University Centre Shrewsbury closed to students and the public just before the start of this year, on 14th March 2020, in response to a suspected case of Covid-19 and has since remained closed to the public due to the pandemic.

Consequently, the year started in responsive fashion, all planned events and museum openings were cancelled and Trustees and volunteers concentrated on updating policy documents while assimilating the impact of the new situation. It soon became apparent that during 2020-21 the Charity’s public-facing work would need to be exclusively on-line.

Having established a monthly Home-Ed group, we were keen to keep these families engaged with Mythstories’ work and in regular contact with each other. With the aid of a grant from the Arts Council England’s Covid-19 Response Fund we organised monthly on-line Facebook Live sessions during May, June and July under the banner ‘Let’s Create At Home’. These were complemented with workshop outlines from three previous sessions being added to the website.

These proved popular with the families and in August we received funding from the Shropshire Emergency Arts Grant to cover the costs of two more sessions, this time led by two guest Shropshire Storytellers. We created a closed group FB page and membership grew to over 60 families – some of the extra number coming from families home educating as a result of Covid-19. Membership of the on-line group has now increased to 72 families and the page continues to be active. Volunteers continue to set monthly family creativity challenges that can be completed at any time, rather than during a live event.

As a result of receiving the Arts Council England grant we were able to access free help and advice from the Digital Culture Network and volunteers participated in several webinars. We also had one-to-one mentoring which focused on the architecture of www.mythstories.com, which needed re-designing to bring the educational content forward, and re-platforming to ensure improved access to users on mobile device. Following the advice we drew up a plan and received a grant under the Heritage Emergency Fund, administered by The Lottery Fund for Heritage, which enabled us to undertake the work to make the plan a reality. This site https://mythstories.com launched in late December.

During this half of the year, we were actively planning how to safely recommence live events, and we submitted a grant application to the Shropshire Arts Grant for a project entitled ‘Wise Words in Wild Places’. This would incorporate live storywalks together with on-line storyfilms of site-specific stories. These would be used to signpost families to places unlikely to be overrun by visitors and therefore suitable for those coming out of shielding. Our grant application was successful and Wise Words in Wild Places grew to a larger project with additional funding from Arts Council England and Energize, Shropshire Telford & Wrekin. Work on the project began in December 2020 and is on-going.

Also during this period, we joined with fellow-members of FEST (the Federation of European Storytelling organisations) and their newly-appointed England Ambassador to explore opportunities for advocacy in the education sector demonstrating the benefit of more storytellers and storytelling in schools.

Finally, in response to a request from a former member of our Away With Words young storytellers club, we successfully applied to the Community Fund for equipment and a Zoom subscription which enabled us to restart the club on–line. Zoom Away With Words held its first meeting in May 2021, after year end.