Elaine Hallyburton, Senior Library and Information Officer at Leisure and Culture Dundee writes about their Talking ‘Bout Teddies project, funded by the Engaging Libraries scheme.

About a year ago Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, a Developmental Psychologist, approached Leisure and Culture Libraries, asking whether we would consider working as partners on a new funding opportunity through Carnegie UK and the Wellcome Trust. We knew her by reputation, had heard her speak, and were aware of how enthusiastic, knowledgeable and passionate she is about early years, so we met for a chat. The initiative is called Engaging Libraries, and it is intended to support libraries to engage local people in imaginative and interactive projects exploring health and wellbeing.

We shared lots of ideas - too many in fact - but eventually after lots of coffee, tea and scones, our project had a shape and also a name – Talking ‘Bout Teddies. We just needed Carnegie and Wellcome to buy into the idea of celebrating the importance of teddy bears. It was a bit ‘out there’ but we were adamant it was a project worth doing. Much to our delight, we were awarded the money, and the hard work and planning began in earnest.

Talking ‘Bout Teddies was about to hit the streets of Dundee.

The importance of teddies

We wanted to highlight teddy bears’ importance for children’s emotional well-being and their contribution to children’s resilience. While our culture has an affection for teddies, we also wanted to highlight the scientific evidence showing they matter. We also wanted to promote awareness about children’s biological need for comfort and stable relationships. This ties in with national conversations about mental health, adverse childhood experiences (ACES), educational attainment and brain development. It was a lot to think about and plan. 

We felt strongly about providing a creative, visual means of reaching a wide range of people, including parents, children and professionals. We wanted children to be empowered to speak about their feelings, and adults to reflect on the unconscious legacies of their own childhoods. No mean feat. But we put together a timetable, inviting all ages to come along to some of our local community libraries, to be filmed talking about their teddy bears. We had no idea if this was going to work or not, but we did know that we had the support and commitment of staff.

Promotion and launch

With the help of promotion on social media, we managed to film children and adults from 2 to 92 talking about their childhoods, through their teddy bears. I was lucky to be involved in some of the interviews for the films. It was wonderful to hear people’s stories and their connections to their teddy bears. In fact it was a privilege, because a lot of the things shared on camera were so personal and emotive. The stories ranged from a pensioner who was a child in the war, telling the story of how his teddies protected him from the fear of death and from being killed by incoming shrapnel, to a 2 year old who wanted to let us know just how cuddly her bear is. 30 in total were made.

We launched our project on Wednesday 16th May in the Steps Theatre of Central Library in the Wellgate, Dundee. We had interest from lots of different groups and professions - the police, Children 1st, solicitors, nursery and primary school staff and families. The event itself saw Suzanne talking us through the intricacies of the sensory sensations that calm a child’s biological stress system – the way a teddy feels, smells, squashes. She also helped everyone in the audience to think more deeply about the power of teddies, the lasting impact of children’s stress and the importance of relationships in human lives. Along with viewing some of the films, it was a rollercoaster ride of emotions. It is this link between childhood experiences and adult health that has given the project a unique take on an important message for all of us, whatever our age – internal teddy bears, along with real teddy bears help us cope with life’s stresses.

Thinking about the future

The films are being shown in Dundee’s local community libraries throughout the summer months, and then in Dundee’s Science Centre. This project has the potential to grow and grow, but in the meantime, we are enjoying sharing the science of comfort in stories from Dundee’s past and present, in the hope that the people of Dundee will continue to love and cherish their teddy bears, no matter what form they take, or how old they are.