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.
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…
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).