Student project helps preserve the memories of Winchester care home residents

Martha Williams (centre) with care home residents and volunteers who created the book of memories in art form.

Martha Williams (centre) with care home residents and volunteers who created the book of memories in art form.

First published in News Basingstoke Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

WEDDING dresses, unexploded bombs and turning 101 – it’s the stuff of a Hollywood love story.

With a combined age of 363 there was certainly a lot to talk about, as four care home residents reminisced about their wedding days, childhood games and the Great War.

It wasn’t a tea party for the elderly, but instead the brainchild of a former Winchester School of Art student, who has come up with a novel way of preserving the memories of the city’s seniors.

Originally part of her final year project, graphic arts graduate Martha Williams decided to challenge stereotypes about old age.

Entitled About Time: Stories from a Care Home, her memory book delves into the fondest and most shocking recollections of four of Devenish House’s residents: Bettina Pyke, Polly Robson, both 84, Dorothy Snell, 100, (101 in August she says), and Betty Hale, 95. With the help of activities’ coordinator Christine Tye and volunteer Tricia Bennett, it soon snowballed into a unique and heartfelt project.

It starts at birth and finishes with the present, encapsulating the tiniest details of normal life in art form, peppered with quotes taken from interviews.

Martha explains what gave her the idea: “I decided to do the project to find out what elderly people can actually bring to the table. If you have lived five times longer than me, you have a lot more experience.

“Some of the stuff we talked about I would expect to come straight out of a book and not what somebody has lived through. I haven’t spent that much time with elderly people and there are stereotypes that simply aren’t true.” It didn’t take long to find that out.

Taking the floor, Betty, who moved to Winchester 17 years ago, began to explain how she watched bombs rain on her street in Bristol the night before her wedding.

Basingstoke Gazette:

Above: Betty Hale with Martha Williams.

“They came down on roofs,” she said.

“I sat on the toilet watching this thing coming down. They were semi-circular with different sections on fire, called a candle arbour bomb. They did so much damage. The day I went for my wedding dress there was an unexploded bomb outside the shop. It went off shortly after I left.” The feisty and fun 95-year-old also told how as a girl she once was dazzled by a hand-crafted sailing ship made of fish bone she spotted in a house she visited in Bristol. “I have never forgotten it.

“Years later I was on a tour of Winchester College and the first thing I saw was a ship exactly like it. I have been talking to the college students and told them about it. They did some research, and do you know what? It’s the same ship. It’s marvellous isn’t it, 90 years later?”

The book studies life growing up, coping with modern-day and family ties, and helped Martha achieve a 2:1 for her degree.

She moves to Cape Town this month, which means she won’t be able to help the home create a second project, as first hoped.

“We want to make a colourful mural for the garden,” said Christine.

“I thought the project was amazing. It shows what a group of elderly people can do and the results were absolutely incredible.

“It was so nice to get a group of people together and get their thoughts down on paper. It shows how much people do remember and it was so interesting.”

The Southgate Street home is now looking for volunteers to help create the mural.

As for the book – it’s sat on the common room coffee table, waiting for a reader to relive their journeys.

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