Untold Stories: sharing stories across the generations

This blogpost also appears on the People’s Heritage Co-operative website.

As part of The People’s Heritage Co-operative’s HLF funded project, ‘Untold Stories: Birmingham’s Wounded Soldiers from WW1’, Year 8 pupils at Swanshurst School took part in a series of workshops with Rachel Gillies – Community Film Maker to learn how to conduct filmed oral history interviews.

The result of their hard work is 11 remarkable interviews with a range of people discussing their own experiences and the experiences of relatives in some of the major conflicts of the 20th Century.  From shelling in the trenches of The Somme to the shelling of Hartlepool, patrolling the Suez Canal to holding the line in Korea, back to the UK to the aftermath of conflict in people’s daily lives, including the reality of medical care, the interviews are eye-opening and frank.

Students took on a massive responsibility in helping interviewees share their often harrowing experiences.  Special thanks must go to staff at Swanshurst School and to former teacher, Doug Smith, who facilitated the project and who organises the school’s annual ‘Veteran’s Day’.  Thanks also to Veterans, School Staff and Lt Col. Steve Jeffery who were so forthcoming and generous in their interviews.

The quality of these interviews really does speak volumes about the maturity and sensitivity of pupils who were only born in the 21st Century.  They are ensuring the the lessons from previous generations are passed on.  And in a world that feels in a state of flux, what could be more important than that?

Editing Untold Stories

Back in September I joined with colleagues from ‘The People’s Heritage Co-operative’ to share the findings from our project, ‘Untold Stories – Birmingham’s Wounded Soldiers from WW1’.  We launched a teaching resource and a film I had filmed and edited at Highbury Hall.  Ahead of sharing the oral history interviews from the project, here are some excerpts of a blog I wrote whilst editing the project film:

So here I’m sat at my desk, looking through scores of photos and hours of footage, wondering how I’m going to pull so much fantastic stuff together.  My job, you see, is to turn all of the lectures, interviews, workshops and explorations we have undertaken through our ‘Untold Stories’ project into a finished film for our launch on 13th September.

img_6975I have rich pickings here. Workshops where we delved into the archive to discover magazines produced by invalided soldiers, photos of injured servicemen following facial reconstructive surgery, lectures on the sheer scale of organisation required to ensure wounded soldiers were treated, genealogy workshops on tracing WW1 casualties, interviews with Korean war veterans, an interview with a serving Military Surgeon, explorations of Highbury Hall with a group of school pupils… it’s fair to say that we have been busy.

So perhaps for now I should just share some of my favourite snippets, and save the rest for the film.

img_7076My main involvement in the project has been working with pupils at Swanshurst School to teach them how to conduct Oral History interviews so that they are able to do their own interviews. Alongside former History Teacher, Doug Smith, and members of the People’s Heritage Co-operative, we ran a series of workshops to prepare the girls for interviewing war veterans during the school’s ‘Veterans Day’ event.

The stories that emerged over the course of Veterans’ Day really highlighted the variety of experiences. One gentleman spoke about his Grandfather being called up to serve at The Somme alongside his horse. Another interviewee highlighted a number of occasions when his father and comrades were injured in the trenches. Other interviewees spoke about more recent conflicts in WW2 and in the Korean War.

Whaimg_6965t was particularly striking was how much the pupils took away from the experience. Here are a few comments from pupils themselves:

‘You learn so much about where you live and what goes on that you feel responsible to continue this’.

‘I think that taking part in experiences like this can be even more informative than learning about it in lessons, because in this situation you’re learning more about actual people’s experiences’.

Of course I couldn’t share all of this without also sharing the project film itself!

Untold Stories: Birmingham’s Wounded Soldiers from WW1 from Rachel Gillies on Vimeo.

If I Could Reach Home

If I Could Reach Home‘ is a project which brings together Bharatanatyam and Kathak dance with exploring themes of home and belonging.  Devised by the very talented Magdalen Gorringe, both professional and non-professional dancers have been choreographing their own works to perform at mac Birmingham and Rowheath Pavillion.  Both performances feature BBC Young Dancer Category Finalist Vidya Patel.

14650350_639046379602380_1254002525419318708_nBharatanatyam is a traditional Indian dance form which is set to classical poetry, but Magdalen wanted to play with the discipline and incorporate other voices into the piece.  The two performances will feature poetry created by female asylum seekers and two community groups from Kings Heath and Bournville.

I have been documenting some of the project to date, and it has been inspiring to observe how the easily dance has developed alongside a narrative – even for people who may not regard themselves as dancers.  I have one more rehearsal session to film before I film the final performance at Rowheath Pavillion.  Tickets are sold out at mac, but do try and nab a ticket for Rowheath.  And if you REALLY can’t make it, then I will be sharing the work online in the next few months.

mac Birmingham – 20th November – 4pm.  SOLD OUT

Rowheath Pavillion – Friday 2nd December – 8pm.  Tickets available online or by ringing 0121 458 1711.

