Council tenants tell tales on radio (and in a book)

13 June 2016

Maria’s heart was beating fast. “What have I done, there is a stranger is my house!”

This is the gripping opening of an audio drama written by a first-time author and a resident living in a Wellington City Council Housing unit. It is one of five pieces created by City Housing tenants, in a project developed and facilitated by Voice Arts and set to feature on RNZ National’s Nine to Noon readings slot at 10.45am each day next week (Monday 20 to Friday 24 June 2016).

Small Windows on Big Stories is the name of the project. The stories, which offer diverse, touching and humorous perspectives, are fictional, yet based on real experiences of settling into New Zealand and into social housing. The project aims to increase understanding about people from other cultures by giving glimpses into the lives of tenants who have migrated to New Zealand, whether as skilled migrants, refugees, or to join family.  

First written for radio, the stories have been adapted into a book with a foreword by Nine to Noon presenter Kathryn Ryan and an introduction from Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

Mayor Wade-Brown says: “Wellingtonians welcome migrants and refugees with open arms. We share diverse experiences, learn about new cultures, make new friends and strengthen our multicultural connections. We are members of one human family.”

City Housing’s Community Action staff partnered with Voice Arts and RNZ to develop and deliver this unique project.

Rosie Gallen, Community Action and Engagement Manager at City Housing, says the inspiration for the project came from a desire to see more understanding, tolerance and compassion among the Council’s tenant community, which mirrors Wellington’s diversity as a city. While most City Housing tenants have strong English, they represent almost 70 different ethnic backgrounds and more than 40 native languages. 

Rosie says: “We know that tenants who perhaps don’t look or sound familiar, or have different customs, do experience negative attitudes to varying degrees. We also know that many tenants very much want to understand people from other cultures and other faiths but they lack confidence, unsure of the best way to start. What better way to create common ground than through stories of common human experiences – love, discovery, loss, friendship and family ties, struggle and joy.”

Nicola Pauling, the Director of Voice Arts, explains that participants worked alongside a creative facilitator over a five-month period. “For the participants it was an opportunity to get creative with their own experiences, to put their stories front-and-centre on a national stage.”

When the stories were completed each writer participated in the recording of their story at RNZ, working with the actor who was tasked to tell their story and even voicing part of it themselves. 

Adam Macaulay, from RNZ Drama, says: “This has been a fabulous project for us, not just in gathering really engaging stories, but in being part of a process that, hopefully, empowered the participants, made them proud of their own creative ability, and inspired them to do more of this.”