Tag Archives: ageing

On remembering and sharing – reminiscing with the older peoples group at Windmill Hill City Farm


The Sharing Memories, Sharing Futures project

Windmill Hill City Farm is an independent community project situated half a mile south of Bristol city centre, which aims to meet the needs of local people through a wide range of social, environmental, educational, recreational and economic activities.

I’ve been working alongside community development and volunteer coordinator  Jules Allen and artist in residence Joe Nute to develop work with various local groups and local people and finding out about their personal stories for the shared memories, shared futures project. The first project topic is that of food.  It is intended to create an exhibition with illustrations, photos, stories and poetry. We spent some sessions with the Windmill Hill City Farm older people’s group  asking them about their memories of times past. As we began to discuss food, in the process, many other stories emerged, from work to play to the challenges faced day to day.

The benefits of reminiscing

Reminiscing is about reliving and sharing aspects of the past with others. Often our memories can be triggered by a song, smell, object or some other anchor which reminds of some aspect of our past experience.  Through reminiscence we can connect and relate to what’s gone before. It is not about cataloguing the past chronologically (such as you would on a CV) but about connecting with past experiences in an engaging and vivid way. This can help to foster self esteem, express individual identity, deliver a sense of achievement and self worth and provide perspective in relation to a life review.  In a group setting reminiscence can increase awareness of the uniqueness of individuals, highlight shared problems or concerns and increase a sense of belonging and acceptance.  Additionally sharing stories can help to increase understanding and widen perceptions of others experience and often encourage audiences to examine their own views with a realisation that we are all different and similarly, all see each other in different ways . Reminiscence is often used to help with dementia however in this case it was intended that we shared space, connected, had a nice time together and used the inspiration and stories to contribute to the arts project.

Lots of things were discussed but here is a mini – collection of accounts we heard from our group members.

Specific food memories:

  • ‘I loved corned beef stew – we never had any proper meat so we used to have corned beef stew – I liked it’
  • ‘No fruit, no bananas’
  • ‘I remember being in the shelter, eating a saucepan of stew with a wooden spoon and sitting on a plank of wood’
  • ‘My husband came from a family of nine – he used to eat a lot of offal’ (‘I guess you have to be quick with a family of nine’).
  • ‘In our day we only had two veg shops and you had to queue up. You took home whatever was there’
  • ‘I remember having to get up at 4am to go to the meat market so we could get some fat so we could cook chips’
  • ‘On VE day, the Americans would pass you in the street and pick you up and put you on the lorry… they were always chewing … they would always say ‘got any gum, chum?
  • ‘We used to do a lot more ourselves, keep chickens and have allotments for veg’
  • ‘I don’t remember ever learning to cook – I think it just came naturally’
  • “Bread and dripping it was very bad for us but oh so good……better than sex really!”
  • “Bath Chaps, they are pigs cheeks, oh so tasty, I would love to eat them again.”
  • “My nan used to take her chicken for a walk in the pram….I can see her now, the chicken with a bonnet on it”
  • “You would have a piece of wedding cake and a cup of tea, we couldn’t afford a buffet. We would sit round the piano and sing ‘Nelly D’ The men would have a beer, no beer for us”
  • “The cake was made up of one layer of cake at the top and the rest of the layers were made of cardboard with icing on it”
  • “My mother in law taught me how to cook, I grew up in an orphanage you see, no mam and dad, and I had no one to teach me. Chickens was a luxury, my mother in law would hang the chickens on the washing line so all the blood ran out. They showed me how to be a family, I had all the love from my husband’s family.”

