the path to Fox Hollies

Half term progress report

Next week is half term, so work on training up our oral history interviewers will take a break. It seems like a good time to look at what we’ve achieved so far and what we’ve learnt.

In total, we have spent 23.5 hours with groups at the four schools so far. Our oldest students are eighteen and the youngest are ten. We have now established groups of five or six students at each of the four schools to run the project. This was a key principle of the project, so that they will take ownership of the stories we collect and help us to engage more people in their communities.

At Victoria School, we’ve now recorded our first two interviews. I couldn’t be happier with how well everything has gone there. We have a fantastic group, who are really enthusiastic, bring lots of ideas and passion to the project and all the staff there have been super supportive. Yesterday, we heard that Amaan in our group has been made Head Boy at the school, so congratulations to him and thanks to Harry and Josh for agreeing to be the first to share their stories. We will post some excerpts once they’ve been edited and approved.

Josh being interviewed
Josh being interviewed

Our group at Mayfield has also been engaging brilliantly with the oral history training. We have had a few barriers to overcome in terms of being able to find the right spaces to work in, but our TA, Loretta, has resolved this and been fantastic at helping me to keep the group focused. It has been fascinating working with these young people and seeing how they cope with the different tasks we set them.

The Fox Hollies group is a little bit younger than the first two. Their initial shyness is starting to go now, and I saw some real signs of progress this week in the way they were able to ask questions. The group gave me a tour round the school, which was a fascinating way to get an insight into what their days are like and I really enjoyed it. Ruth, who’s taught there for about 30 years helps to give us some great stories about how things have changed and will be providing me with a lot more images from the archives shortly, so we can see what the old site was like.

on a tour
The canteen, which is shared with Queensbridge

We had our first session at Dame Ellen Pinsent school on Tuesday. I haven’t yet been able to work with the group leading the project, but I spoke to the whole of the Sharks and Meercats classes there on Tuesday. Both classes have been working on the history of the school and the life of Dame Ellen herself as a topic. It was great to see what they’d produced, and I hope to be able to share their video soon. I am looking forward to starting work with our youngest group after half term.

The skill in being an oral history interviewer is to avoid the two extremes; robotically asking the questions you have written down without listening to the responses and putting your own views and opinions into the interview, rather than extracting stories from the interviewee. It’s easy to fall into one of those if you lack confidence, or are used to being asked to express yourself, rather than helping others to give their thoughts. We are taking as much time as we can to build the confidence and skills of these young people to be able to carry out the role of interviewer with some assistance.

The difficulties in this project are not in finding people to interview, but more in making sure that the interviews go as well as they can. We are determined to show that kids with Learning Disabilities can help to collect the stories that tell Birmingham’s history.

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