John Preston , Project Officer 1989-98, County manager/Operations Leader Hollybush 1998-2018 now Business Development Manager, North of England opened the event reflecting on his own journey and why stories are important.
I thought I would talk about my own journey and why it is important that we go out and ask people to tell their stories. Recently reflecting on this, and someone commented that central heating had killed folk music as people could all retreat to their bedrooms all over the house and not spend lots of time together. And ultimately it goes back, wind the clock all the way back to when we escaped from the caves and we have always enjoyed sitting round fires and hearing ordinary people’s stories, not the history written by the politicians, written by the kings and the people paid by the kings, and it was what was told round fires. And maybe that has changed and perhaps it is important that we have stories and collect the stories because we don’t pass them on, in the same way of oral traditions and legends. We collect the stories and reflect on those.
So in the background to this I thought oral history: what is the scope of it, so I thought it stretches back as far as the oldest people you know and what they can tell you.
Here we have a picture of my twice maternal great grandfather Peter Davies, who was a gardener in a village in Lancashire, and he is there in a greenhouse, possibly the one I remember going to visit when we went up to see my great uncle’s house, and I reflected the importance of some of these people in my life and what I had learnt from them. Peter was married to a lady who started life as Ellen Lee, and became Helen Leigh, quite formidably lady I think. Peter was a Quaker, and in 1916 got called up and refused to fight and he got sent to via the usual court tribunal or whatever it was, and ended helping to build the dam across the end of this lake in the Brecon Beacons as part of the Labour Corps so clearly a man of great principle.
Helen, is here second on the left in this picture, spent thirty years in the Cooperative movement, and was Chair of the Education Committee, so some committed to education outside the formal system.
So a bit of symmetry, we have been twice up the maternal side, lets go twice up the paternal side and find a guy called Johnson Preston who ran a carpentry business, and anyone who knows my love of carpentry. Sadly the tools I have at home came from another branch of the family not that one. He ran a carpentry shop in Haworth and I remember my father talking about how he as a child was taken round Haworth and people pointing out shop fronts and stuff that Johnson and the business had made.
I know quite a bit about Peter and Helen because I had the pleasure of spending time in my thirties talking to my Gran at the end of her life, and as old people often get, they start to tell you rather more than they do earlier on.
The trail is much colder on the other arm of the family. Some of you know I put this on Facebook in September, I went up over Oxenhope Moor and found approximately where my grandfather died. That is picture of Herbert Preston we think at the end of the First War, don’t know where the picture came from, it is in a picture frame costed in pfennigs, possibly somewhere in occupied territory at end of the War, Germany or perhaps France.
He was found two days after the outbreak of the Second War and what you want to reflect on is that throughout most of my life, he has been someone absent from the family history. It was an open verdict, but the rule was “don’t ask anybody about your grandfather” and that sort of impacted and reflecting on the circumstances and things I’ve dealt with in my role at TCV it is quite important.
Moving on to my father, I found a picture of him actually smiling. My father suffered from manic depression for forty years, that is one of the few pictures I ever found of him really smiling and he was sailing, and for some reason he didn’t pursue it, I perhaps wish he had.
Someone said child labour, that is possibly me in the ridiculous hat (picture of volunteers burning scrub on a Surrey Heath) that is me age 3 or 4 being dragged out volunteering by my parents with the Surrey Naturalists, so my accent isn’t quite sort of Leeds, born Leeds brought up in Rotherham, but spent preschool years in Surrey, used to get pulled up for it much to my embarrassment at school, still being called a Southern, 10 years on cos you didn’t speak quite right. So my parents have something to answer for. My father, bless him, did enrol me in the Young Ornithologists Club, that probably led to me taking groups birding at times.
On to more recent stuff, this is one that is not in the book, in my University years worked for the Dales National Park and on one occasion was asked to take out, or go and meet 4 or 5 young lads, I don’t if they were from borstal on an approved school but they had been brought out of Darlington to spend a few day in the Dales. And my boss Colin Straker, who was one of the wardens said lets build some lambing gates, which are the ones you put in the gaps in the walls and literally build from a pile of kit. And it was amazing day we had, basically I got the impression that these young lads had always been in trouble people hadn’t trusted them, people hadn’t given them things to do and I think that I took that away with me.
I won’t take up time reading it but there is a bit in the book by Ian Fullilove, who was one of my early colleagues, about the night a young man turned up with his support worker and knocked on the door and I think that really encapsulates some of the spirit of what we achieved at Hollybush over the years in that we accepted people and if people played by our rules we didn’t judge them and I used to say, pardon the expression “if you don’t crap in our backyard you can come and join in”, whatever you’ve done before I don’t so much mind, as long as you play by our rules.
This one is in the book, in the early nineties, and I can’t remember how it was funded, I got sent down to Churchtown Farm for a training course run by, I think it has become Scope by that point, on involving people with disabilities and we had four people with disabilities on the course, and this is one of them, I think he was called Trevor. Basically everywhere we went we had ensure all the advisors were with us. On arrival they said you aren’t going to get lunch until everyone has been up the hill at the back of the Centre, and got down again and if these people can’t get up there, you are going to get the up there. This was a walk in the Luxulyan Valley where my two course colleagues have straps attached to the front of Trevor’s wheelchair to drag it around, we also had an evening canoe trip to a pub, we had to cross one of the rivers. That again coloured the approach I took to lots of subsequent work.
I hope the book has captured some of what that lead to, in the comments that people have made,
One of my early jobs and one Jessica helped me with was running weekend residentials up in the Dales and that is one of the motley crews we took away and one of the old minibuses we used to get around in.
And that is enough from me.