Older People

Creative Writing – A Collective Poem

The Brierley Hill Civic Society contributed memories, thoughts and poetic descriptions about Brierley Hill past, present and future in a two-hour workshop. These ideas were forged into a poem by Brendan Hawthorne who was leading the workshop.

Brendan Civic Society from Jonathan Lee on Vimeo.

Brierley Hill Civic Society were asked to come to the workshop prepared to share with the group one of the following:

  •  A story or fact about a Brierley Hill building, place or space that is important to them
  • Pictures of buildings which make Brierley Hill special
  • Newspaper cuttings about things that make Brierley Hill distinctive
  • A completed sentence “Brierley Hillness is…”

Armed with flipchart paper the group were split into three smaller groups to focus on Brierley Hill past, present and future and asked to draw up a list of the qualities, the pitfalls, traditions and hopes of the town.

The groups fed back their thoughts, ideas and some poetic verse they had written.

Brendan took away the notes and forged a poem based on ideas generated in the workshop. He used many of the exact words in the poem, which was then performed to the group at a separate occasion.

Brendan Hawthorne from Jonathan Lee on Vimeo.

The poem that Brendan forged was very well received by the group as it maintained their original ideas, their own words and was a concrete and meaningful output from the workshop.

Working with an established group can make it easier to run a one-off workshop over a short space of time. There was no need to use ice-breaker strategies as individuals were focussed and comfortable sharing their ideas.

There is a limit to what you can achieve in a two-hour writing workshop; there was not enough time for participants to write their own poetry. Further workshops would enable participants to learn writing techniques and to be more creative.

Reminiscence, maps, luggage tags and collage

Jon Dean incorporated various activities into the workshop with AgeUK, with a focus on reminiscence.

The session started by looking at historic photos of the town, reference books and old magazine cuttings.

Some of the participants who did not live in Brierley Hill at first were concerned they would not able to get involved, but they soon realised they all had memories of the area. Having materials brought in sparked memories.

The next activity was making suitcase labels and writing words and expressions about Brierley Hill – what comes to mind when you think of the area? These were stuck on an old suitcase to create an installation.

Jenni, the Age UK Coordinator said “The luggage tags were very good, the group were happy to write down expressions and ideas. Unfortunately the group are more talkers than artists and reluctant to get creative. Books and pictures were very well received and instigated conversations.”

Participants created their own maps and drawings of how they remember Brierley Hill High Street and memories associated with being there.

This was followed by two High Street collages, produced on the themes of: Brierley Hill Today and Brierley Hill Past.

Through this workshop we learned that some older people are reluctant to get creative through craft materials; painting or drawing could be difficult due to eye sight limitations or arthritis. Visual materials and discussion worked well with this group.

Jon negotiated the workshop with participants so they could share the decision-making and feel able to get involved. It is always useful to plan a range of activities to ensure inclusive practice.

Drama – “Brierley Hilliness ”

This is a drama piece inspired by street interviews filmed during 2011 as part of the Brierley Hillnessproject. Mike Tinsley worked with Age UK’s drama group, based at Merry Hill, who wrote the piece, which was performed outside the shopping centre and filmed.

We had filmed twenty-five street interviews with local shoppers, residents and traders for another part of the Brierley Hillness project (see Interviewing in the Streets).

Transcriptions of these interviews were provided to Age UK’s weekly drama group, based at the Merry Hill Shopping Centre. Over five one-hour workshops, and with the support of local writer and musician Mike Tinsley, Age UK’s drama group scripted a fifteen minute drama piece, inspired by the real life voices of local people.

The transcripts were used as a starting point for discussion about Brierley Hill, and members of the drama group each contributed their own perspective, experiences and opinions of the town. The group decided which comments made during the interviews would feature in their creative piece.

As the majority of the group were not from Brierley Hill, but surrounding areas, and some had not been to the town for years, the film transcripts of real interviews was an excellent starting point for script development and for group discussions. It also enabled us to give a voice for the shoppers, residents and traders through dramatic expression.

Brierley Hilliness – Age UK from Jonathan Lee on Vimeo.

Filmed and edited by James Reader.

The scene was set in bus stop to create a space where people of different backgrounds and interests would naturally meet. Each member developed their own character and lines in the play. Fran Cartwright and Carol Duke led the writing of the overall script, ensuring that comments made during the street interviews were woven into the dialogue. See extracts from Brierly Hilliness script © AgeUk Dudley.

