Earlier this month I had the pleasure of working with Generation Arts, a retired arts group from West Lothian. I last worked with them on National Poetry Day as part of the Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. This time I was running a Creative Writing and Reminiscence workshop for the annual Generation Arts Celebration Day.
My brief was to facilitate writing memories of old West Lothian and to share these with the Generation Arts participants at the end of their Celebration. There were 80 people coming to the event with an average age of 80 years. They did not all know each other so I needed to facilitate a space safe to encourage people to share with each other.
To help spark memories I had old photos of West Lothian and a box of objects from the West Lothian Museum. The objects included a miner’s helmet, a wage slip, a pinafore and an old brush. I also brought along some smells that I hoped would help recreate childhood experiences. A sweet shop, wood varnish, Brasso, coal tar soap…
The workshop was to be 45 minutes and it was brilliant to talk through my ideas for the session with my Poetry Mentor, Elspeth Murray a couple of weeks beforehand.
The plan was to do an ice breaker, to share an encouraging poem, to pass round some objects and to set a simple writing task. I had paper and pens and luggage tags.
I totally changed my plans once the workshop started, here’s what happened. There were eight participants and we sat in a circle. I introduced myself and asked people to share their name and one of their earliest memories as an ice breaker. The conversations that followed were wonderful. Memories shared would spark off one another and I realised my role was no longer to try to jog memories. Instead it was to say things like “Hold on Robert, Anne’s talking just now. Carry on Anne!”.
I dropped plans to tell them more about me and to share a poem. I was going to do that to help encourage people to share but they were already doing that. I didn’t want to break the wonderful atmosphere of sharing that were experiencing. Instead I thanked them and explained I had a whole bunch of objects and photos I brought along to help jog memories, but since we were already sharing so brilliantly that we didn’t need props to help us to remember.
We needed to capture some of their wonderful stories to share at the end of the celebration event. Several members of the group said they were enjoying the conversations so much they didn’t really want to write. I asked if they minded me writing down some of their memories instead. This worked well and I made sure I wrote down at least one memory from every person in the group. Some members of the group did write. We passed round the photos and objects and continued the conversations together.
After the session finished Robert came over to thank me. He showed me the picture of his Dad that he kept in his breast pocket. He also carried a threepennie piece. He told me more about what these objects meant to him. He said “memories are for remembering.” Robert’s words ended the poem created from the wonderful memories shared during the workshop.
Generations Arts Co-coordinator, Joanne Brown read the poem to the assembled masses just before the tea dance started. She did a brilliant job and we laughed and smiled as I hope you will:
Read more about the event and see photos on the Generation Arts website.
Image Credit: Generation Arts, West Lothian