Extant – looking through a different lens

Have you been to the theatre lately?  What did the set look like?  The costumes?  Was there dancing?  Impressive lighting?

Most of us take for granted our ability to see what is happening on stage – theatre is such a visual medium.  But ‘Extant’, Britain’s leading professional performing arts company of visually impaired (VI) people, is making huge leaps in ensuring that people without sight, or with limited sight, are able to have a rich, stimulating and enjoyable experience of theatre.

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I have been documenting the first year of Extant’s ‘Regional Hub Building’ programme in Birmingham and Manchester, working alongside Extant’s Jodie Stus.  Working in partnership with The Lowry in Salford Quays and mac Birmingham, Extant have developed a comprehensive programme, focusing on creating more opportunities for people with VI to engage with drama and theatre.

The first year of the programme has involved performance, participation workshops and training – all of which are explored in the film.  However, for me, it seemed only right that everything that I had learnt through documenting the project came into play when editing the film together.  So, this is my effort to make a film with a clear narrative which isn’t reliant on visuals, which makes as much sense for people without full vision as those with.  I’ve focused on using bold text, high contrast and simple graphics and I have tried to audio describe cut-aways of performances and workshops.

I would be eager to find out what ‘viewers’ think of the film.  How can film makers improve accessibility without compromising narrative and style?  Do get in touch with your comments!

Babies, fonts, baked goods and ducks…

…all of which are linked and make perfect sense when making films with a talented, and very witty, bunch of young people!

Recently I’ve been working with the ‘Woodcraft Pioneers’ in Kings Heath, helping them to make a series of short films. Our starting point was that the group love a decent debate, so we decided to make it light-hearted by giving them some statements to defend through a short film.

We started off doing some basic film-making sessions, looking at how to use equipment and how to conduct interviews. Then it was over to the Pioneers to storyboard and script their own films.  A few highlights of filming included brawling babies, stalking ducks and a mass protest in the middle of Kings Heath Park.

So, a few weeks ago we screened the Premiere of our films, loosely based on the statements: ‘All babies should be taught to ice-skate – just in case’, ‘Comic Sans is the best font’, ‘All money should be replaced with baked goods’ and ‘Ducks are the most evil animal’. Unfortunately (as with most work I do with young people) I can’t share the films online, but hopefully these images give you a flavour of what has been a really enjoyable, if highly surreal, project!

Huge thanks is due to the fantastic volunteers who run the Woodcraft Folk group, a band of very creative, enthusiastic and supportive parents.

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The Care Act – the Nottinghamshire Experience

Summer 2016 is knocking on the door.  OK, well not today.  Today it’s raining, but this past weekend the sun was beating down on the bluebells and blossom.  I’m ever the optimist!  Anyhow, it’s reminded me that it’s getting on for a year since last summer’s excursions up to Nottinghamshire with Sam and James from Iconic Productions and I’ve still not blogged about it properly.  The reason?  I helped them to produce a suite of films for Nottinghamshire County Council to explore aspects of the Care Act – how it affects both statutory and third sector organisations, what the public need to know, what is being done on a local level to provide excellent care for adults who have care needs.  I was mainly involved in interviewing – and there were some really fascinating stories to be told, like this film incorporating Julie’s story.

Strength Based Approach from Iconic Productions on Vimeo.

There is quite a range of different films incorporating interviews, presentations, animation and motion graphics.  Plus a voice that you may recognise.  You can view the whole suite of films on Iconic Productions’ Vimeo site, but I particularly like this short animation.  Meet Bob.

Strength Based Support Animation from Iconic Productions on Vimeo.

And if that impresses you, have a look at Iconic Productions’ 2016 showreel.  Talented, talented people.

Iconic Productions – Showreel 2016 from Iconic Productions on Vimeo.

Broadening Choices for Older People

Like so many people, when I look at the options facing me in my old age there is a level of apprehension. Within my own family there have been difficult choices to make when it comes to accommodation and care of elderly relatives.

So, it has been a welcome relief to collaborate with the wonderful BCOP (Broadening Choices for Older People), eight years after I was first invited to make a short film for them. BCOP are a charitable organisation, providing exceptional care and accommodation to people over the age of 50. Accommodation ranges from small houses and apartments for people able to live independently, right through to nursing care for people in the later stages of dementia. Their care homes offer a ‘Sensory Experience’, including pet farms, ‘Sensory Streets’ with sweet shops and tearooms and a huge range of tailored activities and outings for residents. And innovation isn’t just about homes and care – the newly refurbished Anita Stone Court offers a Shared Ownership model, the first of its kind, which allows residents to gradually release equity from their homes to cover care costs as needs change.

