Times of Our Lives
‘The times of our lives’ was a recent intergenerational collaboration involving experienced professional storytellers Jean Edmiston and Allison Galbraith from the Scottish Storytelling Centre. With funding from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, they worked with residents of Bengal Street sheltered housing, and children in P4/5 from Sir John Maxwell Primary School in Pollokshaws, Glasgow. The aim was to develop better relations between the residents and the neighbouring school children, using the media of storytelling and art work. The theme was a celebration of ‘pinnacles’ of people’s lives – in other words – the most memorable times.
The first two weeks was spent discussing ideas with the head teacher, class teacher and children, and also with the residents of the sheltered housing complex. Four female residents took part, along with 23 children whose homelands included Somalia, Sierra Leone, Iran, Turkey and Latvia, as well as, of course, Scotland. They were fascinated by stories the residents had to tell. One person who had lived in Pollokshaws all her life had attended Sir Robert Maxwell school in a different era. Another had grown up in the Highlands, close to where the class teacher had lived, and she had been a plane spotter during the war. A third grew up in Yorkshire and recalled how she had only learned how to cook mince and tatties when she moved to Scotland! After the first visit to the school, the women warmed to the children and made remarks such as, “What lovely children”; “How polite they are!” The children produced art work in response to the stories, four boys performed a rap and the residents responded with a rendition of ‘We’re no awa tae bide awa’!
- The project broke down barriers and built tolerance, sympathy, trust and friendship. The women moved from a position of general wariness to a very real appreciation of the children; and took this message back to the other sheltered home residents.
- The children were surprised to learn how much they had in common and how similar things excited them – going to school, friendship, dancing and clothes, for example. They also learned to be more aware that they needed to be quiet around their visitors – not to make them jump!
- Even with such a short project, initial planning meetings with the school and sheltered housing staff were key to success. Residents also relished being greeted by the children on their way to the local shops.
- The children responded with great interest to the stories of life during the Second World War. Many of the children came from countries currently experiencing conflict, and many Scottish children had heard stories of wartime from their older family members.
- Having two storytellers was particularly beneficial, as they shared the preparatory stage and, when the groups came together, one could carry on with the group work, while the other provided individual support.
The time frame of six weeks was rather short to create something lasting. With a whole term, it would have been possible to build in more exploration with music and dancing – both popular themes. Then it would have been possible to more powerfully reinforce the growing trust between the children and older residents. However a start has been made and the potential for changing hearts and minds through shared storytelling has been demonstrated.