Openstorytellers was one of the first groups in the UK to receive a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant to allow people to share their memories of growing up in two local long stay institutions, Selwood Hospital in Frome and Norah Fry Hospital in Shepton Mallet. All Our Stories, was launched last year in support of BBC Two’s The Great British Story, and has been designed as an opportunity for everyone to get involved in their heritage.
Times have changed for people with learning disabilities in Somerset, who now live independently with support in their own flats, or in small group homes in the community. But years ago, this was far from the case, and many people spent much of their lives in long stay institutions. The generation who remember these times are getting older, and it is important to record their memories of life in the two big local homes, as well as those of the staff who worked there.
Image of Old Friends Meet Up Meeting The project is led by Brian Marshall, a trustee and storyteller who lived in both settings, and Dr Nicola Grove, the founder of Openstorytellers and Professor Dorothy Atkinson who started out as a social worker visiting both institutions, and made the oral testimony of people with learning disabilities her life’s work, most recently at the Open University.
Richard Bellamy, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: “Clearly the success of has reinforced the fact that we are indeed a nation of story tellers and that we want to explore and dig deeper into our past and discover more about what really matters to us. This is exactly what the grant will do for Openstorytellers as they embark on a real journey of discovery.”
Long Stay in Mendip – Living Memories Exhibition
The memories and stories we have collected over the course of the project will be part of an exhibition at Black Swan Arts in November. The exhibition is curated by local artist Tristan Stevens, features community film maker Howard Vause and features artworks by Openstorytellers artist Robin Meader. No photographs of residents seem to have been taken during their long years in the institutions; Robin’s pictures illustrate their memories in powerful images that stay in the mind.