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'We Can Mind the Time'
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'We Can Mind the Time'
`It's good we're getting these things written down afore it's too late'
Craster folk have been saying for some time that the village is at risk of losing its community memories. As a Church Newsletter reminded us after the death of Howick Scar farmer Willy Curry in 1995, `when an old friend dies, a library is lost' (1.) Unless we do preserve our local social heritage we will forfeit a thread of continuity which connects generations and links past, present and future. Shared memories are especially precious in rural villages as population patterns change and more and more homes are bought as holiday houses.
Fortunately, the experiences and stories of older villagers were valued enough for the Craster Community Development Trust, with Michael Gibbs as a driving force, to make a bid for funding to The Countryside Agency, which had launched a national scheme to support heritage projects run by community groups. A small, local history group was awarded £12,175 from the Local Heritage Initiative Fund to finance the Craster Village History Project, which has run from January 2003 until March 2005.
Over the past two and a half years, the project has run a series of participative, community events and collected an archive of personal stories and memories of life and work in the village. Six events have been held: a launch meeting at which children performed plays based on stories told by elderly villagers; two further drama performances drawing on the archive and involving story-telling and music; an exhibition of old film, photographs and scrapbooks; a 1940s dance with a pooled supper and a final celebratory presentation and performance.
Stories have been gathered from group discussions and narrative interviews with 'memory-bearers' (2), who carry with them the history of the village (see list below.) We asked people to tell us about their lives in their own ways, with only a few questions to help the story along. We tried to be attentive listeners, but not to get in the way
Throughout the project the 'memory-bearers' have been co-researchers as well as contributors. The first step was to hold a meeting of interested villagers in the Memorial Hall. Those present told us what aspects of Craster's social heritage should be recorded and who should be interviewed. Following this, we carried out interviews, all of which were taped and transcribed. Once we had established a provisional structure of the book, we selected quotes, vignettes and stories, prepared draft thematic chapters and gave these to villagers who were quoted within them. They were invited to comment on the overall impact of the chapters, to identify errors or weaknesses and to suggest further topics and/or sources. They were also asked for permission to use their contributions. Following this we conducted a further set of interviews and added new material. The whole, re-drafted text was read by a small group of volunteers and further modifications were made.
The book is divided into three parts; Memories of Working in the Village; Memories of Living in the Village; and Context. We want to emphasise the importance of villagers' voices, and we invite readers to enter the book, as they would the village, from any direction and to eavesdrop on these stories, in any order. The book does not have a linear, narrative or chronological structure and it has no commentary
For readers who do not know the village, we have outlined its historical background in Part Three and included a set of maps. Documentary material and a selection of old photographs, loaned by villagers, are also included throughout the book. We do hope, however, that this collection of evocative memories contains sufficient background information to contribute cumulatively towards an understanding of the changing times through which Craster people have lived.
We chose the title -'we can mind the time' - because of its double meaning of `calling to mind' or remembering and of `minding' or looking after. It catches the essence of the project through a much used conversational idiom, as in -'we can mind the time when we all walked up the hill to school.' It also reflects, in its other meaning, our attempt `to mind,' to preserve a community's stories of what it has been like to have lived and worked in the village for many years.
Accounts of dramatic and noteworthy incidents are mixed with insights into the daily round of village life, and humour is never far away. Early in the project we kept saying that we were `making a living history' and that is how it has felt for us, both in special events and in helping to gather these memories. At times the project has opened a community story-chest of familiar, ready-to-tell stories from a thriving oral tradition connecting Craster families. At other times, especially in group discussions, I have listened to old friends help each other to dig down into the past and awaken dormant memories. Together, they have reached back to shape new ways of seeing incidents, sometimes at the point of utterance.
Colin Biott (Editor)
The project web-site www.wecanmindthetime.org.uk provides a comprehensive and fascinating record of the project.