In the Autumn I started a yearlong course supporting six disabled people to tell their stories. We spend every Monday together. I planned to have structured reminiscence sessions in the morning and time for the group to work on their own projects in the afternoons. However, once I met the group I realized that wasn’t going to work.
They are so polite and quiet and private.
Each week we start the day taking it in turns to say how we are and then share any work that’s been done. I set homework every week because a lot of what the group need to research has to be done at home. A typical task is ‘who is important to you in your life? Can you find photos of them, describe why they are important, and ask friends or family to help?” I write this at the top of a blank sheet of A4 paper and include a Makaton symbol or a photo appropriate to the task.
It’s amazing what comes back each week. Some are working on their own and don’t have any support from home. One woman doesn’t have a single photo or momento of her past. This is really hard for her and is a challenge for me as I’ve become reliant on photos to make books and films. Gradually as we’ve got to know each other and she’s feeling safer she is telling me lots of detail about her past and we’ve been able to use the internet to find the places where she’s lived and gone to school. She’s printed off maps and photos and is getting some satisfaction from her project and a sense of rootedness. Another woman in the group was adopted when she was a baby and still has regular contact with her birth mother. Her adoptive parents wanted to support her to express her place in both her families. One man in the group cries most weeks because he misses his mother who died a few years ago and he’s beginning to feel OK about it. The group is incredibly kind and supportive to each other. When we started we made a ‘Group Contract’ and agreed to look after each other.
This Monday is our last day together before Christmas and they’ve decided to have a party. Lots of mince pies and strictly no homework. Are life story projects supposed to make people more assertive? I know my place.
I went to a talk by documentarist Daniel Meadows- a charming man who is a photographer, oral historian and teacher and whose recent work explores digital storytelling. We can (and already do) use these ideas and Daniel is very generous with his experience and skill, describing the process of creating digital stories in tutorials. I seriously recommend you check out his website.
And finally, some very sad news about Stuart and Andrew (who I’ve mentioned in previous posts). Both had Alzheimers and they died within a couple of months of each other in the autumn. They are missed.