Intriguing new project aims to preserve rich oral history for future generations

INTER-generational dialogue is an important component of community growth and identity.

The stories we listen to at our grandparent’s knee stay with us long after they have gone and evoke a well of warm nostalgia.

The discipline of oral history emerged from the desire to record and collate voices from the past, gaining personal narratives and perspectives on the social history of our communities.

Oral and social histories have flourished into family tree research with genealogical agencies and inform heritage publishers such as Blackstaff Press and the History Press in specialist publications, but oral history remains the most effective way of preserving our vested interests in local history.

Few would argue that inter-generational dialogue has all but disappeared during social isolation, and as young people become more digitally literate the over 75s population face greater skills barriers inhibiting their ability to acquire and utilise digital communication devices.

Our project, Lower Bann Voices, aims to re-establish the generational bonds, disseminating resources and workshops which will encourage young people in the ages between 11 and 18 to become digital coaches for their elderly relatives or neighbours, teaching them how to use Microsoft Teams and Zoom to keep in touch with family and friends.

In addition to this social enterprise, we hope to use this opportunity to record oral histories in the community, offering young historians the chance to attend ten weekly workshops where they will gain practical experience of researching their community, writing interview questions and utilising an audio recording to create a podcast and oral history archive.

The project is named Lower Bann Voices, simply because we do not want to limit our oral testimony to any one place, time or community.

We would like to welcome participants from Newferry to Toome, from Randalstown to Antrim.

Interviews can range from memories of the wartime aerodrome at Creagh to recollections of old Toome Fair, from the fishing and farming communities to former shirt factory workers in Randalstown.

Our project aims to educate our young people about their surroundings, weaving local history into the context of Irish history through personal narratives.

We hope to begin publishing a short monthly magazine on community history at the conclusion, and a detailed project pamphlet describing extracts from the interviews and the work of the interviewees.

At the Lower Bann Voices project we strongly believe that young people are not given enough opportunities to collaborate and design their own heritage project, and have very few professional outlets to send their writing and recording.

We hope through our project we can encourage not only oral history testimonies, but also give a platform for the next generation of journalists and writers to hone their craft.

The project will last ten weeks and begin on Monday the 12th of April, and a full workshop schedule for the ten week period will be released closer to the time.

We are looking for participants from two generations - including elderly people in the community who would like to attend two weeks of digital skills training and take the opportunity to have their memories of the community recorded for posterity.

For our oral history workshops, on Monday nights at 7pm to 8pm starting on Monday the 12th, we want to recruit young people who would like to acquire interview and podcasting skills, who are interested in listening to short talks on the history of their community, and volunteer their time to interact and share experiences with elderly relatives or neighbours.

The project is being convened and organised by myself, Michael McConway. I am a heritage volunteer with TIDAL Toome.

With the current restrictions the session will be hosted by the TIDAL Community Network via Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

The opportunity to meet up in the summer months will be explored closer to the time when the current guidelines on socialising are reviewed by the Executive.

If budding young historians would like to get involved, they should provide their name, number, email address, and a short sentence on why you would like to get involved in the project, and send it to tidal_toome@hotmail.com or michaelmc17@icloud.com

For older participants who may not have an email address, they can contact the project via Una Johnson at TIDAL Toome, Tel. 07743575969, or Michael McConway, Tel. 07710822004, or alternatively drop a handwritten note into the TIDAL office in Toome. Digital devices can be loaned to participants if necessary.

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