Memories of work and leisure:

  • ‘I used to work with ammunition up at Avonmouth, testing the tins, the ammunition came in a tin like a petrol can, you used to have a big tank and you put the tin in and if it bubbled you knew there was a hole in it so you couldn’t use it. We did shift work and our days off we used to go to the Barclay tea dances on a Wednesday or to the cinema’
  • ‘I left school at 14 and I had several jobs, I worked with my brother in law dipping pokers. You needed to dip the ends in black paint so they could be safe to stoke the fire, and I worked in three pet shops’
  • ‘We didn’t have Halloween in my day, I remember May Day being a big celebration, the whole town would come out and dance around the Maypole, everyone and the Brownies and the Guides –  you would have a dress that matched the colour of the ribbon you had and you would all have to work together to plait it and keep the ribbons straight.  Someone would always get it wrong though or get a knot, we didn’t have much to do during the war ’

From past to present:

  • ‘We go to a lunch club for older people that’s really good, I don’t cook that much now, I’m not bothered, I might do a jacket potato. I’ve got family that see me, yes but only for a couple of hours a week. It’s not the same as coming to the farm or going to lunch club, it’s important to be part of a group – it’s good to have people to talk to’
  • ‘I like a roast dinner now or a piece of fish – the lunch clubs I go to are really good I don’t cook so much for myself these days’
  • ‘I’m on crutches so I can’t get out and about without the bus and groups like these. If they were not here well I wouldn’t go out’
  • ‘I like coming to the farm, going to the hairdressers and the lunch club it’s good to get out and about – before the community bus service and the community groups I didn’t really go anywhere – I didn’t go out at all’
  • ‘My scooter has been a god send since giving up driving – it’s good to get out and about and up to the church hall – people couldn’t believe it when they saw me zipping around on it’

The sessions were very enjoyable and we had a lot of fun. It really brought home to me the privileges we have today despite the current economic climate, and we picked up on lots of ‘make and mend tips’ and other bits of info including a recommendation for a brawn recipe for pigs trotters  . Also how our lifestyles have changed was emphasised, with many people in the group reliant on growing their own vegetables/raising livestock, shopping  locally and cooking slowly in comparison to today’s hectic consumer lifestyle.

Whilst we collected lots of stories and memories I was left with an overwhelming sense of the value of the wisdom that an elder’s perspective can often bring, as well as the importance of this specific community group and the benefits of community activity in general. I was grateful and privileged to be a part of the sharing.

Do you have a recipe passed down through generations, a favourite childhood food or thrifty idea to share with us? – Please get in touch – we would love to hear from you!

Windmill Hill City farm also runs a variety of volunteer projects from farming to radio – read about them here and contact Jules Allen for further information and to take part in our project.


Breadline Britain – The lunch club.


How are you?

To ease myself back into the blog before I update you all on what’s afoot..check out this brilliant video series from the guardian. They are all really good but this one in particular resonates with me as it relates to my previous research. Keep an eye out for more over the coming week.

R’s story…..

‘R was 92 and had previously held a driving licence. He walked slowly with the aid of a stick. He refused to use the ramp that was available and utilised by the other passengers when boarding and alighting the bus and he would not take the arm of Martyn (the driver) or others if it were offered. Despite having mobility problems he preferred the back seat of the bus and both drivers and passengers would wait until he had made his way up the steps to the back and was seated in his favourite spot. He was dressed smartly in a tweed jacket and flat cap. He rarely acknowledged other passengers although they sometimes made reference to him in their conversations so it was clear he was still a part of ‘the group’. Aside from when he spoke to me he did not interact with other passengers nor seemed to be engaged with the world outside the window. Instead he was continually lost in his own thoughts. One of the first things R explained to me was how his wife had died (it was not clear if this had occurred recently or not) his eyes filled with tears as he told me that he was alone and that she was no longer with him. He went on to say that the bus service and the lunch club he attended was his only contact with the outside world and that he would be lost without it. In the absence of the bus service he told me he would have ‘nothing’.

Webber, 2010.

Writing on the body at the Arnolfini

In January I bravely signed up for ’Writing on the Body’ . Led by Dr Barbara Bridger from Dartington College of Arts, a two day workshop at the Arnolfini. I’m from a social science/studies background, and I was curious to understand what the arts could offer in terms of cultural theory and interpretation of this notion of ‘the body’. I’d previously studied as part of my first degree the sociology of the body and I was interested in thinking about ageing bodies is in relation to my research. I was hopeful that the course would perhaps stimulate my thinking in a different way. So. Being brave. I wandered quite naively into the room ever the optimist.

