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School project brings local history to life

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Chiswick schoolchildren have been finding out what life was like for local people during the Second World War for their special oral history project. 

Year five pupils from Belmont Primary School visited older people at Clifton Gardens residential home and quizzed them about aspects of Chiswick life in the 1940’s and 50s.  Armed with their clipboards, they interviewed residents on numerous themes including schooling, daily life and the River Thames.

To enhance pupils’ experience and understanding, staff from the home filled a room with artefacts and memorabilia from the period.

Youngsters more familiar with CDs and MP3 players got the opportunity to listen to a scratchy gramophone. They heard grainy speeches from wartime leader Winston Churchill and saw photographs and newspapers from the time. Andrea Cameron, a visiting local historian, brought history to life with a slide show.

Esther Jones, activities co-ordinator at Clifton Gardens, said “This project has had multiple benefits for the children and residents. For the children, they have gained lively, first hand insights into the local world of yesteryear. For the residents, they have been left with a sense of value about their life histories and feel they are still very much part of the community with something to contribute.

“What has also been noticeable is that the children have relished coming and the residents have looked forward to their visits. The project has helped the young people overcome any collective, cultural fear they might have towards ageing. For the older people, they can re-visit and recapture some of the feelings associated with their youth.”

Verity Coates, deputy head of Belmont Primary School, said “It was a very positive experience and enjoyed by children and adults alike. We look forward to showing the children's work later in the year and making further links with Clifton Gardens in future.”

Sixty children, led by teachers Claire Hollywood and Elaine Lacey, took part in the six-week long local history project, which is a key part of the National Curriculum. Ten pupils would visit at a time and speak to a group of seven residents. As well as noting down the stories and experiences of residents, they made recordings on an I-pod.

Joan Gilbert, a resident at Clifton Gardens, said“Each week we talked about something new. One week was all about war, and the children were fascinated by the idea of rationing, especially of food and sweets. They could not believe that you could not walk into a shop and buy whatever you pleased, whenever you pleased.”

Belmont pupil, Reuben Kenton-Harris aged nine, said“I liked it when they were talking a lot about the war and their feelings about it.”

Issy Reilly, also aged nine, said "I liked it when we went to a lady's room and we saw all her pictures. She had a beautiful picture she had painted of Jamaica. My lady, Kay, put her dogs in the air raid shelter to look after them.”

December 14, 2005