Local history of rural community documented for new generations

LOCALS IN the Upper Esk Valley have come together to record and celebrate the personalities of their communities pre-1960 as part of a wider campaign to raise awareness of what volunteers in rural communities can achieve.

Upper Esk Valley fish trader Matty Pearson who sold kippers and oranges and would trade them for rabbits in the 1950s.

‘Living Memories’ is a completely volunteer-driven project designed to share stories through film with schoolchildren and the wider community of what life was like for residents in this rural region of the North York Moors at the turn of the 20th century, and during wartime.

The success of the project has seen local charity Rural Action Yorkshire challenge others to create a community film as part of its ‘52 (Almost) Painless Things Your Community Can Do’ initiative, which is ultimately aimed at empowering communities to take their own action to bring them closer together, and to draw attention to the pressures facing volunteers in these times of severe public funding cuts.

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Led by Debbie Swales, the group in the Upper Esk Valley secured funding for their film project from the North York Moors National Park. To create the film, volunteers toured the local area to capture memories from elderly residents.

Debbie explained: “The film would preserve knowledge, information and personal stories forever, as well as be a record of people’s characters and lives. The idea was to make local history accessible to a wide range of people who may not otherwise have taken an interest, but to also generate funds that could be fed back into the community for new ideas to help the elderly.”

With the determination and hard work of a close-knit group of volunteers, ‘Living Memories’ came to fruition over a period of six months and has had an “incredible” impact so far. Local schools have copies of the DVD, the participants who shared their stories have visited pupils to talk about local history and the footage will be used in classrooms for many years into the future.

Another benefit of the project was the new contacts and links that were forged, particularly between care providers and older people, and it has led to new community activities taking place. Rural Action Yorkshire said there had been clear indicators of reduced loneliness and isolation as a result of making the film. “The film and photographs are wonderful outcomes of this project,” Debbie said.

“We have captured a slice of history pre-1960 that can be treasured by local people and their families forever.

“Equally important is the journey we have taken, banding together to create this piece of work and to achieve something special shows we are still a strong community today as we were in days gone by.”

Rural Action Yorkshire’s chief officer Leah Swain said the Upper Esk Valley project was a great example to show how the ‘52 Things’ campaign can inspire community action.

“Communities face pressure year on year to do more with less, and so through the campaign we wish to highlight these heroic efforts of our volunteers whilst encouraging them to think of new ideas which can continue to help the wider area.

“Creating a film about local or regional history, and recording the stories of older people has proved to be a really popular idea, and the example in the Esk Valley is a really great way of showing the communities we serve how it can be done.”

As with many community projects, the film depended on the dedication of volunteers who were needed for everything from setting up stages, to taking photographs, carrying out research and making pots of tea.

Debbie’s advice to communities wishing to replicate the project in some way is to plan ahead carefully and work hard at getting the right volunteers.

For more advice about how to set up a ‘Living Memories’ project in your community, email Debbie at [email protected] and for more inspiration for community action, visit the ‘52 Things’ campaign web page at www.ruralyorkshire.org.uk