My name’s Gemma and I’m the Founder of Truth Be Told: Storytelling for Life, an intergenerational project that helps churches to link local families with local care homes through creative storytelling activities, which are full of life and bible-based truth. That all sounds rather grand but really, it’s about being the joy-filled family of God and loving everyone no matter what their age or stage.
Just like you, I’ve spent many years helping at and leading toddler groups, showing families how the people of God operate with arms open wide. But I’ve also wondered many times, am I getting this right?! Do I really have time for this?! All of the hard work, the rotas, the time split between my own children and others, the passing hello instead of the deep conversation.
I set up my storytelling business back in 2014 and was then commissioned by the Church of England to develop a storytelling curriculum to revive a church playgroup in south-east London. So I wrote a set of themes, parable-based stories that spoke of truths like ‘I am Special’ and ‘I am Loved’. I sewed it together with some beautifully recorded nursery rhymes and a bespoke patchwork bag and Truth Be Told (TBT) was born. It was really well-received but in the back of my mind, I knew that this was something that could have more impact.
We moved to Poole in Dorset in 2017, to a house directly opposite a care home and night after night, as I pulled the blinds in my son’s room, I would wonder what was going on in there. I began to wonder if a storytelling group and I could go and find out?
The care home were receptive to giving the TBT concept and curriculum a try and in January 2019, I launched a pilot group with a number of willing families. We’d go in each week and share props, tell stories, sing songs, blow bubbles, have lunch and we all loved it.
They were blown away and wanted to launch more groups which we did and the model became a social enterprise, meaning that those from the church who became Storytellers and led groups earned some money for doing so.
It was at that point that I became aware of the Cinnamon Network, an organisation who make it really easy for churches to transform their communities through established social action projects. Each year, they run a Project Lab competition to find new social action projects who have the ambition to replicate throughout the UK church network, so I decided to apply.
TBT was up against some stiff competition but having got through the rigorous application process, we were selected as a finalist, which meant a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style panel of judges, over 100 highly-esteemed, wealthy philanthropists … and me! After a nerve wracking six-minute pitch with no notes, I could not believe it when they announced that TBT was one of the winners of a £30,000 development grant and a two-year incubation programme of coaching.
We are benefiting so much from our relationship with Cinnamon Network and we launched our first replication with ReBorne Church in Sherborne exactly one year, to the day, of our first ever pilot group. But then, three months later, COVID-19 hit and I was left wondering how TBT could possibly help. I have done some soul-searching for sure, but now feel even more convinced that Jesus is relentless in His love and so we must be too.
There are 410,000 care home residents in the UK and they are twice as likely to be severely lonely as those older adults living in the community. They have been at the epicentre of this pandemic and so they need to know, more than ever before that joy, life and hope that we show to our toddler group families week in, week out.
I am now developing a whole range of activities and resources for churches to use to connect their families with their local care home, like pen-pal style crafts, zoom groups and car-park sessions.
I would really encourage you to use this time when you can’t run your normal toddler group to consider whether its time for a change. To impact your community even more than before. Could you take some of your families by the hand and really show them how your church loves the lonely? It is a powerful experience, hilarious at times and heart-wrenching at others. But you get to share the joy of being altogether, just as God intended and to tell them all tales of His relentless love.
TBT equips churches with the resources, training and support to make it really easy to encourage parents, children, residents and carers to join as family, enjoying, appreciating and learning together. If you would like to find out more, please contact Gemma Gillard, who will happily chat on the phone, come and visit in person or online to talk to you and your church about the TBT project: