<strong>Joe Towns</strong>
Joe Towns

Joe Towns is the Sport Broadcast Program Director & Senior Lecturer at Cardiff Met University.

In the Welsh language we have a word called “Hiraeth”.

It doesn’t have a direct English translation but it basically means a longing for something, someone or somewhere. A homesickness for a place you might have visited and developed a connection with.

Recently I’ve found myself longing for a place in time; a magical 10 days of culture and creativity that happened in late February and early March of this year, when a selection of staff and students from the Ball State University Sports Link programme combined forces with our Cardiff Met Sport Broadcast team, here in Wales.

A time when the idea of Transatlantic Storytelling got real.

In the three weeks running up to the Ball State visit, South Wales experienced its worst flooding in over 100 years.

The River Taff, which rushes through the middle of Cardiff, past the stadium, and just outside the “NosDa” hostel where our American friends would be staying, burst its banks. The basement of the hostel was flooded.

These floods were the biggest news story of the year … at the time.

How things have changed. Had our visitors been leaving for the UK a week later, they probably wouldn’t have come. A week earlier and they’d have been in the middle of one of the wettest months since records began.

The lesson here; you never know what’s around the corner. You just have to make the most of the moment you’re in.

As it was, Ball State arrived just as Spring was breaking through in Wales. Just as the Daffodils were starting to appear in our parks and fields. Yep, we had all kinds of weather in store for them, the full experience.

During the Cardiff City football (soccer) game we took them to there was snow, rain, wind, hail and sunshine, and that was just the first half. We got soaked at Cardiff Castle, but still marched defiantly to the top of the fort.

Dunraven Bay

Then, on St.David’s Day (March 1st) as we hit the coast, the sun shone down on Dunraven Bay, and blazed all over Barry Island where we munched fish and chips on the seaside wall (which I’d describe as pretty much “Peak Welsh”).

Maybe the heaviest rain fall came the night we went to Bingo Lingo, but that was ok because we were inside a giant warehouse, singing along and dancing on the tables alongside a few thousand crazy Welsh people, with not a care in the world.

There was sunshine all the way on our riverside walk to Llandaff Cathedral, via our National cricket stadium. Sunshine at St Fagans too, our national museum.

And, most spectacularly of all, the sun came firing out of the clouds when we reached the snow-covered peak of Pen Y Fan mountain. Sunshine in Wales is never a given, so you have to make the most of it when it happens.

Showing people around your homeland is a real pleasure, but you’re always nervous about the little things; the food, the weather, the traffic, will they be able to understand our accents? I loved how the Ball state students never once complained. They loved everything.

The cool part of being the tour guide is you get to see your own country back through the lens of others, quite literally in this case, as the Ball State crew took some stunning images through every conceivable lens they could lay their hands on; DSLR’s, Prime Lenses, Go Pros, Black Magics, Sony cams and drones. Many of these images are starting to populate this wonderful website you’re reading now.

Zach Roy always with the camera

This website is part of the legacy of this partnership. This article, one of the first of many. There is a feature length documentary to come.

Rain or shine, the Ball State group certainly made the most of every moment in Wales. For 10 days solid.

They tried to learn bits of the language. They embraced our history. They danced. They socialised. They supported our teams, bought the merch’. Adopted some of our sayings. Ate Welsh cakes (by the bucket load.)

And when it came to work, they got down to business. That was what really impressed us all about this particular gang of students. Work ethic. Punctuality. Discipline. Planning. Attitude. 

Opportunities to film for their documentary were tight, squeezed into gaps between my packed schedule of matches, museums, mountain climbs , castles and coastlines. Somehow they shot over 20 interviews. They filmed scenics our National Tourist board would be proud of.

They got up early to shoot B-Roll. They made sacrifices to make sure they got the shots they needed. Taxies whizzed back and forth across the city to different locations. You can see from the trailer already, that visually, this documentary is going to be immense

The other area that really stood out for us was how the Ball State students go about building trust with the athletes they film, and how that, crucially, unlocks the story. They built friendships and relationships in days that I know will last a lifetime.

They invested time and emotion into the stories, made our athletes feel special. Our Cardiff Met staff and students sat back in awe and watched as these athletes, our athletes, opened up to people they had only just met.

One morning our Sport Broadcast group had the privilege of a storytelling masterclass with Chris Taylor (Ball State Sports Link’s King of the Circular Story) a session which left our guys enthused and with a new found focus for their own films, aligned with a burning desire to go out and find better stories to tell.

That’s the idea behind the Transatlantic Storytelling Project. Find great stories and tell them well. Tell the world. Find sports stories sure, but tell human stories.

This whole project is about learning from each other by exploring each other’s culture, sharing our stories, our sports, sharing how we work, how we interact with people, how we interview, how we shoot, how we edit, how we promote a project, how we release it, and how we create a buzz around it before it drops. 

Learning from others, it’s a brilliant way to learn. Learning from the best, that’s a real privilege. And this is just the start. 

When CT and I jumped on a Skype call for the first time three years ago, we talked about the potential of this partnership. We talked about creating a project and developing a relationship which could give staff and students, from opposite sides of the Atlantic, an opportunity to tell stories together. It’s beautiful to finally see that happening. 

In times like these we need stories more than ever. With no stories there would be no Hiraeth. Nothing to remember. Nothing to long for. No castles, no cathedrals, no beacons. No sports like cricket or netball to be baffled by. No Bingo Lingo! 

I’m so glad we had those 10 days this Spring. A window of calm amidst a crazy time for the planet. When things get back to normal we look forward to doing this all again.

Until then, stay home, stay safe, stay in touch. Keep editing, keep telling stories.