52 Things - Number 24: Make your own community film

Overview and Background:

Making a film about your village or community can be a great way of pooling local talent, enthusiasm and history, as the villages in the Upper Esk Valley of the North Yorkshire Moors discovered. 

The approach: 

As part of a project led by Debbie Swales, they secured funding from the North Yorkshire Moors National Park to create a film that would tour the local area and capture the memories of elderly residents, enabling the preservation of local history.

Debbie explains: “The film would preserve knowledge, information and personal stories forever, as well as be a record of people’s characters and lives. The idea was to make local history accessible to a wide range of people who may not otherwise have taken an interest, but to also generate funds that could be fed back into the community for new ideas to help the elderly.”

With the grit, determination and hard work of a close-knit group of volunteers, ‘Living Memories’ saw fruition over a period of 6 months and has had an incredible impact. Local schools have copies of the DVD, the participants who bravely shared their stories have visited pupils to talk about local history, and the film is being used in future lessons.

On top of this, new contacts and links were forged in the creation of the film, particularly between care providers and older people, new activities and games have been set up, and there have been clear indicators of reduced loneliness and isolation as a result of making the film.

“The film and photographs are wonderful outcomes of this project,” Debbie says, “we have captured a slice of history pre-1960 that can be treasured by local people and their families forever.

“Equally important is the journey we have taken, banding together to create this piece of work and to achieve something special shows we are still a strong community today as we were in days gone by.”

The outcome: 

Proceeds from the DVDs, including from their sale, the tour, and also from a ‘Michael Parkinson’-style showcase night where participants told their stories to attentive audiences, will all be going towards more projects of this nature and also to support activities for the elderly such as trips and monthly memory cafes to name a few.

As with many community projects, the film depended on the dedication of volunteers, who Debbie admits were crucial to its success. Volunteers were needed for everything from setting up stages, to taking photographs, to carrying out research and making pots of tea. This all-hands-on-deck approach is heavily time-consuming; Debbie admits that it took over their lives for a while, but it was hugely rewarding.

Her advice to communities wishing to do the same or similar is to plan ahead carefully and work hard at getting the right volunteers. “They are worth their weight in gold,” she says.

What next: 

Debbie is keen that anyone inspired by ‘Living Memories’ can contact her to find out more. Please email revivalnorthyorks@gmail.comfor a chat about bringing such a project to life and securing the necessary funding and volunteers.

Debbie finishes, “It is a fantastic experience and achievement but be prepared for the long haul, especially if it is the first film you have made.”