The piece was filmed outside the shopping centre in a mock up of a bus stop to screen at the Brierley Hillness project finale event.

Script writers and cast members from AgeUK tell us about the process and what the project has meant for them.

Fran Cartwright and Carol Duke-Writers and Directors of ‘Brierley Hilliness’ from Jonathan Lee on Vimeo.

Interview with Linda Nash and Mike Tinsley from Age UK from Jonathan Lee on Vimeo.


During the project we ran both formal and informal reminiscence sessions at Artspace. The informal ‘drop-ins’ were more a chat over a cuppa, although we did record the conversations where possible to refer back to.

We also ran some pre-booked formal oral history sessions, specifically with ex-workers of the Round Oak Steel Works, to support an exhibition and Dudley Council’s Public Art Unit’s memorial sculpture project that was running at the same time. See and hear some stories from the steel works.

They were two very different approaches and outcomes.

A ‘Drop-in’ at Artspace

Tuesdays were Brierley Hillness days at Artspace and we asked people to drop in with their memories and stories about what makes Brierley Hill distinctive and unique.

Dennis Andrews uses an old map to illustrate where important events in Brierley Hill history happened, including the rail disaster and war time bombs dropping.

In the first few weeks we met most of the people who wanted to share their memories and knowledge of the area. These people were mainly involved with local history groups. After a Remembering Round Oak evening event some former workers at the steelworks also brought in photos and stories.

A tip-off from a grandson led us to invite a participant to Artspace to talk about Brierley Hill’s historic fire brickwork industry.

People contributed newspaper cuttings, internet research, lists of former industrial businesses, old family and work photos, and images of types of industrial machinery.

We had a scanner and copier to hand and took copies of old photographs or newspaper clippings people brought in, However, we didn’t always ask for a description and date for the photo, essential if you want to use them accurately in the future.

A special “meet the author” event, featuring local historian Ned Williams, was arranged one Tuesday afternoon and half a dozen members of the local history group in Quarry Bank joined us for an informative discussion about the town; past, present and future. They also helped steer the content of the community mural.

At the Tuesday drop-in instead of conducting structured oral history recordings in a quiet room or book times to meet people, we talked to people as the mural workshop was happening.

When inviting people to ‘drop in’, you never know when people are going to turn up. Make sure that you have the capacity to sit down and talk without major interruptions for a reasonable length of time.

We recorded conversations with a digital voice recorder. The benefit of this was that discussions were natural, fluid and interactive and people felt comfortable spending time with us and sharing their stories. However, with ten participants we ended up with over twelve hours of audio to listen to, much of poor sound quality, and had to then transcribe the parts we wanted to use.

Pre-booked Oral History Recording Sessions

Brendan Hawthorne was employed to run three Round Oak Reminiscence days at Artspace. A small room was used to conduct the interviews. Fourteen ex-workers took part, and an hour was allocated for each recording.

Each interview was recorded onto a non-obtrusive digital recorder and transcripts of each interview completed at a later date for archive purposes.

Interviews were structured by using a question prompt sheet Round Oak Reminiscence to give the impression that each interview was a monologue or story telling session so that the listener could pick up facts and anecdotes as well as hear how ex-employees sound with their regional and industrial accents and dialects.

Bespoke Round Oak Reminiscence Project Documentation (PDF) was prepared for the sessions so that all the information required by Dudley Archive Service, including consent for public use in the future, was obtained at the time of the recording.

The documentation we used included:

  • A clearance form / signed consent for use of recording
  • Interview summary sheet
  • Interview Synopsis / track notations for ease of use
  • Deposit of material in Dudley Archive consent form

We have made these sample templates available to download so you can adapt these for your own oral history projects. It is worth checking with your local archive that they are happy to accept your recordings and the documentation you are using is adequate. They may already have their own preferred format for cataloging audio.

If you are new to oral history there are some guidelines and tips available to download (aimed at teachers) from http://www.thecornershopproject.co.uk/downloads.html (Comm. & Mig. Item 2).

Brierley Hillness is a memory shared…

See and hear the memories people shared with us about Brierley Hill in the old days and about working at Round Oak Steel Works.


Download Approaches to Community Engagement and Lessons Learnt for a slightly extended and print ready version (PDF). Download a TEXT ONLY VERSION Approaches to Community Engagement and Lessons Learnt (Word).


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