For the past nine months I have been immersed in the working lives of elders from Rotherhithe, Bermondsey and Deptford. I have listened to 39 stories, attended 2 workshops, and visited 1 museum and 2 libraries; not to mention numerous conversations with participants and volunteers.
Researching a geographical area I am familiar with has given me an advantage, I have grown up on stories of the smell of Peak Freans, tanneries and vinegar factories and the lido in the park. I remember Annie who ran the fruit and veg stall in the blue; who me and my sister (as children) saved our carrier bags from shopping and gave them to Annie in return for an apple or orange.
Everyone remembers Annie but I wonder how many gave her their carrier bags? One would be forgiven in thinking the story of a geographical area would be the same story for all its inhabitants. When I first started this project I imagined the same stories would be told 39 times but within the shared buildings, streets and docks are flourishes of personal stories. And it is these personal stories that excite me.
Five of our female story tellers worked at Peak Freans and all speak of the factories; smells, produce made and machinery but Irene a cashier in the offices had a differing experience to Sylvie who worked on the Vita Wheat Floor or Ida who left St Lucia aged 23. And so listening to five stories about Peak Freans does not tell one story but multiple stories, depending on who is telling it. My experience thus far of this project has been an appreciation of the micro stories behind the shared macro story.