Small world of difference

Local children have been interviewing family members via telephone as part of Linsey Wynton's 'Small World' project
Local children have been interviewing family members via telephone as part of Linsey Wynton’s ‘Small World’ project

A virtual culture project is encouraging children and teenagers to tap into family members’ memories, writes Linsey Wynton

Last year I ran a series of workshops at Henry Maynard Primary School focused on recording biographical family stories.

Children interviewed grandparents, aunts, uncles, childminders and parents, learning much about their lives in the past and in far flung continents. There were tales of being evacuated to the countryside during the Second World War, of growing up in countries where there was no running water at home, and of coming to the UK as war refugees.

I planned to repeat the workshops this year, but then the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Not being able to see grandparents or other extended family has been one of the toughest aspects of the lockdown for many children and teenagers. That’s why I launched a virtual version of the project to encourage young people to connect to extended families by phone, and ask them about their lives when they were growing up.

Commissioned by Waltham Forest Council’s ‘Virtual Culture’ programme, there are now a series of free ‘Small World’ tutorials on YouTube covering how to interview a family member or family friend about their life experiences by phone and create a written booklet or audio recording for families to treasure. The project is suitable for school-aged children and teenagers, although younger children need parental support. Children as young as five have taken part so far, with parents describing their records of family members’ stories as “precious” and saying their children “got really into it”.

I’ve also created a tutorial on how to interview a parent or someone you live with using a smartphone video recorder – with tips on common pitfalls. It’s a fun weekend project, so children can interview parents or carers and discover that there’s so much more to their lives than they could imagine!

Finally, I’ve made a tutorial for adults who want to write or make an audio recording of their own biographical story, offering insights on structuring a story and how to write with emotion. After all, the lockdown affords some of us time to record stories that we have always meant to over the years.

For more information you can join the Facebook group @SmallWorldTutorials where I’m putting together a mini-virtual exhibition of photographs of kids’ and adults’ work.

For more information about Small World tutorials and to watch the videos on YouTube: