When I’m travelling on the London Underground, I often wonder at the magic of the tantalising stories all around me. Maybe I’m just irrepressibly curious, but I can’t help myself from thinking about the journeys of my fellow passengers. I imagine your life: where you’ve come from and where you’re going. I can see hints of your story in the expression on your face, in your choice of clothes, or in your reading material. I ponder your ups and your downs, your twists and turns. And I like to think about what we share – is it our sense of humour? Our favourite food? Being a sibling? A parent? A Londoner? A creative soul? A hopeful dreamer?
Several years ago, Alex Glennie (my former IPPR colleague and long-time friend and collaborator) and I began to nurture the kernel of a new idea. We both share a fascination for the transformative power of stories, and we began to explore how we could share stories in public places. This was borne out of the belief that sharing stories helps us to understand one another better, and to live well together. In these early stages, we thought about the journeys we make every day, which, knitted together, make up the bigger picture of our life.
And then we hit upon the idea of sharing stories in travel locations. We reflected on our daily journeys: the time when we are not at home and not yet at our destination. It’s a place where we cogitate and muse, and travel locations are democratic spaces, where anyone can go. We began to ask ourselves: could we reflect on someone else’s life journey while we go about our daily journey? Could transport hubs play a role in connecting people as well as places?
And so, Odyssey Stories was born. Our purpose is to tell true human stories about identity and belonging in transport locations. We are beginning by working in community tube stations, although we have aspirations for working in many more travel locations across the UK. Our pilot has begun at Oval Tube Station in south London. We are connecting with the community and listening to local people’s stories. And we are working with designers and illustrators to turn these stories into an exhibition, which will soon feature in the station.
Our storytellers come from varied backgrounds and different walks of life. They have individual beliefs and they speak different languages. Some are British citizens, others are migrants. Their identity is complex and multifaceted. But all our storytellers share an association with Oval, as well as experiencing the inevitable highs and lows of life. We constantly marvel at the overlaps and connections that begin to emerge once you take a handful of people from different walks of life and let their stories unfold.
We have many people to thank on our journey so far. First and foremost, we would like to extend our gratitude to all our Oval storytellers. Your stories are unique and precious and we are honoured to have the opportunity to work with you to share them publicly. We also want to thank The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, whose Ideas and Pioneers grant funding has nurtured our idea and allowed us to develop our pilot in Oval. We are enormously grateful to the inspirational staff at TFL and Oval station, who have championed our idea right from the start. Your station is a beautiful haven nestled within the Oval community and it is a wonderful place to be working in. And we are indebted to our graphic designers and illustrators at 05 Creative, who have patiently responded to our endless editing requests, and who have brought colourful creativity and vibrancy to our stories. There are countless others who have come with us on this journey – our friends, former colleagues and family – we thank you all for listening to our ideas and offering your advice and support.
We are hugely excited about launching the stories in Oval station on 13th June 2019. Our aspiration is that they pique curiosity and brighten up your day if you are passing through Oval station, or if you come across them online or via social media. Above all, we hope that these stories remind us all of the colour and creativity that makes up our communities, and all that we share with one another.