2016 marks BCOP’s 70th Anniversary, so we kickstarted the year with a film documenting some of the many aspects of the Charity’s work.  Once again I teamed up with Sam and James at Iconic Productions to produce something which not only looks really impressive, it also tells the story of the organisation from the perspective of those who know it best – its family of residents, their families and the staff.  It was screened at a celebratory meal for staff and supporters in January and it was humbling to see lots of smiles, nods of recognition and thumbs up as the film was playing.

Broadening Choices for Older People from Rachel Gillies on Vimeo.

There will be plenty more to come over the rest of the year as Sam, James and I continue to document the next stage in BCOP’s journey to create broader choices for people in their later years.

Confessions of a lazy blogger

Hum – so it’s been a while since I’m blogged anything I notice.  I’ve not gone away.  Or at least I did go away, had a baby (yes, another one!) then got back to the business of making more lovely films, albeit on a part time basis.  Fellow travellers in the world of creative and freelance work will know that time is precious when small people enter the equation, so I’ve been head down in work when I’ve not had small children tugging at my legs (and sometimes even when they have been tugging at my legs!).  Sorry for the silence!

So, what to update you with?  Here are a few projects I’ve worked on to give you a flavour…

I’ve been so lucky to work yet again with the fabulous team at DanceXchange who as ever are doing pioneering work in bringing Dance to new audiences.  This time I documented ‘Strive’, a training scheme devised to support Dance Artists in their work with vulnerable and marginalised groups.  The rigor and thought that went into the scheme was fantastic, with plenty for me to take away and use in my own practice.

There have been some really powerful stories that I have been privileged enough to share over the past couple of years.  A series of short films for Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust focused on the stories of patients and carers to try to unpick what ‘care’ means to them.  From a mother of a terminally ill child to a nurse with an unapologetically forthright approach to delivering care, the films really showed how complex a subject it can be.  The films are now part of a package of training materials shown to medical students prior to placements.

Another project in Rowley Regis brought to the screen some research done by a group of adults with learning disabilities. They wanted to share their experiences and frustrations as they navigate their way through the many challenges they face in the day to day – including paying bills and filling in forms, finding work, doing shopping and paying for the Bedroom Tax.

On a much more lighthearted note, I continued my longstanding relationship with The Lichfield Festival by helping a group of young people film a series of shorts, all filmed at Chasewater Light Railway.  The filming was silly amounts of fun and hopefully that’s reflected in the finished films!

I have also been collaborating with other Film Makers – the very talented Sam Lockyer and James Watson of Iconic Productions.  We worked together throughout last Summer to film twelves short films for Nottinghamshire County Council, focusing on The Care Act and the range of services being delivered throughout the County.  You may recognise the voice on some of the voiceovers!

Right – back to it with an edit. And this time I will be sharing it widely when it’s done!

What is ‘Care’?

Care.  It’s about wanting the best outcome for someone.  Working with them to make that happen.  Simple, right?

In practice, providing ‘care’ can be complex and far from straightforward, particularly within the NHS and the vast range of services it provides.  Recognising these conundrums, and against the backdrop of ‘The Francis Report’ into care standards which stemmed from malpractice within hospitals in Staffordshire, I was commissioned to make a series of short case studies looking at what patients, their families and health practitioners understand by the term ‘care’.  These films now form part of the training that all medical students at Birmingham City University undertake prior to their first placements.

It was an eye opening and frequently emotional experience, exploring the tough calls, tight relationships and massive dedication required on a daily basis to ensure that patients receive the care and treatment they need.  It was a real privilege to be invited into people’s homes and lives and have them speak so candidly about their experiences.

Here is one of the seven case studies – Madeleine and Liz.  Liz articulates so well how sometimes you have to be, if not cruel to be kind, certainly assertive.  More films in the series can be viewed through the Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust Student Hub portal.

Patient Stories – Madeleine and Liz from BCHC COMMS on Vimeo.

Playing Out

Back in August three roads closed to traffic in Kings Heath to allow kids (and willing adults!) to ‘play out’.  It’s something associated with a bygone era – all of those street games that were so much a part of our grandparents’ childhoods.  A new initiative, called ‘Playing Out’ is trying to create spaces for children to rediscover the art of play – and with it give them opportunities to meet neighbours, form new friendships and to gain a sense of belonging within their own neighbourhoods.

I filmed the event in August for a short promotional film.  There is now a large network of people – residents, play organisations, artists – beavering away to make sure that there will be plenty more events like this.  The film aims to give others inspiration to get their streets closed.  If you are interested then go to www.playingout.net or contact Louise Palfreyman – details at the end of the film.

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