Archive video: A Yorkshire we’ve almost forgotten unlocks memories of the past

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Jenny Stead’s face lights up as she recalls her childhood in Yorkshire in the years following the war.

She remembers her father returning to the family’s home in Wakefield after a hard day as a Pickford removals man, her two older brothers, picking peas in the garden, playing hopscotch and even making mud pies.

Holidays at Butlin's - one of the films in the Memory Bank archive. Below: Carol Bower (left) an Alzheimer's Society Support Worker with sufferer Jenny Stead from Barnsley.

Holidays at Butlin's - one of the films in the Memory Bank archive. Below: Carol Bower (left) an Alzheimer's Society Support Worker with sufferer Jenny Stead from Barnsley.

But recent years have been less kind to her and the 69-year-old remembers little or nothing of last week, yesterday or even an hour or two earlier as Alzheimer’s disease slowly takes its toll.

Now a project aimed at people with dementia is being launched to unlock forgotten memories from down the years and connect the past with the present by using the rich archive of footage mainly from home movie collections at the Yorkshire Film Archive.

The films have been carefully selected for the Memory Bank to feature many familiar subjects – among them holidays, sports, school days and working life.

They aim to promote conversations with people with dementia of times past from knitted bathing costumes and free school milk to 1960s fashion mistakes and clocking on at work.

Carol Bower (left) an Alzheimer's Society Support Worker with sufferer Jenny Stead from Barnsley

Carol Bower (left) an Alzheimer's Society Support Worker with sufferer Jenny Stead from Barnsley

Post-war scenes include children wearing ties playing simple games in the garden, a rugby sevens tournament attended by thousands at Bradford’s Odsal stadium and pupils saying their prayers before school dinner.

Film archive director Sue Howard recalls one Memory Bank user saying: “It’s like the years peeling back – the memories are all still there, it just needs a trigger.”

She said the project was a “unique proposition”, opening up the collection to older people who often had very few opportunities to enjoy such films.

It also aided reminiscence therapy and memory work which enhanced a sense of wellbeing and stimulated communication and sociability.

“It uses films taken largely from our home movie collections, which are a fantastic visual record of everyday life over the decades. It is these films that trigger all of our collective memories. Over the last 18 months, we have worked with experts from various organisations to reach this stage.

“Equally important was our interaction with ‘end users’ and their families.

“They guided us on what they found interesting, what they wanted to talk about, and what themes they wanted Memory Bank to focus on.”

Social gerontologist Prof Dianne Willcocks, of York St John University, said the venture offered a “compelling and fun tool” to help people reclaim their lived past and to share it with family, friends and carers.

“It works both for those living with dementia and for those simply living with rich memories,” she said.

Each film is six minutes long. Packs have been developed with a user guide, film notes, discussion ideas, suggestions for activities, guidance on starting a memory box, and a Life and Times section spanning the changes over the decades from the 1920s to the 1970s.

Films have been carefully selected for the initiative in collaboration with health experts, carers and families along with Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, Bradford University and Methodist Homes for the Aged, whose residents have given audience reviews.

Experts from the archive, which is a registered charity, hope the pioneering project could be adopted nationwide. They plan to return to the vaults to unearth more material in coming years using money from the sale of the films.

Jenny Stead was among a group of people from the Barnsley area with dementia who watched a preview screening of the films yesterday in the Pictureville Cinema at the National Media Museum in Bradford.

She was there with her friend Carol Bower, a dementia support worker with the Alzheimer’s Society, who said sharing reminiscences through the film clips “put people in a happier place”.

Jenny was unable to recall how she arrived at the cinema but the memories of long ago days remained fresh.

“I can remember things from way way back,” she said. “They were the best days of my life.”