of new vocational qualifications in the creative industries.  Through its two Creative Learning Centres in Belfast and Derry, the Nerve Centre is making these vocational qualifications a reality for thousands of young people in schools across Northern Ireland.  They now have the opportunity of an alternative pathway to learning and future employment.

One of the latest endeavors by the Nerve Centre was their Voices City of Culture bid film.  It starts with a view of the Irish coast in sunrise and the narrator and a young girl say:

History says don’t hope on this side of the grave, but then once in a lifetime, a longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme.
I am the product of 6000 years of culture activity in this ancient place.

With the background of Snow Patrol singing Just Say Yes, scenes of Derry~Londonderry come alive with color, music, pride, and beauty.  The seven-minute film concludes with the narrator and the young girl:

So hope for a great sea change on the far side of revenge, believe that a farther shore is reachable from here.  Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells.
I have a new story to tell – I need to tell a new story – Just say yes!

It is a film that reflects the people and culture of Derry~Londonderry and was written by John Peto – yes, the John we started with in the story.  I am amazed at the creativity and love for the city displayed in the film.  Here is a link to the film –

The Nerve Centre is not trying to change history, but to retell the stories through film and art and music – through the eyes of the people of Northern Ireland and through its youth.  It doesn’t take sides; indeed, it works to be even-handed, telling everyone’s stories.

Telling the story of the storyteller was my role – I will not have done it as well as they – but I hope to have done it justice.

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