Emily heard about Foresters’ Forest on social media. “Following the Facebook page has been an excellent way for me, as a busy mum, to keep in touch with what is going on. When I saw ‘oral histories’ come up, it caught my interest and I immediately wanted to get involved.” Emily told us. “I was on maternity leave and I thought it would be an enjoyable thing to do with that time. I planned to do it with a sleeping baby in a basket – which sometimes worked out… and sometimes didn’t!” She laughed. “But it gave me a bit of a focus and was good fun.”
Emily is a freelancer working in radio so was already familiar with the equipment. “I’m very interested in oral testimonies and I thought that this could be a perfect way of getting to know the place I live better, using skills that I already had.” She said. “I also believe strongly in supporting and ‘giving back’ to the community, so this felt like a small thing that I could contribute.”
Although Emily envisaged that the volunteer role would rely on skills that she already possessed, she was surprised at how much she learned through the initial training session. “The training was excellent! It was fascinating learning about other oral history projects, and about the ethics of oral histories. I found it very useful.” She said.
Emily has gone on to record new oral histories with eight older residents of the Forest of Dean. “I have learned so much about the Forest of Dean through these people’s stories. I was truly amazed to hear about just how much the area has changed in less than eighty years, through tales of childhood with no electricity, no running water and Mothers who devoted every Monday entirely to the families’ laundry.” She said. “This past rural way of life is captivating. I loved hearing about the ‘pig man’ who arrived in Yorkley each year to slaughter the pigs kept by many families; about the sharing of a cider press that the whole community would come together to use; and the many stories of women going into service which I had not previously realised was so common.”
Emily very honoured to have captured these stories and moments in time. “I know that one of the men whom I interviewed has since passed away. I feel so privileged to have spoken to him and collected his story.” She said. “I have been so moved by how people have opened up about their thoughts and experiences during the interviews.”
Emily told us about one of her favourite moments: “I interviewed a brother and sister who grew up near Flaxley. They went to Plump Hill School, which immediately struck a chord as it is a place that I am personally very familiar with. Their tales of childhood were just so charming: picking plums, walking to school and Chapel, really of a community that is now gone. Their education at Plump Hill School sounded beautiful and innovative and sadly so different from how our children learn now.”
Her volunteering has altered her relationship with the Forest of Dean. “It has changed the way I view the Forest forever; I can see the layers of history and have a far great sense of place.” She said. Emily has now returned to work part-time as a freelancer for the BBC and has set up her own business making promotional films for local charities and organisations. “I’m feeling much more connected to the Forest now and I’m so happy to be trying to base my work here rather than in Bristol.” She told us. She has sadly had less time to give to the project. “I’m very keen to stay involved and I would love to take part in a catch-up session.” She said.
Emily feels that the experience will also have a long-term input into her career. “I would love to do a bigger project focusing on oral histories at some point in the future.” She said. “And I would enjoy seeing these stories shared more widely as they are so precious!” Emily hopes to volunteer more for the project when she next has a gap in her schedule. “I want to do more with the oral histories I have recorded, with more photos and help the project make them accessible to a wide audience.” Emily said.