cENTRAL LINE STORIES - CASE STUDY
Commissioner: Art on the Underground
To contribute to increased communication and sense of pride amongst staff across the entire Central line
To increase staff confidence about their own communication skills
To introduce London Underground staff and customers to contemporary writing
To enhance staff and customers’ experience of the Tube network
Writer Sarah Butler was invited by Art on the Underground to undertake a six-month residency on the Central line, to collaborate with London Underground staff in creating new writing. With 45 Central line-managed stations from West Ruislip to Epping and over 183.5 million journeys on the line each year, Central line staff have little opportunity to meet and engage with each other. Sarah’s challenge was to develop creative strategies to involve the whole line.
Central line staff guided Sarah along the line, introducing her to their colleagues and recounting their personal tales. These initial conversations highlighted a very human desire to communicate through story-telling. The project resulted in four distinct texts: What’s in a name?, a collection of stories attached to staff names; Central line whispers, a tale written by 55 staff from 45 stations over five days; Meetings with drivers, short fiction inspired by Sarah’s conversations with Tube drivers, and a story in the form of a puzzle. A book containing all the texts was produced and made available as a pdf download. Posters of Central line whispers and a booklet of What’s in a name? were distributed across the network, and a selection of texts were recorded as audio stories, accessible from www.tfl.gov.uk/art .
“I've just started to read these – this is a wonderful idea, brilliantly executed.” Online comment
“Just re-read 'Early turn' & 'Talking about the weather'. From a member of staff point of view they are brilliant. Everyone is excited when someone voices the things they privately experience/ consume and I think every driver/cleaner who reads them will feel that they share the crux of what being a person in that job entails. I really enjoyed the style of writing too.” Central line train operator
Central line stories was covered in local and national media, including The Times Diary, a variety of blogs, The Robert Elms show, BBC London, and Midweek, BBC Radio 4.
Central line stories gave me a unique opportunity to engage with a massive organisation and a plethora of fascinating people and stories. The keys to success for me were the open nature of the brief, the time allowed for research and ideas development at the start of the residency, and the fact Art on the Underground’s interest in my own development as a writer also informed the project. Art on the Underground gave me access, support and back-up, without which I don’t think this project could have happened.
To learn more about the work and challenges of writers in residence projects don't miss our "Know Your Place" debate in February, book here
Images © Benedict Johnson and Alaistar Fyfe