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Introducing the “Roma Stories” Oral History Project

“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.

You can also keep up-to-date with our most recent news by following us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/OralRoma.

For more information on the background to the project see our page on the Roma Support Group website.

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Update, June 2018

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.

Office_volunteers

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.

School_meeting

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!

LMA_Training

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.

Drawing of interview_1

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!

Drawing of interviw_2

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.

Drawing of interview_3

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.

Volunteer_transcribing