Land of the Fanns – volunteers sought for oral history project training

THE Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme is seeking new volunteers to train in oral history interviewing. These volunteers will be vital in recording memories of people who have lived and worked in the Land of the Fanns, collecting tales of ways of life that are disappearing and that reveal how the area has changed over time.

The five-year Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme’s aim is to inspire people to discover and explore their local landscape, strengthening attachment to the land and enhancing enjoyment of it, by revealing the heritage and natural beauty all around. Spreading over east London and south west Essex, the Land of the Fanns is a fascinating and diverse landscape full of environmental and historic hidden gems. It is also full of people with histories and stories about the land and its heritage.

The Land of the Fanns oral history project will be a lasting legacy of the scheme and will capture the stories of ordinary people who have helped to shape the land, who know of forgotten places and histories that are important to communities and need to be recorded.

Volunteers will be trained to interview people to gather the most important and interesting aspects of their stories. The training involves using and maintaining simple recording equipment, guidance on how to prepare for interviews and necessary permissions and data protection regulations.  Once trained, volunteers will be introduced to interviewees. The training is informal and interesting and free. Out of pocket expenses will be paid to all volunteers. Training will be given in small groups at Thames Chase Forest Centre in Havering. Due to the ongoing restrictions and to adhere to safe distancing, the training sessions are for up to six people in a large airy room. Plastic face shields will be supplied. 

The project will compile a lasting record of people’s stories such as that of Maggie Pollock, a local Thurrock resident, remembers playing as a small child in the grounds of Belhus Mansion in Belhus Park, Aveley. The house was uninhabited and forlorn but there were several large oak trees in the extensive grounds and grazing cows. The house was demolished in 1957 so Maggie’s memories recall a part of Thurrock’s lost heritage.

All the stories such as Maggie’s will be transcribed and archived at both the British Library and the Thames Chase Forest Centre, and be used for future generations to discover and explore the lives of those who lived in the Land of the Fanns. 

Valina Bowman Burns has undertaken the training and is ready to record stories when she is able to after lockdown. She said: “I really enjoyed the Oral History training. It was great to have a chance to ask questions. The notes handed out were very thorough and useful for referring back to. The workshop was well organised and felt safe – with every consideration given to social distancing. The provision of face coverings that still allowed us to communicate effectively was a thoughtful touch.”

Another volunteers, Adrian Benn said “As a relative newcomer to family and local history research I found the training session hugely relevant. In the last couple of years, I seem to have found myself in countless informal chats with a wide range of people only too willing to talk about their past. The opportunity to attend the session came just when I need to have proceedings more structured and formal. I appreciated the balance between the interactive and informative.

Benjamin Sanderson, Land of the Fanns Scheme Manager, said: Oral histories are a great way of recording, archiving and finding out about local heritage. We hope that this project will provide a lasting legacy of anecdotes about life in the Land of the Fanns created by members of the communities that live here.”

Anyone interested in helping record these oral histories should contact Debbie Brady, Land of the Fanns Heritage Engagement Officer by emailing deborah.brady@thameschase.org.uk. Those with stories to share can also contact Debbie to be included in the project. The training will take place after lockdown restrictions are eased, and will be subject to all the necessary safety precautions current at that time. 

Over the last four years, Land of the Fanns volunteers have contributed almost 4000 hours to environmental and heritage projects across the area. More than 1300 people have volunteered their time, skills and enthusiasm to help across the Scheme’s 26 projects.  Please check the Land of the Fanns website for future volunteering opportunities. www.landofthefanns.org.

Thames Chase Trust is the lead partner in the project. There are eight further partners in the Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme: Essex County Council, Forestry England, Thames Estuary Partnership, Brentwood Borough Council, London Borough of Havering, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, Thames21 and Thurrock Council. 

To find out more about the Land of the Fanns and how you can get involved in environmental and heritage projects, please go to www.landofthefanns.org

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