New Stories for Old?


A personal invitation

We are delighted to invite you to join friends and colleagues at a gathering of the Centre for Narrative Leadership to be held at Hawkwood College, Stroud from 11.00am on Monday 2nd to 4.00pm on Tuesday 3rd June 2014. This will be our ninth gathering since we formed in December 2007 and it will be a wonderful opportunity to explore new themes, share our practice and enjoy good fellowship in a beautiful summer setting.

The theme of the gathering is inspired by some words of the late deep-ecologist and “Earth scholar” Thomas Berry, reflecting on the failure of modernity:

It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into the world, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.

It seems unlikely that we can go from the old story to the new story without experiencing a dark night of the soul – a place of narrative wreckage – a shifting, confusing time of emptying that will allow something else to emerge. We might also question whether we should be looking for the new story at all.

Perhaps our task is rather to open ourselves to the emergence of many new stories; possibly the green shoots of those stories can be found in Joanna Macy’s notion of The Great Turning; and certainly we must reflect on the stories we are living as well as those we are telling. And as storytellers we should certainly not lose sight of the wisdom and values of the old-old stories.

However you look at it, it’s an essential and topical field of inquiry, which will be taken up later in the year at the New Story Summit, a major conference at Findhorn which several members of the Centre for Narrative Leadership will be attending. It also features in Geoff Mead’s new book Telling the Story: The Heart and Soul of Successful Leadership(published by Jossey-Bass in April 2014) and Charlene Collison’s (et. al.) Storytelling for a Greener World(Hawthorn Press, March 2014).

The story

As always we’ll start our gathering with a story and what else could it be but that strange and intriguing tale from 1001 Nights – Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp? Here’s an extract from the version in Andrew Lang’s (1889) Blue Fairy Book:

Aladdin had gone a-hunting for eight days, which gave the magician plen­ty of time. He bought a dozen copper lamps, put them into a basket, and went to the pal­ace, crying: “New lamps for old!”

The Princess, sitting in the hall of four- and-twenty windows, sent a slave to find out what the noise was about, who came back laughing, so that the Princess scolded her. “Madam,” replied the slave, “who can help laughing to see an old fool offering to exchange fine new lamps for old ones?”

Another slave, hearing this, said: “There is an old one on the cornice there which he can have.” Now this was the magic lamp, which Aladdin had left there, as he could not take it out hunting with him. The Princess, not knowing its value, laughingly bade the slave take it and make the exchange.

She went and said to the magician: “Give me a new lamp for this.” He snatched it and bade the slave take her choice. Then he went out of the city gates to a lonely place, where he remained till nightfall, when he pulled out the lamp and rubbed it. The ge­nie appeared, and at the magician’s command carried him, together with the palace and the Princess in it, to a lonely place in Africa…

The story prompts so many questions: What was the magic of the old lamp? Whom did the genie serve? What was the attraction of the new? What old “lamps” are we willing to exchange – and for what? How do we allow ourselves to be distracted? When do we get “carried away”? For lamps, of course, read “stories.”

The event

The gathering will give us the chance to explore what stories we are holding on to even though they no longer serve us; what fundamental human stories we must never let go of; what new “stories to live by” are needed and/or already emerging.

We will ask difficult and challenging questions of ourselves and of each other; we’ll explore some of the issues experientially; and we’ll have the opportunity for good discussions, lively debate and warm exchanges. We’d like you to bring your stories, experience, curiosity, questions and offers and suggestions for sessions (see ‘how you can help’) in the spirit of peer-inquiry.

In the programme so far

Richard Olivier, founder of Olivier Mythodrama Associates and one of the convenors of the New Story Summit will be coming to engage with the ideas behind the conference and to share his thinking about the need for new myths and new mythologies to support movement towards a more positive planetary future.

Chris Seeley, who co-directs the Ashridge Masters in Sustainability and Responsibility (AMSR) and has recently researched and written a report on Artful Organisation, will talk about her work and facilitate the whole group in Joanna Macy’s powerful, beautiful and moving exercise Talking to the Ancestors.

Peter Thompson, documentary film-maker and founder of Shedlight, will demonstrate some of the creative techniques he uses to enable people to tell their stories and work with us at the gathgering to produce a short film of our exploration of stories both old and new.

Geoff Mead will introduce themes from his new book Telling the Story and run a practical storytelling skills workshop for those who want to tell a (new or old) story with passion and impact. There will also be a celebration of the book’s publication, including a launch and book signing as part of the Monday evening ceilidh.

And that is just the starting point; there is plenty of time and space for other contributions. We are very much a peer community and the gathering is a great place to try out new ideas, test an exercise or simply to engage people with a powerful question. Don’t be shy!

How you can help

Please justify our shared hopes and ambition for the Centre by making an early commitment to attending the gathering. As well as attending yourself, there are two other ways in which you can help to ensure the success of the event.

First, we want to extend ‘membership’ of the Centre by asking you to invite other people who you believe would be interested in, benefit from, contribute to and enjoy New Stories for Old? Our core constituency includes leaders, developers and researchers as well as storytellers but we are also open to ‘wild card’ invitations to people you know and trust from other fields including clients (bearing in mind that this is a participative event rather than a showcase).

Second, please come forward with offers to facilitate sessions, bring case studies, run workshops, share stories, initiate projects, and whatever else you would like to see at the gathering. You do not have to be an expert just enthusiastic and committed. Your active participation is essential to shape the Centre in the ways that you want to see it develop.

The venue

Hawkwood College ( is set in 42 acres of beautiful gardens, woods and fields, with its own spring water and wonderful views of Cotswold hills and valleys. It is easily accessible from Heathrow and London by train (direct service between Paddington and Stroud) and by road (M4/A46).

Booking and fees

The gathering is being run as a low-cost (not for profit) event. We will have a maximum of 24 places for this event which is offered at £130-150 (residential) or £100 (non-residential) inclusive of VAT. This includes use of the facilities, all meals and refreshments. On-site accommodation is in pleasant bedrooms with shared bathroom facilities.

Please use the separate booking form to register your application to attend New Stories for Old Booking Form

Further information

For further information please contact Robert Holtom our new Junior Associate and Executive Assistant at or call him on 07929 885931 (mobile).


3 comments on “New Stories for Old?

      • Hi Stacia

        It would be great to see you. I’m going to put you in touch with Robert Holtom who is doing the admin for me to put him in the picture. Expect an email from him to confirm that there are still vacancies.

        Best wishes. Geoff

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