Six of the best

… or rather six stories I’m fond of.

We are in the last week of the Storycircle project, a time to look back on two very full and very rich years of fieldwork spent getting to know Salford and listening to the stories of the people who live and work there. I’ve been thinking back on all the journeys I’ve made, getting to know the city by foot; up and down Chapel Street, from Langworthy Road to wind swept MediaCity across the violent motorway, from Ordsall to Islington, from the Angel Centre to the Lowry, accompanied by Jane Wood of Salford Lids, from Buile Hill Park to the Salford Local Studies Library on the Crescent.

I’ve also been thinking back to all the stories I’ve been told over two years in which I’ve chatted to rhyming historians, gentle gardeners, committed community activists, housing executives hoarse from cheering the home team at the Etihad Stadium, ninety-five year-old tower block residents, brilliant community artists, local councillors and many, many more. Some of these stories were recorded and some were related after the microphones and cameras had been switched off; some sad and meditative stories and some more joyful and raucously funny ones. I wanted to bring together six stories coming out of the projects I’ve been most involved in that have stayed with me through this project. Each of these stories afforded me a valuable new insight and convey the unique narrative gifts and eloquence of their storytellers.

1. From Tales from Camp, our collaboration with Salford Lads Club, Nicholas Fagan related his experiences of winning a scholarship to go camping with the Club in 1939. The story is short but evocative and was edited together by Nicholas’s daughter Ann with footage from the Club’s archive of its pre-war camps.

2. When I got together for an evening with four women who had played a vital role in establishing a community centre and community activities on the Islington estate in Salford, there were so many rich and wonderful stories it is difficult now to select one or two. This one really stood out for me though. Here Maria Fitzgerald, Bev Carr, Ursula Sossalla-Iredale and Sue Rigg remember the campaign to establish a community space at the Islington estate and reflect on how getting involved in community work changed each of them.

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Other stories from that evening can be listened to here on the Islington in Salford Stories website.

3. In Summer 2012 I ran a couple of workshops with the creative writing  and the gardening group at Start in Salford. The workshops were designed to create short personal vignettes that responded to the theme of the Secret Gardens festival, cherished places. Again it is difficult to choose just one of the memorable stories I recorded over the course of those two sessions but this one from Patricia Andrews has an extraordinary imagistic quality, Dylan Thomas-like in its jagged poetry. I love it.

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4. The next story is from a fascinating evening reunion of the Salford International Community Exchange Group (SICEG). SICEG was a bold international exchange project run independently and voluntarily by a group of Salford youth and community workers. For about ten years SICEG raised funds, established relationships with European partners and built and sustained networks of cooperation and self-help in Salford, all of which created opportunities for people living in Salford’s inner-city areas to gain experience of visiting and staying with families overseas. Many of the trips were to the Eastern bloc countries, to Poland and East Germany. Here Richard Bundy then a youth worker in Ordsall reflects on the value of those trips from the perspective of youth work.

5. On a lighter note, and returning to the community activists of 1980s Islington, I couldn’t resist this wickedly funny story of a fund raising auction and a red nighty.

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6. Finally, to end with a tune. I spent a special afternoon in 2012 with Joyce Cotgrave, a resident of Arthur Millwood Court in Islington since it was built in 1964. Joyce told me about her love of classical music, her forty years following the Halle Orchestra with husband Stanley, her passion for Tchaikovsky…and then we started singing…

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With warm thanks to everyone who has shared stories with me over the last couple of years.

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