“Roma Stories” is the Roma Support Group’s Roma Oral History Project. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and works with Roma researchers, local community members, London Metropolitan Archives, museums and academic institutions to explore, archive and share the unrecorded stories of Roma refugees and migrants in London.
You can read about progress of the “Roma Stories” Project in the blog updates on this site.
The first of our exhibition launches was at the Institute of Education at University College London on the 6th of September, where we were set up for two days, and received some extremely positive feedback.
The exhibition then moved to Stratford where we had our second, larger launch which was well attended. We were lucky to have the deputy mayor of Newham, Charlene McLean attend and make a speech.
Meanwhile the team had a workshop on the education pack at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) which was extremely useful. At the end of October the Exhibition moved from Stratford Library to the LMA, where it stayed until the 5thth of November, when Tania, Sue and Robert went to Bristol. The exhibition was launched at the Vestibules at Bristol City Hall, with a busy event that was attended by the Mayor of the city.
Following this we took the exhibition to the LMA on the 18th November where it stayed until our launch at Woodgrange Community Centre on the 22nd. Finally the exhibition went to the Wiener Library at the end of November, where it joined the library’s exhibition Forgotten Victims: The Nazi Genocide of the Roma and Sinti. Through being a temporary part of this fantastic exhibition, Roma Stories gained a lot of publicity, and was mentioned in Time magazine, and on BBC world service.
In November Tania, Mihai, Robert and Ted spoke about the project at a seminar at Queen Mary University London, hosted by the Raphael Samuel History Society. They talked about their experiences of the project, as well as summarising the findings of the interviews and answering questions about memory, identity, trauma, myth and the process of interviewing. Their speeches were responded to by historians Graham Smith (Newcastle University) and Julia Laite (Birkbeck).
We conducted several workshops in Redbridge Primary (L.B. Redbridge) and Southern Road Primary Schools (L.B. Newham) to test our draft version of the ‘Roma Stories’ – Roma Oral History Learning Resource with the aims of:
Sharing Roma Oral History stories;
Learning about and celebrate Roma history and culture; and
Encouraging respect for other people and further tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions.
The Learning Resource includes three individual Oral History Stories: Alexandru Silaghi, Elzbieta Glowacka and Rozalia Glowacka. Their stories tell us memories about life growing up in their home country; family members’ persecution and survival during the Second World War; migration, Roma identity and integration in the UK.
Presentation of Education Pack at City Hall
On the 14th June Sue and I presented and promoted our semi-final version of the ‘Roma Stories’- Roma Oral History Learning Resource, produced in collaboration with two local schools, at City Hall for Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month.
The event was held in London’s Living Room in City Hall and consisted of an informal drop in session where members of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller organisations were available to answer questions about the work they do and the history and culture of their communities. The evening program included a range of amazing singers, musicians and performers including Thomas McCarthy, Faith I Branko, and the Bridging Sounds Orchestra.
I am very grateful to Ted Snail, one of our valued volunteers, who produced the 3 minute video that was shown at the event.
This Learning Resource consists of general introductory information about Roma. It is set out in clear sections that can be used in Primary (KS2) and Secondary (KS3) schools, with teachers in higher and further education, other professionals and be of interest to non-school audiences to build a broader understanding about Roma people.
Our volunteers are integral to the project and contribute a variety of skills and knowledge. I would like to highlight the contribution the Czibi Róbert. Róbert is an artist who has made some illustrations for the Teacher Resource Pack made up of oral histories and exercises adapted for use in primary schools.
Thank you Robert!
Contribution of historical photographs to the project
Old photographs give us a visual perspective to the project, enhances the narratives provided during the oral history process and are included in our digital Learning Resource. Robert Dawson has kindly donated to us a collection of historical photographs.
Meetings and new connections
The success of this project is dependent on the connections we make with the interviewees, the volunteers key stakeholders and collaborators. All have a significant role to play in ensuring the voices of the Roma people are documented accurately, thoroughly and truthfully for future generations and that the goals of this project are met. All involved with the project accept a responsibility to do justice to the stories told and the people who told them.
In the last few months, several new connections have been made, volunteers have made noteworthy contributions, and significant progress has been made on both the education pack and preparation for the exhibition and Academic Forum.
In May we had a meeting with Nadia Valman, Reader in English Literature, Co-director, Raphael Samuel History Centre, Queen Mary, University of London, to plan the academic seminar, which will take place in October 2019. There will be between three and four academics and each will do a fifteen minutes presentation. Key findings will be explored, as well as having some actual recordings from the interviews. The discussion will be recorded in an online academic journal.
We also had another fruitful meeting with Elise Bath, who is affiliated with the Wiener Library. The Wiener Library is one of the world’s leading and most extensive archives on the Holocaust and Nazi era. Staff from the library approached us to look through the Robert Dawson Collection that was donated to us some time ago. The exciting thing is that the Wiener Library are interested in archiving and digitising our photo collection and making it accessible to the wider public – and this represents another new partnership to our project. I’m also planning to contact their Senior Curator who’s developing an exhibition connected with Roma Sinti experiences during the Holocaust- there might some useful overlap with our exhibition, in terms of material, events, exhibition, contacts, space etc.
