A big thank you to all the Year 5 children, parents and most importantly, their storyteller grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and aunts who who have generously shared their memories, wisdom and stories over the last weeks.
We had two jam-packed sessions at the school and as always, the kids just made my day. Thank you also to the teachers, Ms Tester, Ms Harris and Ms Davis for having Our Stories back. Also the indispensable Rachel Lum for taking pictures and being Rachel Lum and all-round helpful. And last but not least Chris Bran, Rupert Styles and Josh for shooting video in 5S.
Work on the book is underway and shaping up nicely. I will leave you with a selection of what to expect-some of the places where stories happened (other than England): Iraq, Pakistan, Kenya, India, Denmark, Canada, Scotland, Poland, Trinidad, Burma and South Africa. Themes: war, resilience, resistance, defiance, strange coincidences, unforgettable holidays, dangerous animals as well as a trapped skunk…
The start to a new academic year always signals new beginnings, even for us adults, I find. Time to map out the next twelve months and hunker down in order to start realising those plans as the days begin to draw in.
For OUR STORIES this hopefully means two consecutive terms of school visits in Brent and other exciting developments to be shared in the near future.
For now, I would like to share a link (click on LINKS in the menu) to: HUNGER TOOK HIM HOME, a short film produced by a colleague and friend of mine, the Hungarian actress Kata Sarbo, who was inspired to turn her grandmother Luca Kallo’s memoirs, into an astonishing piece of cinema. Playing the part of her grandmother as a young woman, Kata narrates the story of Bandi, the boy who would later become her husband, his and her brother’s deportation and that of many of their friends under Nazi occupation of Hungary. It is a moving, yet surprisingly joyous tribute to her family and a funny love story in spite being one that was shaped by tragedy. Take a look.
And last but not least and with a very heavy heart, I want to remember Yiannis Kotrotsis, my daughter’s great grandfather who passed away back in April in Athens at the age of 94. He was the inspiration for this project and the storyteller that I always hope every child might have in their family. He was funny and endearingly naughty at times, full of songs and stories about his life at sea and travels all over the world. His memory and his stories will certainly live on in our hearts and minds. One of those, perhaps the most dramatic one, was immortalised in the very first OUR STORIES book in 2014:
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.