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Memory Catchers
ImageWhen students from Stoke Newington School wanted to know how things had changed in Hackney over the years, who better to ask than Tilly,  Joan and  Dolores.  With a combined age of well over two hundred, they really had seen a thing or two.... The Community of Reconciliation and Fellowship at Prideaux House - near Well Street Common - is stuffed full of amazing elderly people who are doing unbelievable things. 
So it was definitely a great place for the memory catchers from Stoke Newington School to get material for their project. It just had to be squeezed in around the fashion show, the computer classes, International Women’s Day celebrations, the pancake race, plans for the St. Patrick’s day ceilidh plus the usual social whirl of Prideaux House ....

Joan Bird (aged 88)  and Tilly Kearney (aged 83) went over to Stoke Newington to be interviewed.  And they were both pleased they did it.   “You hear such terrible things about young people these days”, said Joan “but it was a real pleasure to meet these articulate, well-spoken childen.  They instantly put us at our ease”.   Together they shared  their memories of school, family life -  stories of the way they were.

Tilly’s first impression was the way the Stoke Newington School looked as you go in.  She had loved Central School where she studied “from the first day when I heard the Souza March and saw Mr Hawker the headmaster.  He was quite an inspiration. But Stoke Newington School looked so different from my school: the foyer was like a wonderful hotel, with all the greenery and sofas. Central was just classrooms and desks. It is all so different now - no school lunches in my day: the whole family would go home for dinner - the only thing we had at school was a third of a pint of milk.”   

ImageTilly grew up in Shoreditch with her dad, 3 brothers and 2 sisters (two cabinet makers, two upholsterers, a dress machinist and a milliner).  At school she trained to do clerical work - shorthand, typing, bookkeeping and Tilly was the first in her family ever to work in an office.  (The family was glad when she started to bring home a wage when she left school at sixteen.)

Joan grew up in Clapham in South London, going to a fee-paying convent school.  Her dad fought in the World War One and he was not really fit when the army doctor discharged him.  Joan was just ten years old when he died - leaving her mum with no pension.  “What saved us was the Ministry of Pensions agreeing to pay my fees right through school, so I could stay on.  It was strict, but I liked it.  If you went out without your full school uniform on, local people would tell tales on you to the school”.  Joan had hoped to go to medical school, but there wasn’t the money, so she went into the Civil Service instead.  She came up to Hackney years later when her husband worked up this way, and their children went to the Sir John Cass school in the City of London.

ImageDolores Crump, who lives on Evelyn Court in Amhurst Road,  has never been one to say “no” to an opportunity.  She was really pleased to take part in the school reminiscence project: way back in the 1980s, her daughter Desiree had been at Clissold Park School (the original name for the school where Stoke Newington School is now) and she was keen to have a sneaky look around.  But finding the time wasn’t so easy.....

Although she is still recovering from major brain surgery, Dolores does not have much spare time.  It’s always been like that, since she came over from Barbados when she was just sixteen.  Like so many families, her parents had come to England to start a new life, leaving their daughter in the care of her grandmother until they were settled: “she made sure I could get myself a job when I came to England - my grandmother sent me to Pitman’s typing course, so three weeks after I arrived I got a job as a  typist in Shoreditch”.  

Later, Dolores trained as a nurse at the old Hackney Hospital.  And she brought up her three daughters single-handed when their dad went back to the sunshine in the Caribbean.  When they arrived at Evelyn Court in 1975 the girls went to Benthal Primary School: it was non-stop action for them all - what with school, working, after school activities, plus there was always voluntary work :  Dolores has been a mentor at the Dalston Youth Project, she ran a Youth Club on her estate for years and now she does the mother & toddler group (not to mention the book club - she is currently working on a cross-cultural book list of stories about survivors).

So Dolores was a great person for the students at Stoke Newington to ask about respect.  “I think we are all brothers and sisters - whatever our age, and wherever we come from.   Remembering that helps us to respect one another. It’s important too to find out about each other’s cultures and histories.

Young people now have more confidence, they are not supposed to be kept hidden away, as they used to be.  They can say what they think, and be heard.  I think that is a real change for the better - but also I think that the confidence should be tempered with respect for older people”.  Dolores was very impressed by the talents of the two girls who interviewed her.  “They were articulate and friendly, and I thought it was great they had the confidence to do it”.  

This article was written in the Spring of 2006.   If you would like to find out more about the project, have a look at Issue 8
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