Oral history in the South East in 2020

South East Region (Padmini Broomfield) 

Unlike in previous years, there is less to report this time. Inevitably, the Covid19 pandemic has stalled new projects, while others have been severely delayed due to the lockdowns.  

Things had been quiet even before the pandemic. A couple of training workshops, and a small project supporting volunteers at St Barbe Museum to record memories of the Wellworthy factoryin Lymington for an exhibition marking the company’s 100th anniversary. Apart from that there were a few inquiries relating to funding applications or ethical issues encountered by projects. 

So I had been looking forward to recording interviews for the Mayflower 400 Southampton project to capture migration stories. After a long delay, I finally started in October and recorded a few in person and remote interviews. Both options came with complicated and unsatisfactory arrangements, and while the content collected was fascinating, audio quality was compromised. The in-person interviews were recorded in a very large office following strict Covid-19 guidelines. After a couple of false starts, the interviews over the Zoom video app 

(connected to my Zoom digital recorder) went well, mainly since the interviewees were very familiar and comfortable with the platform. I was heartened to find that they did not seem fazed or constrained by the format of speaking over a screen. These were the longest interviews, recorded over a couple of sessions each, and covered detailed memories of their home countries, reasons for migrating and experiences of arriving and settling in Southampton. 

The ongoing restrictions means that I will record the remaining interviews remotely. The interviews will inspire various outputs such as short films made by young people, community choirs and educational resources.  

Mayflower 400 Southampton website: https://mayflower400southampton.co.uk/  

I recently delivered my first online training workshop for volunteers at the Her Salisbury Storyproject led by the Salisbury Soroptimists. The usual full-day workshop was split into 3 shorter sessions to take into account online delivery and volunteers’ availability. Again, working with a group already used to and very confident using Zoom meetings made things easier, but I had to be very aware of varying the pace, breakout rooms, discussions etc to counteract Zoom fatigue. The need to cover aspects of remote interviewing (for the immediate term) as well as in-person recording (for when it is declared safe to do so) takes longer. Feedback from participants after the final session will help me modify content and delivery for further online delivery. 

Both these online experiences – remote interviewing and training – highlight various issues we are all currently grappling with. For example, the digital exclusion when interviewees or potential trainees lack equipment, internet connectivity or confidence in working online and could get left out. Or the concerns around how to deal with sensitive or traumatic memories shared over a screen and how we could respond. It was therefore really helpful to hear from and discuss with other oral history practitioners during workshops at our Regional Network Annual Event and at the University of Newcastle’s Oral History Unit.  

News of other projects in the South East region: 

Esther Gill writes: Unlocking Our Sound Heritage at The Keep in Brighton continues to digitise, catalogue and clear rights on oral history collections from across the south east. This year we have worked on oral histories held at The Keep from the Lewes U3A (UTK002), the Ashdown Forest (UTK003) and we are now working on Southampton Oral History Unit’s interviews. One of the first collections to be preserved is the Black History collection (UTK010). We are hoping that some of the interviews will be cleared to go on the new British Library sound heritage website, launching 2021.  

More information on the project can be found at keepsounds.com, on Twitter @KeepSounds or please do get in touch with esther.gill@sussex.ac.uk.   

(All references relate to the collection number on the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue: sami.bl.uk)  

Lisa Kerley: I am working on a NLHF intergenerational project to explore and record memories of carnival tradition on the Isle of Wight (partnership between Carisbrooke Castle Museum and The New Carnival Company) which has been postponed. We can’t continue with our workshops and interviews as the older people we were working with are too vulnerable and schools are restricting visitors. We hope to be able to continue next year. I am training 10 volunteers in basic interviewing techniques as part of this and may need to reconsider how this is delivered.  

I am doing another project which is not oral history but it is life story work through reminiscence to help people who face isolation at the current time. I have funding from a local housing association to work with 20 residents, in their sheltered accommodation, creating reminiscence booklets for them which they will receive in the post monthly. We will then reminiscence over the phone together, the idea is that they will use the booklets to document some of their life story. We may do some Zoom meetings depending on if they have the technology available to them.  

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