Connections between Generations
Through collecting and sharing people’s stories, Wick Voices are keeping memories alive and giving future generations an understanding of the social history and heritage of the local community.
Whilst attending an Intergenerational Network Meeting in Wick (October 2022) we met with Doreen Leith from Wick Voices. Doreen provided this article penned by Alan Hendry.
It began in 2016 as a long-term initiative by a small team of volunteers to gather and preserve oral reminiscences through face-to-face interviews that are then made freely available online. Interviewees come from all walks of life, from Wick itself and from many other parts of Caithness. The distinctive local dialect can be heard in many of the recordings. Some stories are light-hearted, others are more reflective; some recall momentous events, others focus more on day-to-day life; some go back many decades, others are rooted in the present day. All are different, and all play their part in the ever-growing collection of voices. Subjects covered range from the war years to memories of growing up on the now-uninhabited island of Stroma, with themes including:
- school days
- childhood games
- shops and businesses
- the fishing industry
- sporting endeavours
- voluntary activities
- the magic of Christmas
Intergenerational engagement has been an important aspect of Wick Voices from the start, and the youngest interviewees are primary school children describing their experiences of learning during lockdown. At the other end of the age spectrum, people well into their nineties – often with vivid memories of life in World War Two – have been happy to contribute.
Some recordings can take the form of cross-generational conversations. In August 2021, for example, a joint interview was conducted with Sheila Anderson (born 1934) and her daughter Pat Ramsay (born 1960) in which both women gave accounts of life in the Staxigoe area from their different perspectives. Sheila has since passed away.
Although essentially an online project, a recent innovation has allowed recordings to be heard without having to be connected to the internet. An old-fashioned rotary telephone, of the kind that was a familiar object in most homes a few decades ago, has been fitted with some very modern technology that allows hundreds of recordings to be stored and then played back on demand – simply by dialling a three-digit number and listening to the receiver. Many years after it was last used to make calls, the repurposed phone is now being loaned to local daycare centres and care homes, giving older people a chance to connect with the Wick Voices collection. Reaction has been very positive.
The device was created by Chris Aitken, a computing science teacher and a supporter of Wick Voices. During break times at Wick High School, and with input from some of his pupils, Chris deployed a Raspberry Pi – a credit-card-sized computer – to load the interviews. He added a volume control for anyone who is hard of hearing, and also compiled a directory of numbers.
As volunteers, Doreen Leith and Alan Hendry have developed the Wick Voices project. As well as carrying out interviews, Doreen regularly gives presentations to local clubs and reminiscence groups.
Doreen gave presentations about Wick Voices at the Oral History Society’s annual conference in Swansea in 2019 and at the 30th annual conference of the Scottish Association of Family History Societies in Wick the same year, when she explored how “oral history meets family history”. Wick Voices has also been featured on BBC Radio Scotland.
Wick Voices is the oral history project of the Wick Society, the voluntary organisation that runs the town’s acclaimed heritage museum. After careful editing, all recordings are made available on a dedicated section of the Society’s website – www.wickheritage.org – where they can be listened to at any time or downloaded. There are now 349 in the collection, with more being added regularly. At the last count, the number of individual listens stood at 354,317.
The project can be tweaked to become intergenerational as a reciprocal listening and learning one when for example; younger and older people listen to stories together and hold discussion around them. It is a brilliant example of how to bring generations together around story telling from their local area