By Laila Benhaida, Trainee Archivist.
Earlier this month our archivist Jo Robson, together with volunteers Daljit Singh and Raj Kaur organised a reminiscence session at Manchester Central Library. Participants – including Daljit and Raj – comprised staff and members of the management committee from ‘Speaking for Ourselves’. SFO was a landmark oral history project with Manchester’s Sikh community, funded by Manpower Services during the 1980s.
The original aim of ‘Speaking for Ourselves’ was to record and document stories of migration, community and identity. At that time there was very little activity recording the histories of ethnic minority groups and this project pioneered the way, leading to similar initiatives with other communities.
The aim of the reminiscence session was to record and capture participants’ reflections of the project and its impact, 30 years on. We started with a relaxed and informal feel with group members keen to catch up and reignite friendships. It was lovely to witness such a warming reunion.
After tea and biscuits we gathered round a table, sat down and set up recorders. Participants shared some of the original material gathered on the project (including a children’s book and some information on Sikh attitudes towards protecting the environment) which in turn kick-started interesting conversations. They also discussed their experiences of being recruited to the project, the work involved, the people they encountered and their lives since.
The depth of the conversations amazed us. The project not only influenced and motivated people as individuals but also created a positive impact within the community and beyond. Daljit in particular, was keen to emphasise the surprising potential of oral history to engage and enthuse:
When I first started [talking] about history, I was talking about the history of Kings and Queens. That was the history I thought [of]. Not the kind of things young people think ]of]… I think we need [more] projects like this.
The audio recording from this session will be archived at the AIU Race Relations Resource Centre and made accessible soon along with books, documents and photographs donated by the participants.