In February I will be (finally!) visiting Princess Frederica School in Brent. I am excited about the stories the Year 5 children might tell me after half term and hope very much that all those Year 5 families can get involved. The upcoming break will be a perfect opportunity for a family get together or for the children to get in touch with their grandparents, a chance to ask them a myriad of questions and to think about the way in which grandma or grandpa grew up differed from their own childhood experience so far. And they will also ask for a special story to share in class and to be published. See you soon!
Today OUR STORIES remembers the many lives and stories lost in wars and conflict around the world.
The year is already drawing to a close, with children well into the second half of the autumn term. OUR STORIES has been taking a bit of a break, but is looking ahead to any prospective collaborations with primary schools across London. We would like to see more schools in Brent participate, not just because this is the home of OUR STORIES, but also because it is a fascinating and diverse borough with family histories stretching across most of the world.
We would also like to get the project considered eligible for funding under one of the exciting schemes laid out by the Brent Borough of Culture 2020 initiative.
OUR STORIES could be so much more, an archive of intergenerational storytelling, a collective way to bridge past and present, a spiderweb of connectivity across the cultures as well as being a source of tremendous inspiration and learning. There are many ways and ideas how to explore and showcase this important work further, but we need interest from parents and schools to make it happen.
So, if you would like OUR STORIES to visit your child’s school or you are a headteacher or teacher at a primary school in London, please get in touch under firstname.lastname@example.org or via social media and spread the word!
Here is an extract from our interviews with some Maple Walk grandparents in 2017 talking about their memories of school holidays. (Edited by Rachel Shelley)
It is nice to see our efforts recognised as we all need a bit of positive affirmation, but what is even better is to get the sense that the idea of intergenerational storytelling at primary school level is gaining traction.
Being featured in the summer issue of Brent Magazine seems to be more than a nod to OUR STORIES (and everyone who has been actively involved) as an initiative, but it is perhaps the acknowledgement of a wider issue that I am convinced we can at least try to help address with this project.
What prompted me to think about this, was reading about a study by the RSPH (Royal Society for Public Health) published last week (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/08/ageism-widespread-in-uk-study-finds). It highlights the rise of negative attitudes towards growing older, particularly amongst the younger generation, ie millennials, who imagine old age to be lonely as well as defined by memory loss and depression.
These are troubling findings and undoubtedly, this narrow view of what old age represents has been fed by decades of ageist attitudes across most sectors of society but also by the marginalisation of the role that family elders play in most families. If families were less fragmented and intergenerational exchange was still a part of daily family life across the UK, we would be looking at a different level of awareness in adults and children and of course, a different quality of ageing, too.
But I feel quite strongly that a simple initiative like OUR STORIES, if adopted across all primary schools between years 3 and 6, can counter this trend:
Finding out about a grand- or even great- grandparents’ journey in life through a mixture of methodical questioning, contrasting and spontaneous storytelling gets children to think about those elders as a younger version of themselves, with more facets than they may have previously noticed. Listening to the adventures, challenges and successes their older relatives had to face might help them to frame their own experiences in years to come. Ad finally, learning about one’s family history and heritage helps to strengthen one’s sense of identity and belonging, regardless of socio-economic circumstances.
Here is a clip of the Year 5 children at Malorees Junior School talking about their diverse backgrounds.
Here is another taste of Our Stories’ foray into audio from our sessions at Malorees Junior School back in November.
During November and December 2017 OUR STORIES returned to Malorees Primary School. Over four days the children of year 5 were very busy sharing stories with each other which they had gleaned from or about their grand and great-grandparents over half term or soon after. Yara’s grandmother very kindly took the time to visit the school for an extensive interview by the children in 5G, as well as a few other parents. We heard the most fantastic variety of stories, ranging from a baby lion who got to stay in a posh Dublin hotel room to a body under a bridge in Kenya, a snake in a toilet, to a chicken farm in Argentina. We also heard many stories about the humble beginnings of many families only a few generations ago, living on farms, far away from schools and the amenities most children take for granted these days. We spent quite a long time discussing differences between then and now and comparing the contrasting life styles of the older generation and the children.
Most stories though, as so often with this project, were about being a refugee, sometimes in their own country, but sometimes this also meant having to flee London or the UK during the war for safety, or coming to England from another war-torn country to start a new life. As always, these stories have been a reminder of how many of these, ie. of ‘our’ North West London childrens’ lives have been shaped by economic and political migration, persecution, hardship and having to depend on the kindness of strangers.
And once again, the stories have painted an incredibly diverse and interesting picture of our community and I thank you all for sharing your stories.
Here is a little taster of what I recorded. More coming soon, watch this space!
Thank you for all your stories! The book has been printed, the playlist forwarded and everyone involved should be very, very proud of the result.
These visits at Maple Walk Primary School saw the premiere of two new developments. As it was the first time for OUR STORIES to be working with Year 6 children, it was decided to put them in charge of their own project entirely-from the way they would manage their time, find a story and collate any facts and material that could go into book, to typing up and editing their material and finally, presenting their piece to the class.
From the moment I started the conversation with the children, I got a sense that they had a lively and engaged relationship with their family elders and required little prompting in order to re-tell their stories, which was an excellent starting point. Nevertheless, on completion, many of them said, that through engaging with the project they had found out new things or that it had helped to re-kindle their interest in particular aspects of their family history.
On the last day at the school we traced the stories on a map of the world and discovered, as with most schools that OUR STORIES has visited here in London, the rich and varied heritage of the classroom, with stories weaving back and forth between England, Ireland, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, as well as Poland, Burma, Canada, Kurdistan,Georgia, Italy and Australia.
We were also very fortunate to have had a special visit from Rudy’s grandfather, who, as I am sure everyone would agree, could have entertained us all day with his stories if it hadn’t been for the small matter of the school curriculum. But Mrs Partridge was more than generous with the time she allowed us to run the project in and kudos to her for organising everything so expertly with the parents. Many thanks also to Mrs Romand for co-ordinating and welcoming us at the school. And special thanks to Finn’s mother Hannah for inviting me into their home in order to interview her mother Pamela, who provided us with a wealth of memories and stories.
Lastly, I am very excited to announce that we made our first foray into recording the children reading out their grandparent’s stories as well as some of their own reactions to the project. This would have not been possible without the enormous help of Rachel Shelley, local mother and radio producer (and actress!), who spent many hours editing all the clips and getting them to sound good. I, on the other hand discovered that I have a lot to learn still, especially when it comes to placing the zoom (also known as a microphone!) properly and get to grips with what to say and, most importantly, not to say ‘on’ and ‘off mic’.
I hope all parents received the link for the Soundcloud playlist on Soundcloud with all the children’s voices, reading their grandparent’s stories as well as some of their reactions to the project. In addition there is all the fantastic footage of Rudy’s Nono and Finn’s grandmother Pamela being interviewed about their lives.
The small profit that was raised by the margin from printing costs has been donated to the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund on behalf of OUR STORIES.
Keep up the storytelling!