What attracted you to the job of Oral History Project Lead at St Christopher’s?
It was the fantastic opportunity to tell the story of St Christopher’s in a brand new way, using oral history. I was attracted by the chance to tell the story of both the main people involved in the hospice’s founding and progression, as well as the unknown stories from the community. That’s what oral history does and what’s brilliant and so vibrant about it.
The other element of oral history that excites me is that you really get a sense of a person through their voice.
What’s your dream for the project?
My dream for the project is to make it as accessible and engaging as possible. I want to tell St Christopher’s story in a way that resonates with everyone, people from all backgrounds and engagement levels, using a range of materials, both traditional and interactive. And that has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
What’s the scope of the project?
We have one interview in the can already that our Spiritual Care Lead, Andrew Goodhead, conducted with Dr Mary Baines. I anticipate we’ll probably record somewhere between 50-100 in total, and these could be people closely connected with the opening of the hospice or perhaps volunteers working in the shops.
It’s my job to identify the stories, which ones we have and which ones we need to pursue. I want to build and to tell the complete story.
So, if anyone does feel like they do have a story to tell or a significant connection, now’s the time to speak and we would love them to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What stories will you tell?
While there is a brief for the project and goals have been set, we can also be flexible and not feel confined to tell a single story. So if testimony comes in and it’s a story or theme that we knew nothing about then we can adapt and be responsive. We also won’t shy away from challenging issues as we want to tell the whole story – from periods of immense sadness in people’s lives through to intense joy in response to receiving great care and being able to cherish last moments with loved ones. We’ll be looking to capture stories from the medical perspective too, relating to advances in palliative and end of life care and St Christopher’s role in advancing care and humanity.
How will people be able to access the histories?
Crucially, once we’ve recorded the interviews, we’ll catalogue them in detail, according to themes and with timecodes, so that people will be able to search for specific areas of interest and just listen to that relevant excerpt of someone’s story.
We can use the interviews in so many different ways, across a number of platforms. Eventually we’ll curate an exhibition in the incredible new St Christopher’s CARE building. It’s a wonderful space and is one of the things that really drew me to this project. It will be amazing to really tell the full story of St Christopher’s and place it right in the heart of the hospice itself.
The technology available in the new building will also allow us to overcome some of the social distancing restrictions we face in a post-COVID world. Whereas we might have offered visitors headsets, that now won’t be possible. Instead we’ll use –directional speakers so we can tell individuals’ stories in specific places to create a natural flow and provide ports for people to use their own headphones.
That’s just one of the ways we’ll use these stories. We’ll also make full use of social media. So for example on Twitter we might just share just one question and answer from a story. We could use a slightly longer clip on Facebook and then on YouTube up to a whole hour. We will also create a dedicated space for the interviews in their entirety. That means people can engage on any level, depending on their specific interest, the time they’ve got and the level of detail they choose to go into.
And as soon as we start gathering people’s stories, we will look to use them across these different platforms. That way we can whet people’s appetite and hopefully encourage more people to come forward to tell their story and build interest leading up to the exhibition.
Can you give an example of a really good oral history project you’ve worked on previously?
I was lucky enough to curate an oral history exhibition at the RAF Museum at Hendon based around the life of Sir Alan Cobham who was responsible for bringing civil aviation to the people in the 1920s and 30s and inspiring many of the men who signed up to be pilots in World War II. We built the exhibition around interviews with many people who knew Cobham, his own archive as well as films, photographs and objects. Bringing all those things together we managed to return an extraordinary man to public consciousness and ensure his name will never be lost. That is the power of a good oral history.
What will be the legacy of the St Christopher’s Oral Histories project?
It’s a very important part of the project to ensure we preserve these recordings in a secure way, so they are available for generations to come. I also hope we’ll be able to create digital packages for schools so we can engage generations to come in the story of St Christopher’s and the modern hospice movement.
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