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Robin with his hand reaching upwards, pondering, telling a story

Robin Meader

I think everyone in the world has a need to have a story or we would be under a dark cloud. Sometimes people had a good story and something got in their way like bullying, politics, anti social behaviour or unhappy relationships. We sort out problems in stories and this can help us…(Robin Meader)

The first thing that hits you when you meet Robin Meader is how quietly confident he seems and as you get to know him better, you realise this confidence holds a thousand ideas, tales and surprises that help to make him such a fine storyteller and such great company.

Very few of us on Sync Intensives could help but smile at the way Robin likened his leadership style to being a live human cannonball, risk taking and 'out there' at our first meeting together at Circomedia in Bristol.

He has a natural ability to paint pictures through words and movement and he can paint and draw too.

a man shooting out of a canonball

Storytelling

Stories hold the key to learning about our lives (Robin Meader).

Spending time with Robin, you begin to realise how hard he has worked to be such a shooting star: striking the balance between the different parts of his life and maintaining a serenity that is infectious, despite the big goals he sets himself.

Robin works two days a week as Artistic Director of Open Storytellers, the only learning disabled storytelling company on the planet, or so his colleague and co-director Brian Marshall, assures me. The company's plans are 'big plans'.

For Robin, 'stories hold the key' and sit right at the heart of his life and how he shows and shares his ideas and passion for people and the injustices of the world.

He is clearly bothered by the fact that people with learning disabilities so often sit at the bottom of the pile of those considered and included in society.

Robin's feelings about storytelling are clear and when he's not weaving and working tales with his company, he's listening to other people's stories: the stories that they cannot tell, or try hard to speak about and are not yet heard. He does this as part of his role at Somerset Self Advocacy and on Fridays, he doesn't rest, he works at Sainsbury's.

A stack of Sainsburys shopping trolleys in the snow

Push 'em, pull 'em, stack 'em

If there are too many trolleys in the store that means a clog in the aisles (Robin Meader).

Working in a supermarket is something many people with learning disabilities do.

At a recent Sync South East meeting, Mark Barber from Anjali, who also has a learning disability, said that working in Sainsbury's for some people feels like a dead end job, but Robin doesn't see it this way.

It's not only an important part of his working week but a key place for him to build relationships with people who live in his community and a great place to get ideas for stories.

I am pulled in when Robin describes what can happen when there aren't enough of the smaller trolleys for people to push and how worked up they can get in the face of this (In truth, I remember the angry shopper I can be, when I can't get the trolley I want).

He continues to tell me about what happens if there are too many trolleys in the store, understanding full well the business fallout of slow aisle traffic and 'trolley clog'!

Being a spoke in a business wheel is something that Robin understands and warms to and he can take on this role, leading quietly, pushing trolleys into their rightful place, accommodating and cheerful, when all around him lose their rag.

A lion, serene windswept and up on the Plain

Lions' den

Many of the stories that Open Storytellers tell are ones that explore the nature of birds, beasts and humankind.

Robin very much sees himself as a lion - invincible and up on the planes - ready to 'gobble people up'. This takes our Plains and the Caves model to a different level!

He then laughs at himself, because that's not really the sort of beast he is, or wants to be.

I ask him if roaring works and he starts to tell me how this roar needs to happen as long as people with learning disabilities are not given their rightful place in society.

We then start talking about hyenas, 'the cowards laughing and pointing boney fingers at the lions'

He goes on to say that 'a roar is the only way to show that you can be king of your own jungle, of the highest and most noble rank'.

The idea of rank is interesting. and links to this month's article Rank and Circumstance in conversation with Bobby Baker. The article looks at the power of being 'stately', of language and learning disability and the need for us all to be clearer so people with learning disabilities can feel part of society and together we can silence those laughing hyenas.

Read the Sync Article The Plains and the Caves
Robin in rehearsal

Breathing in

Working with Nick taught me to take my time, breathe in slow, centre myself, be calm and it makes my voice and me better (Robin Meader).

Before meeting Robin, someone told me that he was being mentored by one of the top storytellers in the country, Nick Henessey.

I asked Robin how working with Nick has changed him. Nick's interest in martial arts resulted in Robin learning movement and breathing techniques, and this in turn has helped him improve his voice, and remain calm and stately. This makes for better storytelling all round.

We're going to ask you to hold your breath. We're pulling together a recording of Robin and Nick telling a story together, so please come back and enjoy this on the site in a few weeks time.

a picture of a Gold Blend coffee jar

A smooth blend

And the sky was angry like coffee beans... ('Why the sky is far away' - retold by Robin Meader and Nick Hennessy)

My final question to Robin is about Sync Intensives and what taking part feels like.

'I like the way Sync tells stories and gets us to tell our stories too'

Robin is right. Without the story of his life, his leadership and others, Sync wouldn't exist.

Putting people's leadership styles and ideas out there and showing people what disabled leaders can do, is one way of us trying all to be part of a 'smoother blend' in our society.

He takes another sip of coffee, nods and we smile.

(Sarah Pickthall for Sync, June 2010)

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