We have also been in contact with the Holocaust Educational Trust, regarding presenting our Teachers Resources Pack during one of their teachers’ training; and we sought feedback on our digital Learning Resource from Sila, English as an Additional Language (EAL) Teacher, from Southern Road Primary School before it goes online. Sila’s input was especially useful re: the EAL resources we’ve created.
On the 13th July I attended a reading of a Futurist play by a Roma artist at the Romanian Cultural Institute. It provided a good opportunity to strike another new partnership, and could also be a potential exhibition venue for us for the future!
We are really excited to be finalizing dates and venues for our exhibition. So far we will be exhibiting on the following dates at the following venues:
6th & 7th September 2019 – UCL Institute of Education, London
13th September to 11th October 2019 – Stratford Library, London
28th October to 2nd November & 18th November to 23rd November 2019 – London Metropolitan Archives, London
4th to 16th November 2019 – Bristol (Venue TBC)
End of November 2019 – The Wiener library, London (TBC) – Nb. The Wiener library is currently preparing for an in-house exhibition on the Roma experience during WWII taking place in November, a perfect venue for us to display some of our work!
The academic seminar is scheduled for October 2019. I am currently in the process of preparing a 20 minute presentation on the Project’s findings and will also include proposing questions for the academics that will be present. The discussions will be recorded in an online journal.
Interviews and Archiving
With the Roma Stories project extended until late September, the various facets of the oral history research and archiving are coming together towards an affecting and evocative end result. Over the past six months, we have finished conducting a second round of interviews with around forty members of the Roma community of London; we have translated and transcribed the majority of these and are now in the process of proof-reading, compiling documentary footage and preparing for the exhibition of the work in locations across the city, from the London Metropolitan Archives to Redbridge Museum and University of London.
The responses, experiences and stories we have heard have been both poignant and heterogeneous, providing a diverse picture of what it means to be Roma in London today – from marginalisation and persecution to memory, identity and belonging – in no particular order. In a glimpse at one such interview, Baronita recalled harrowing accounts of the Holocaust/Porrajmos (Roma word meaning ‘the Devouring’):
Training and Development
Staff and volunteers working on the project have continuously undergone training and self-evaluation to ensure the best possible outcome for the Roma Stories process. This has included attending two sessions at the London Metropolitan Archives, supervision with the Tavistock Institute and a workshop on film-making with Roger Kitchen in Milton Keynes, who has been recording people’s stories for over 40 years. Each of these has been an excellent opportunity to engage with our partner organisations, develop our story-telling and documenting skills and more accurately represent the memories and experiences of London’s Roma.
Equally noteworthy, we have facilitated school workshops on Roma History including at Redbridge Primary School and Southern Road Primary School, for more almost 400 students and staff at each event. This has raised new challenges around gaps in the curriculum around Porrajmos and Britain’s Roma, and the difficulty in disseminating difficult materials, but has been an important learning curve and received very positive feedback.
In further news, our Teacher Resource Pack will be launched for Gypsy Roma and Traveller History Month (GRT) in June at City Hall, London. This exciting piece of work aims to inform and raise awareness of Roma experiences of World War II and is comprised of oral histories and exercises adapted for use within the current primary school curriculum. It is hoped that this will foster respect, tolerance and better understanding of the Roma community and its history of persecution, providing new perspectives on the dominant narratives of 20th century history in schools.
We are also in the process of developing a series of academic seminars, and are due to meet with the Raphael Samuel History Centre to discuss the events, to be hosted by Queen Mary University of London. This is a varied and busy time as we approach the final stages of our research and compile the stories and voices of London’s Roma into a tangible exhibition, documentary film and learning materials and events. Aiming to bring these unique narratives to people of all walks of life and levels of interest across London, we are looking forward to exciting progression in the coming months.
You can keep updated with our work via Twitter @OralRoma.
On the 17th of November 2017 the Project staff and Volunteers met for the one of our training sessions with the Tavistock Institute at the RSG office. The primary aim of the workshop was to help develop reflective practice in evaluating Roma stories, as part of it we looked at the experience of the interviewer and what exploring this can bring to wider learning in the Project. We were aided in this process by Julie Scott, an organisational development consultant from the Tavistock Institute who helps leaders and staff in understanding and developing their particular roles within a group. We were also assisted by Heather Stradling, a consultant specialising in evaluation and action research within projects relating to mental health and wellbeing, children and families and social innovation. The workshop session was at points difficult, but fruitful. It was especially helpful to share real life examples of reflective practice and to discuss how to learn from this and use it in informing our evaluation of the project.
