Councillors learn to tell stories of the past

TWO local councillors have undertaken special training to help local communities tell the stories of their past and sometimes troubled histories.

The oral history training is being offered as part of the Peace Process: Layers of Meaning Project; an ambitious collaboration between Queen Mary, University of London, Trinity College Dublin, and Dundalk Institute of Technology which has been supported with €1.1 million from the EU’s PEACE III programme.

Banbridge Councillors, Marie Hamilton (SDLP) and Olive Mercer (UUP) were two of a group of 45 participants, 27 of whom flew to Queen Mary College, University of London, to undertake four days of specialist training.

Marie explained her desire to be involved in the project.

“My interest in oral history is as a resource that will establish a more balanced view of events from our past, bringing history to life and making it easier to understand. Working in local government it would be easy to become entrenched within your own political party.

“When I undertake an oral history project I will seek out as many diverse views as possible to get a balanced view. This training programme has highlighted how important personal stories are to oral history. I’d like to conduct a project to measure the impact mixed marriage has had on families during the Troubles.”

Council colleague Olive Mercer, expressed her wish to gain skills to help all aspects of her community work.

“Through contact with local community groups I would hope to explain the benefits and purpose of oral history work and encourage them to undertake an oral history project which is important and relevant to them.

“As many of the community groups I work with are rural based perhaps something related to the changes and challenges experienced by farmers and rural dwellers over the last forty years.”

Located in the heart of multi-cultural East London, Queen Mary provided the idea base from which to explore communities in conflict and to learn from oral history projects that have been undertaken with a wide range of ethnic groups. Field trips included a visit to the Imperial War Museum and to Toynbee Hall, a world-renowned pioneer in the identification and resolution of community stresses and conflicts. The second part of the course will be held at Altnaveigh House in Newry between April 30 and May 4 and the third will take place at Dundalk Institute of Technology in September.

The project is described in full at: www.peaceprocesshistory.org