For us as artists, one of the key features of a strong and healthy ‘community’ is the acknowledgement of and celebration of similarity and difference. In many respects, older people within our local communities may see themselves as living ‘worlds apart’ – with no shared sense of identity; common interests; or notion of communal experiences that they can share with the young people of today. Equally the younger people may also see themselves as living in a different world from the one their grandparents (or even their parents) were brought up in.
In September 2008 we were invited to explore these ideas in Irlams and Cadishead and proposed a participatory approach that would serve as a celebration of creativity and community – one that also aimed to increase levels of tolerance and understanding across the generations. We devised a project and accompanying art resource pack that would work with the National Curriculum to support the teaching of local history and local geography, with a view to fostering a strong ‘sense of place’ and local pride within the young people of Irlams and Cadishead.
We worked with older people from the De Traffords and The Meadows housing schemes in Irlams and Cadishead collecting stories and listening to the memories and recollections of growing up in the area. Our themes included: early years, childhood games, the changing local landscape, work and home life.
We used this collection of memories and recollections (stored in a number of formats) to create an ‘interactive’ resource for Year 6 teachers to use with their class. This included:
- Photographs – old family photos; archived views of the local landscape / town life; contemporary views of Irlams and Cadishead; contemporary portraits of some of the older participants.
- Recorded interviews – taken from individual and group reminiscence sessions with the older participants – these include reminiscences about life in the area 60+ years ago, old songs and poetry readings.
- Recorded Sound – sounds that attempt to evoke life in the area in the 30s, 40s and 50s – trams, factory hooters, steam trains, clogs on the cobbles etc.
- Original Artefacts – objects that represent some of the themes we have been looking at with the older participants e.g. childhood toys (whip and top, die-cast farm animals), house hold objects, collectable cards.
- Local Maps – maps of the immediate local area dating back to 1900 and charting the gradual shift from farm land to greater industrialisation / urbanisation.
- DVD / Film Footage – movie images of life and work at the steel works / margarine factory – also sports days and workers celebrations from the 1930s.
Our idea was to house and present the above material in such a way that Year 6 teachers would feel confident to construct and deliver themed creative sessions that combine various elements from the pack, e.g.
- How will our town be remembered in 70+ years time?
- My town?
- When I’m Sixty Four! (what will I cherish from my childhood days)
We wanted the teacher to use the pack to build up a picture of the town creatively: what does it sound like; what does it smell like (is it full of the smells and smoke of the factories of 70+ years ago); how do people dress; where do the children play; what do they play etc.
Again, the idea was to compare and contrast and draw directly on material from the past to help inform thoughts and feelings about the present with a view to shaping ideas about the future.
In May / Jun 2009 Sharon from verd de gris ran a week-long arts residency in the schools to explore some of the themes and create art with the young people using the resource – to show how it could be used with future Year 6 groups. We were also joined by some of the older participants who came into the schools, working with the pupils to bring some of the materials to life. At the end of the week, the children presented what they had created to the residents as a gift or ‘cultural’ exchange – a response to the older people’s contributions in helping to make the resource.
The project culminated in a celebratory ‘Coming Together’ at St Paul’s Church Irlam in July 2009. Guests old and young were able to see all the work together including the work the children made in response to the stories and histories they had heard. There was lovely food, some singing, a bit of dancing and a great big thank you to all the participants.