When The Big 30 interviews go to the London Metropolitan Archives later this year, researchers will use them to find out about all sorts of subjects, from learning disability culture to the local history of Deptford and Lewisham. Heart n Soul will provide written summaries of each interview, so that researchers can easily find the interviews that are most relevant to them.
A team of volunteers who are interested in history archives summarised our Big 30 interviews. We spoke to two of them, Sophie and Jake, who have both studied history and have a special interest in oral history…
Heart n Soul: Hi Sophie, Hi Jake! Thanks for taking the time to speak to us about your experience of working on The Big 30 project. Firstly, which of the 30 interviews from The Big 30 Archive did you each summarise?
Sophie: I summarised the interviews of actor and musician Matt Fraser, Heart n Soul artist Lizzie Emeh and Hannah and Adele, who run a company called Could Be Good and have worked creatively with Heart n Soul for years.
Jake: And I had Heart n Soul musician Rikki Jodelko, a young Heart n Soul participant Cameron and his brother Cion, Heart n Soul friend and former employee Keith, and Heart n Soul artist Pino Frumiento.
Heart n Soul: What interests you about oral history specifically?
Sophie: I find that oral history is how normal people are recorded in archives. I think the most interesting stories come from oral history archives as you get a much broader, realistic aspect of society.
Jake: I agree, and I think recently there has been more of an effort to include ‘ordinary’ people’s stories in oral history.
Heart n Soul: And how does The Big 30 Archive compare to other archives you have seen and heard?
Sophie: This is different to what I’ve listened to before because it’s much less formal. Often an oral history interview will be about a specific event in history, and there might even be some leading questions, but in this case everyone was invited to just talk about anything they’d like to talk about that’s happened in the last 30 years of Heart n Soul. It’s their own histories. It’s broader.
Jake: These interviews are more personal. They take more of an interest in people’s lives and present them as a whole person.
Sophie: Also, while they were quite emotional, they were also very funny. There was a sense of fun and enjoyment.
Heart n Soul: What were the main themes you noticed in the interviews?
Jake: Deptford! People cared a lot about being from Deptford. And The Albany and its history. Like when The Albany was burned down by the National Front. I think there is a lot of local history that people living in South London would be interested in. There is also a lot about learning disabilities of course, and creative arts – there’s something in there for everyone really.
Sophie: I agree. I didn’t expect there to be so much local history. I think anybody interested in Deptford or New Cross could listen to the interview and get a lot out of them without having a specific interest in learning disabilities.
Heart n Soul: Were there any stories that particularly stood out?
Jake: Rikki mentioned that when he was at school, a teacher had not wanted to teach him in her class because he was blind. Then when he applied to university he was rejected because of his disability. This was really horrifying to hear, because in 2017 someone would never get away with something like that. I think it’s organisations like Heart n Soul that give people the opportunity to be part of society. I’d like to think it’s better for people with disabilities now.
Sophie: I think just hearing people’s perspectives from themselves and not being spoken about as subjects. Actually listening to people’s own points of view. You will often hear someone with a physical or mental impairment spoken about as being different, or not normal, instead of listening to people. When you listen to these interviews there’s a completely broad range of subjects. It’s easier to recognise everyone’s differences and similarities when it’s not framed within their disability.
Jake: I would agree. Inclusiveness was a theme I picked up on. I think Pino talked about how sometimes it can feel like being invisible if you have a disability, people just pass you by. So this project has given people like Pino an opportunity to say I matter, their stories matter.