On Wednesday 26th February, Sidmouth Library will become a treasure trove of local memories, entertaining and insightful stories, personal histories of Sidmouth people, precious photographs and snippets of local history never been written down before.
The one-off event is the celebration of a pioneering year-long oral history project, delivered by members of Sid Valley Memory Café, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘All Our Stories’ grant programme.
Members of Sid Valley Memory café, their families and friends have undertaken a programme of visits to local heritage sites, walked the route taken by the old railway, relived their school days using a ‘memory box’ of old exercise books, school slate and other memorabilia, and listened to talks from local historians. Hours have been spent reminiscing about life growing up, living and working in the Sidmouth area, and all these precious memories have been captured in a ‘Moments in Time’ Memory Book and on a website dedicated to ‘Sidmouth Memories’. There will also be a special display of some of the memories, stories and photographs at the library for a week from Wednesday 26th February.
Just some of the ‘historical gems’ uncovered along the way include the day elephants walked down Sidmouth High Street, the ‘story’ of the bed Queen Victoria slept in when she stayed in Sidmouth and what is was like to be an ‘unofficial evacuee’ in Sidmouth.
As well as providing an important record of the history and stories of the town, the project has given people with memory problems, and their carers, the opportunity to enjoy nostalgia and make a positive contribution to local life for generations to come. For people living with dementia, reminiscing about memories from childhood and early adulthood is a way to talk more easily about things they do remember. These older memories will often be retained after the point when the capacity to ‘make’ new memories is lost or severely impaired.
Sid Valley Memory Café is also working with students at Sidmouth College, with the aim of creating a dementia-friendly generation. Twenty-one Health & Social Care students have been trained as Dementia Friends and the students have been studying the ‘Sidmouth Memories’ website, so that they have plenty of ‘conversation starters when they visit the Memory Café next month.
On the evening of the celebration at the library, there will be a ‘Memory Tree’ of actions the students have pledged to take to help improve the lives of people living with dementia. There will also be a presentation about the project, the ‘unveiling’ of the Memory Book and a performance by Sid Vale Folk Choir, along with plenty of opportunities to reminisce.
In the words of one of the participants, “We have enjoyed every aspect of the Lottery project. The trips were wonderful, especially the last one to Weycroft Hall. They gave us the chance to visit places we could never go on our own. Just being able to talk freely with the other people who seemed really interested in our reminiscence and stories. We went on remembering those happy days even when we went home.”
Coordinator of the project, Angela Thompson, said, “It has been a privilege to record the stories of our members, their families and friends. We are keen to continue our project, adding ever more stories of Sidmouth life, so please do get in touch if you have any anecdotes of growing up and living locally.”