I, the Coordinator of the Project, also met with the Tavistock Institute on the 16th of January 2018, and later on the 5th of June 2018. During the first meeting a number of important issues were discussed, including general setbacks such as the late start of the Project, the impact of one of the Roma Researcher’s absence due to illness within their family, and the lack of responses and availability of Volunteers. The lack of reflective notes and evaluation from Researchers, the uncertainty of the depth of interviews, and the difficulty in actually recruiting people to interview was also discussed. Some opportunities were also highlighted during the meeting, such as the potential to engage with more Researchers, and involve other staff and colleagues in the Project. It was refreshing for me to look at the Project from a distance and reflect on it, however at this stage it had become evident that the original deadline for the Project was quite ambitious. This is in part due to the reluctance of members of the Roma community to open up about their personal experiences, which makes it difficult to tap into the collective memory or self-reflection. Attempting to change the whole collective mindset in two years is ambitious, and as one of the Researchers, Klarysa pointed out, it is crucial to go back and interview the same people twice or three times in order to gain their trust, ask more questions, and probe deeper into important issues.
The first Project Steering Group meeting took place on the 5th of February 2018 in the RSG office, and was attended by Tania, Siladevi Chawda, Robert Czibi, Rachel Donnelly, Gerard Greene, Sylvia Ingmire, Roza Kotowicz, Olivia Marks-Woldman, Sarah Marriott. By this point we had recruited two Roma Researchers, 10 Volunteers and 14 interviewees had been conducted. From this meeting came a number of suggestions, for example using Stratford Library as a venue for the final exhibition and contacting the Centre for Holocaust studies. It was also recommended that the educational aspect of the Project should aim to have a nationwide reach. In order to do so it was suggested that contact should be made with the Department of Education, and that Roma training sessions should be developed using material from the Project that could be delivered to teachers and school professionals, not only in London Borough of Newham, but also beyond. In terms of the interviews themselves, it was decided that they should address contemporary issues such as Roma communities’ impressions and experiences of Britain as a host country and their settling stories, as well as their reasons for migration. In order to inform and inspire both Roma and non-Roma primary school pupils it was suggested that we should try to interview more young Roma people. On top of this, we should attempt to develop specific case studies in order to better reflect the diversity of Roma experiences. The suggestion was also made that two versions of the final video should be produced, one five minutes long and the other 20 minutes long.
Following the SGM meeting, the Project team, i.e. Volunteers, Roma Researchers and myself, met in the basement bar of the Institute of Education near Russell Square, in order to decide on roles within the Project. Rebekka expressed an interest in developing the learning pack for schools and suggested that we meet every two weeks to keep each other updated and for continuity. Abby said that she wanted to get involved with the proof-reading tasks, research, thematic analysis, archiving, assisting with self-reflective evaluation, and she suggested a partnership with Queen Mary University, Bartlett School of Planning, Kings College, and the language centre in Redbridge. Robert expressed interest in developing his archiving skills, but also helping out with all aspects of the project. Joanna wanted to assist with the thematic analysis, evaluation, archiving, the exhibition as well as creating the learning pack.
As part of the educational aim of the Project an Early Years specialist colleague of ours and I met with Kensington Primary School, on the 26th of April, to discuss a potential relationship with schools in the development of educational packs. The teacher we met with suggested that the Project could be integrated into Literacy, Geography and History (in particular the Second World War). She also advised us to look at the 2014 National Curriculum in order to gain a more specific idea of where the learning packs could fit in. These packs should be aimed at Key Stage 2 pupils, in particular those in Year Four and Five. Alongside the learning packs, as mentioned in the SGM, we will also develop a series of workshops to introduce our Project to the schools, and need to decide how many lessons are needed to do so. This is quite ambitious as we have set a deadline for January 2019, which is also when we plan to start developing the exhibition!
On the 29th of May the Project staff and Volunteers went to the London Metropolitan Archives for a training workshop. Here we were shown how archiving and cataloguing works, what information is available in the archives, why particular items are included in the archives, what sort of formats archival materials can take and how to conserve source material.
Running parallel to these meetings and training sessions the first round of interviews have been completed. In keeping with the Projects’ reflective practice, interviewers and those present at the interviews have recorded some interesting reactions to the interviews. For example, Klarysa found her interview with her Uncle fascinating, as he told a ‘real Roma story’ and was welcoming and honest in his answers, and how he has continued to live within Roma traditions despite having lived in Britain for a considerable period. Abby accompanied Szymon while he interviewed his aunt, Ewa, in her home. She reported that the intimacy and personal connection between the two made it easier for Ewa to recount her personal history and perspective to Szymon and allowed him to probe deeper for answers. However the language barrier prevented her from understanding everything!
As previously mentioned the Project team have been helped by other staff members from RSG. Mihai, who has conducted some interviews in Romanian, was also interviewed himself by me. I found the experience quite enriching as I was also able to put myself in the interviewer’s shoes, and could see how his reminiscing of his past stirred in him strong reactions and feelings, which ultimately have led him to pursue a career in social justice. I feel very privileged to have conducted some of the interviews, and am also very aware that my interviewees are part of the ‘elite’ so it will be very interesting to piece together all the very different stories and see what comes out.
May 2018, the majority of interviews have been done, transcribed and translated in quite a time- and labour-intensive process. After my recent meeting with Graham Smith from the Oral History Society, it is clear that we need to go back to some interviewees for more details. It was suggested that we should ask questions about everyday life, both presently and when our interviewees were children, and that we should analyse the dominant themes from the interviews. What needs to be factored in to previous deadlines is the time for a second round of interviews.