A Present from the Past, Phoenix's National Award winning project

A Present from the past 

Our project aims to record memories, using voice recording and to produce a CD for each participant     so that they can recall and share their memories with  family and friends, if they wish.

Group Sessions

We started with group sessions, with perhaps five or   six people in a recording studio.

This alien environment might have caused some nervousness at first, but sound quality is important and after a while people became more relaxed. Editing the recordings  afterwards helped to produce good results. After a short time chatting together, a more relaxed  atmosphere developed.  

Little more than a prompt on subject matter was required to set the ball rolling. Participants told stories from their memories and recollections were triggered by things others said. Ideas such as "can you recall your first day at school?" or "Do you remember school milk?", or "Which films do you remember seeing at the cinema and who did you go with?" led to often hilarious accounts, in a relaxed atmosphere, where microphones were forgotten about and a real spirit of camaraderie was built up. 

For a wider audience, some of these sessions, in which participants are not identified will make good radio, with the permission of those taking part. Listeners will no doubt have their own memories jogged by the tales told.

It is our intention for participants to make individual recordings, but we will also include recordings of any group sessions in which the person took part on the CD/Memory stick they take away with them at the conclusion.
Individual Recordings For the individual recordings, various approaches have been used, according to the choices made by participants:

  • One person wrote five poems about his life and we recorded him reading them. Background music was added to two of these, on an experimental basis, and additional pauses were added, exploring the effect on the poems' impacts with these different arrangements.
  • A Desert Island Discs format was used by a man who we recorded, telling anecdotal stories of different parts of his childhood, youth and adult life. He had made notes in preparation for each recording session, but used these only as a prompt, talking in a relaxed informal way whilst telling a story. Music of his choice was added afterwards.
  • Some participants wrote out and read what amounted to a brief autobiography. In some cases this was done in a single recording session, with time for a refreshment break. Editing helped where any coughs or slips with words occurred, or any pauses.
  • An interview approach has also been used. With an interviewer having notes of areas the participant wanted to talk about, prompting a more relaxed, discursive approach, rather than a reading out of prepared text.
  • Some people had a friend or spouse sit in with them when making individual recordings, or a couple have both recalled memories together, sometimes correcting failing memories. At the end of a session in which a married couple had both spoken about their memories, the lady smiled at me and said of her husband of many years, "Oh he really opened up, he said things I had not known about him."

People have brought in old photographs, newspapers, school reports, magazine cuttings, miners tokens, sports programmes, coins, certificates, books, toys, all of which are interesting and which help themselves and others to access memories and things they had forgotten about.

Having borrowed a "museum in a box" with artefacts, newspapers, fragrances, garments, toys,  and music from the sixties from the Tolson Museum in Huddersfield to help trigger discussions and memories, Phoenix was inspired to put together a number of items in a collection of its own.

Old 78 and 45 rpm records and the old record players that go with them, old newspapers, books, programmes from Rrugby and Football matches, toys, cameras and a myriad of other documents are now available to use.  We have used modern technology to access old Public information films about life in the past as well as old TV and radio programmes. Classic radio theme tunes such as "Housewives' Choice", and "Music While You Work", "Workers' Playtime" and "Listen with Mother" (Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin") brought memories flooding back for many.  The collection continues to grow with people loaning or donating items.  We have discovered many ways of helping ourselves to access things long forgotten. 

Outcomes that were not explicitly planned for include friendships being formed or strengthened, having a better knowledge and understanding of others by finding out about their lives and experiences.  Quieter participants have grown in confidence and have been more willing to speak in a small group. Everyone thinks their own voice sounds strange when they hear it played back but in a surprisingly short time they lose their shyness and speak up.

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