After having delivered 50 copies of the 8th ‘edition’ of OUR STORIES (by Year 5 of Princess Frederica) I have yet again to say thank you to all who participated and were generous with their stories and memories. I have focused a lot on the interviews this time and tried to publish as much of them as space allowed.
There truly was a range of experiences and stories. Once again, the project highlights not only the diverse heritage of these families, with birthplaces of grandparents as far away as Fiji, New Zealand, India, Brazil, Jamaica and Granada, but also the economic and circumstantial hardship that many faced less than a lifetime ago. We learnt that most stories of evacuation and immigration told had happy endings, but sadly sometimes also meant that safety in one’s own country did not preclude you from prejudice.
But as always there were so many interesting, illuminating facts for the children to consider, such as that for many grandparents, free time was spent helping with chores around the house, but more often, it was spent outside. Free time itself was perhaps a different entity altogether, someone observed, in the absence of technology and social media. Teachers at school were mostly strict and food choices at home limited, especially in the aftermath of war.
Special touches included also learning that some grandparents managed to turn their childhood passions, ie an interest in biology and books respectively, into careers, one as a teacher and the other working in publishing.
I hope everyone enjoys reading about each other’s backgrounds over the holidays and will treasure this snapshot of their family history for years to come.
It was lovely to get to know you all a little bit-until we meet again!
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!
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!
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.
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!