As part of our Celebrating Age ‘Interwoven Histories’ project, Pavilion and Touchstone’s BME Dementia Service partnered with Leeds Irish Health and Homes’ CHIME Art Group to deliver a three part workshop focusing on the groups ‘first impressions’ of Leeds when many of them migrated to England from Ireland.
Prior to the workshops, Teresa who runs the CHIME group had encouraged everyone to write about, draw and collect photos and objects which helped them to think about their heritage, culture and experiences of moving to England. When we arrived for the first workshop, we were thrilled to see two whole tables filled with memorabilia, stories, poetry and personal photographs from the group’s collective experiences.

“I’ve been interested in finding out about a ‘part’ of life that I would never have been able to access”

We wanted the workshops to stimulate discussion and provide opportunities to be creative and share stories in unusual ways, so we arranged for  Leeds Animation Workshop to work with the group to create their own personal animated stories which would become part of a group film. Alongside this, poet Ian Duhig worked closely with people to write their own poems, contribute towards a group poem and share their personal experiences through creative writing.
The group discussed themes such as food, music, cultural events and social activities, the differences they found between themselves and local Leeds communities and how different England was compared to their expectations. One lady told her story of how she thought England would be grey, run down and miserable. Upon her arrival here she found it was complete opposite of this; it was a land “paved with gold”, she saw lots of beautiful trees, flowers, animals and she particularly remembers seeing Geese!
One lady recalls the day she came over from Ireland to Leeds:

“I remember it was 1968 and I was getting the boat over from Ireland. It was one of those huge old Irish Ferries. My sister bought me a bright orange suit to wear! I remember it being a warm day…the sky was blue that day and the water was calm.”

People shared stories about their social activities and events which the whole community got involved in:

“Every street used to have a bonfire. There was a ‘bonfire boss’ and nobody else was allowed to touch the bonfire.”
“People would bring out their old furniture to sit on and watch the fire, and then before they went home again they would throw their seats onto the fire!”
“We used to have a ‘winter hedge’ (clothes horse), we called it the ‘winter ‘edge’ though. It was called that because we couldn’t hang our clothes out on the hedge in winter. We used to make dens using that and our bed sheets!”
“I remember we used to hang tea towels out on the hedge and the goats next door would eat them!”

We reflected on the hard times too, we talked about the war and difficult times trying to settle into work here. Many people remember Leeds to be very polluted and full of smog. Lots of children got poorly with bronchitis and related illnesses.  Fond memories of meal times with the whole family were shared too:

“You’d always remember your parents putting down a huge pan of potatoes on the table… They’d say “Here are your spuds, here’s the butter… tuck in!””

These workshops have been an excellent way for the group to work together, share stories and learn from each other. It has also been an opportunity for everyone to be creative in new and different ways:

“I am in my 70s, I have never made an animation before in my life…I never thought I could do some of these things”
“I have really enjoyed recounting stories about Leeds in the early 1960s that brought back good memories”
“I enjoyed the chance to talk about memories I’d nearly lost and write about them”

In the upcoming weeks, Ian and Leeds Animation Workshop will be collaborating to piece together all the brilliant material from the workshops into a short film showcasing all these personal stories and everyone’s animation and poetry. Pavilion worked to record people’s oral histories as part of these workshops too, which will be shared within the group film. Keep an eye out on our website for chance to see the film in the near future!