My goodbye session at Chester Lane Library reminscence=art group. It's become ingrained for me to rattle up there on the bike, drink a cuppa while trying to tame my wildly disorganised papers and then welcome the group. My body will probably try to launch itself early out of bed next Thursday - and for some Thursdays to come.
My final two visits have been in part training sessions for Joanne, a local poet who has shadowed us throughout the St Helens project - and in part a broader discussion with the group about their aspirations. I will write about the training at another time, this account is about the legacy of the project, aside from art.
I believe we've left them something of value - namely this group, made of themselves. However they choose to use it, they own a little human network, full of possibilities. We talked about what these possibles might be and I listed their thoughts, then reflected them back.
I was very struck by how unassuming the group are about what they themselves have to offer us all - their reminiscence as art has had 3000 plus 'visits' on the internet and the poem iced onto Woolworths window in the town centre was seen and appreciated by hundreds and hundreds of local folk. People DO value these memories it's just that there's not a clearly defined outlet. Where do you usually go memory shopping? And to extend this metaphor, the appreciation of memory work doesn't necessarily show itself in terms of £££ sales, which is how we are taught to assign value.
Brenda used the phrase ‘group memory’ to describe the sense of a communal reminiscence – sharing memories as a way of energising them within a group. Every Thursday, Chester Lane Library becomes a kind of commune within the 'memory palace'. Turning them into art or poems passes memories to others outside, which is where Lois and I and Joanne step into the process. If you're outside, you can participate by reading or viewing the work, but can't reciprocate. It is the to and fro of the group that makes it such a source of human warmth, a fire to gather round. Brenda described it in precisely these terms: “The warmth. Telling stories and banter. Talking and doing.”
Such a thing is needed when you're pushed to the edge of social relevance, as many older people are. Sadly, the shape of loneliness is the negative image of the gathering, the shadow cast by the fire. Margaret commented: “As you get older, your brain becomes invisible. People don’t value your thoughts and opinions.”
One person talked about being at a wedding, silent and unacknowledged, because as the older relative she was considered unworthy of inclusion. She wasn't introduced to anybody, she was literally unobserved. The rejection stayed with her and depressed her for days afterwards.
If this little group helps to allieviate such biting loneliness, then it has value. If all our daft experimenting and wordplay and art-cake decorating and poem stitching has helped people to be seen and heard, then it has value.
We shook hands and they wished me well; I felt a heart-twinge as I looked back.