Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The People's Story

Yesterday, I attended a premiere screening at the BFI of a documentary of a project by Age Exchange, a charity which works in the field of reminiscence, running intergenerational projects to bring people and communities together.

I first came across Age Exchange and their work when I was in the second year of my undergraduate degree and David Savill, their current artistic director, came and ran a workshop with my Applied Theatre class. Many of the class hadn't really considered this area of work - 'nah, I'm not really interested in working with old people' - as Helen Nicholson once put it, it's not 'sexy' Applied Theatre: no prisoners or victims of torture, no exciting venue, just an old people's home down the road where you'll have to drink lots of tea and hear about old people's grandchildren. Such was the attitude of many of the class. But after hearing about Age Exchange's work it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that many students left the class fascinated and inspired.

Then in my second term at Central I chose to do a case study on the company for my module on Theatre and Social Exclusion, after attending a seminar on intergenerational practice, as part of 'Age to Age', the Lewisham Intergenerational Festival, and became further acquainted with the powerful impact of their work.

Yesterday, the documentary screened was of a project called The People's Story, a major intergenerational project working with the diverse communities of Enfield and Edmonton. This project spanned 18 months and was run in partnership with London and Quadrant Housing Trust, who manage lots of the social housing in the area and were keen to work on a project which promoted community cohesion. It was a fascinating documentary, by film maker Ivan Riches, and the event was made even more poignant by many participants from the project sitting in the audience, sharing in the enjoyment and excitement of the occasion, and the following Q&A with the directors, funders and participants.

The project had produced a great many products: a theatre piece, film, recorded interviews and visual art; however it felt important to hear at the end David Savill emphasising that the process (which had no doubt been a challenging, yet rewarding one) was far, far more important than the many products. Malcolm Jones, their arts and education co-ordinator, reiterated that their work was never a "smash and grab raid on older people's stories to make a product", but rather a process of mutual respect, trust and generosity.

I know I personally left feeling moved, inspired and full of ideas (hmmm...does anyone know of a secret pot of money I can tap into? Or do I need to consider the soul destroying process of funding app.s?). AND there was a free lunch with amazing brownies! What more could you ask for?

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