There was some background theory – some basic Derrida which was great and a reminder of how despite how disciplinary boundaries may be defined – fundamentally the thoughts and thinking of key theorists along with political, social and cultural changes often permeate the teachings of both the social sciences and the humanities. Although there may be some way to go before philosophy dribbles into the teachings of pure science though? Or maybe not?

It was a good workshop. Scary but good. I was introduced to a range of textual practises and ways of writing for the body. To be fair I hadn’t anticipated the amount of practical work we were expected to do. This element was totally new to me.  Not being an artist or at least not being anything like one for a number of years I was totally unprepared for the level of self exposure (maybe not the right word – maybe self expression) that the practical element expected. Suggested practical tasks were things such as: photographing your body and using post it notes to tell a story of you (such as scarred bodies), writing the story of a body part on a piece of paper and burning it, or making an artwork using your own bodily fluids (the tutor re-laid a story of one of her former students cutting herself during a performance. We were not specifically encouraged to do this but I got the distinct impression that the tutor sort of maybe felt that the student concerned was within her rights to do so.  Interestingly I had also heard a rumour through drama students at my current university that a similar thing had occurred during a performance for an avant-garde module, and the result being the performance was stopped.   This raised an interesting ethical dilemma for me, I have not seen enough theatre to comment on any specific performance but in terms of pedagogy – where do you draw the line?

The body is a form of expression not just in performance but in everyday life – through the embodiment of physical actions with signifying meanings, through conscious self expression or display (tattoos, hair dye, piercings, cosmetic surgery etc) and the ongoing societal struggle and scientific quest to halt or delay the ageing process. Bodies are places of struggle, they are canvases and are often key signifiers to others of our place in society – disabled bodies for instance. What is *normal* v’s what is *different*  what is our attitude to live bodies vs dead bodies? Where does the person end and the body begin? What is viewed as more preferable old body or a young body? Why?

We also go the opportunity to look around the exhibition on the same theme which had some breathtaking exhibits, which certainly made you think about the body in a different way. It was a great experience for me to go round in a group and discuss responses to the pieces as I I’ve often no idea really (or felt a little bit of a luddite) sometimes around visual modern art. I’m getting there (I seem to be better with sculpture than paintings in this respect).

What I did notice sadly though was the absence of ageing related exhibits, examples and theory in both the literature, the workshop and the exhibition/examples we were shown.   So whilst this issue of the body appears to be alive and well in sociology and the arts, the issue of ageing has yet to be explored or represented thoroughly perhaps in both disciplines.. and ageing and transport? Nonexistent.

I’ll give it a go.

I didn’t get around to producing any practical pieces, and I was unable to attend the second day as I had a rehearsal. I was also really rather glad of this, to be honest I was terrified.  But perhaps I will revisit that list at some point. I have had a few ideas since then (mainly relating to the commodification of the body) that I could explore.

Another thing that struck me was how overwhelmingly introverted or (can I say it) navel gazing I felt it was… I guess my attitude has always been that any inner turmoil is (was) what it is, but there is always a worthier story to tell than mine. A bigger cause than any anecdote about my own suffering. Perhaps I just wasn’t angry enough?  Take Tracy Emin. She has suffered. She has produced some great art. But blimey O’Riley sometimes I just think ‘get over it’. Perhaps the subject is not her. I sort of think it is though? It seems epistemological (subject/object?) debates are central perhaps to artistic production and interpretation just as they are in qualitative research.

Similarly my in research, there are some authors who,  using ethnography, have endeavoured to reveal the nature of transport spaces through observations, but ultimately what I hear in the final write up is the voice of the researcher, not the observed. Is it not more powerful to give voices to others to enable them to tell their own stories? I don’t know enough about art or performance yet to answer these questions (both why and how) but at least for research to a greater degree as possible, the story is about them, facilitated by me. I will never be able to truly understand the meanings associated with older people’s experiences and how these experiences affect and impact on them both physically and psychologically, but I can attempt to find a way to reveal the stories of the people I meet if it is simply not possible to empower them to tell their own.