Putting down roots

View out to a resident’s garden, with a view over the hedge of neighbouring houses and distant hills

This month I was joined by filmmaker Hannah Earl from Somerset Art Works to make a short film about the Woolaway Reminiscence Project. We walked around the project area and shot some footage taking in the beautiful views looking over to the Wellington Monument. We also revisited a resident who very kindly let us film in her home and garden. Once the film is ready I’ll put a link up on this blog. 

A subject that came up this month was the idea of ‘putting down roots’. Many residents have lived in their homes for decades. Neighbours become good friends and a support network is built. Generations stay in the area and ‘roots’ of family and friendship grow deep. Homes are well kept and gardens are nurtured and treasured. Some homes have stunning views over to the distant hills. 

Here are some comments made last week about a resident’s beloved garden, which she has carefully designed over many years to create a private and peaceful outdoor sanctuary: ‘It’s not just in the house that has memories, it’s outside too, in the garden… and sometimes more meaningful ones … It’s like another room”. She continued to describe a communal green space behind her garden: ‘My children used to play out there catching butterflies. Children from across the road used to come and play together’.

Woolaway Reminiscence Project memory cards

Some lovely memories have been returned on the back of the Woolaway Reminiscence Project memory postcards, which have been sent to each house in the project area. Here are two extracts from two generations of the same family:

‘Moved in when new in 1954. One of the first houses built. Had three youngsters under ten, and I thought the house was like Buckingham Palace! At last we had a home we could settle in and make it a family friendly abode. We were so happy’.

‘We played in the streets and loved to play football after school on the patch of grass in Dover Road. We also loved to go climbing trees in Lyngford Lane. I remember the “big freeze” in 1962-63 when we were snowed in and each morning when we woke up the bedroom windows were covered in ice as Jack Frost had visited. Mum had the gas taken out as she didn’t like it, so we only had storage heaters downstairs not upstairs!’.


I’m looking forward to visiting more Woolaway homes and will continue to share photographs, stories and reflections on this blog. If you would like to get involved, a home visit can be arranged by contacting Angela Bolitho on 01823 785580 or emailing Carolyn via woolawaystories@gmail.com

Woolaway home

Souvenirs and Mementos

As we head into a new year and decade many of us are looking to the future and making plans. It’s also a good time of year to hibernate and reminisce about happy memories of our loved ones and perhaps time spent in warmer climates. Many of the homes I’ve visited for the Woolaway Reminiscence Project are full of mementos: souvenirs, family photographs and ornaments. Fridges are often decorated with magnets from around the world, perhaps gifts from family members or keepsakes from holidays.

Fridge magnets

The word ‘souvenir’ comes from the French souvenir which means ‘remember’. The word ‘remember’ is from the Latin: rememorari to ‘call to mind’. Which in turn is where we get our word ‘Reminiscence’ – the action of remembering. We often surround ourselves with visual prompts to fondly remember significant life stories.  

‘Nana’s Home, where memories are made and grandkids are spoilt’

Gifts are often given by family members and proudly displayed in the home. This cushion pictured reminds me of hand embroidered furnishings and decorations with slogans such as ‘Home Sweet Home’ or ‘Bless the Home’. This ‘Nana’s Home’ cushion is one of the first things this resident sees as she steps into her home. I noticed it straight away, then my eye was drawn up to the opposite wall to this kingfisher plate. 

Kingfisher plate

Printed plates, either as souvenirs or for decoration, are also popular in the Woolaway homes I’ve visited. Bird motifs on plates are said to be popular as a symbol of hopes and dreams. Kingfishers are also said to symbolise peace and prosperity. They are beautiful birds which I’ve been fortunate enough to spot whilst walking in Somerset. This kingfisher plate faces out to the front door and the street beyond. We fill our homes with objects that bring us hope and help us reminisce. 

Each home in the project area should have received a Woolaway Reminiscence Project postcard, with a blank side to write down your memories of your home and the local area. These memories written on the cards will be used to create a collaborative artwork or book project. In 2020 I’m looking forward to visiting more Woolaway homes and will continue to share photographs, stories and reflections on this blog. I would love to hear more stories of life in and around the North Taunton Woolaway houses. If you would like to get involved, a home visit can be arranged by contacting the Woolaway Project Team on 01823 219 159 or northtauntonwoolawayproject@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk

Carolyn Lefley

A Christmas tree and a Rowan tree

Earlier this month I attended the Priorswood Christmas Market, to meet more residents and promote the Woolaway Reminiscence Project. My stall was 1950s themed, as the Woolaway homes were built in the early fifties. I had 1950’s Christmas music, wore festive vintage clothing and the stall had a handmade wooden Christmas tree.

Woolaway Reminiscence Project stall, Priorswood Christmas Market, December 2019
(photograph by Hannah Earl)

I invited people to stick a paper bauble to the tree, inscribed with how many years they had lived in the area, as a conversation starter. Years ranged from an impressive 85 years down to only a few months in the area. I gave out many of the ‘memory postcards’ I’ve created for the project. It was a wonderfully festive event, with a lovely community feel. I met several residents linked to the Woolaway homes. One resident in particular is worth a mention as her front garden was unwittingly featured on my memory postcard.

Woolaway Reminiscence Project – Memory postcard. Residents are invited to write their memories and stories of life in the Woolaway homes on the back of these cards.

Back in July I walked around the Woolaway project area and took several photographs of the streets and houses. I remember being particularly drawn to this Rowan tree with red berries. At the Christmas market the resident shared a bit of her life story, including moving into the property in the 1990s and being offered a choice of tree for her front garden. Over the years she has been delighted by her choice of tree, with its nearly year long display of red berries. We had a great conversation at the market and I hope to visit her home in the new year to listen to more stories. 

Rowan tree, Rochester Road, Taunton. July 2019.

I’m looking forward to visiting more Woolaway homes in 2020 and will continue to share photographs, stories and reflections on this blog. I would love to hear more stories of life in and around the North Taunton Woolaway houses. If you would like to get involved, a home visit can be arranged by contacting the Woolaway Project Team on 01823 219 159 or northtauntonwoolawayproject@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all the residents and the project team 🎄

Carolyn Lefley

Photographs and memories

Family photographs are something that have a shared visual language that crosses generations and cultures. In the homes I’ve visited so far, some wonderful memories have been shared by looking together at people’s family photographs. Photo albums, framed prints, drawers and boxes of photographs and increasingly digital cameras or mobile phones house images which trigger memories of our past.

I recently visited a resident who has been in her home for 35 years, having moved to the area in her early thirties with a young family. She told me all about her life in the area and what her home means to her: ‘This house is the first place I’ve settled. I have roots here and have made lasting friendships with my neighbours, building up trust over the years.’ The image above shows a beautiful print, hand coloured by the resident’s grandfather. The photograph is of her as a young girl. It’s a striking portrait and unusual to have such a large hand coloured print. It started a conversation about the historical technique but led on to how much her grandfather had encouraged her in the arts, which in turn shaped her adult life, as she became a primary school teacher who encouraged her pupils to learn in a creative way.

As we talked I looked around her living room and noticed several small paintings. It transpired they were all hand painted by the resident from family photographs. This was described as both an inexpensive way to decorate the walls and a chance to be creative. It’s also a way to treasure those memories, and the act of painting them might aid that reminiscence. 

Participants in the project so far have been so generous with their time and welcoming me into their homes. I’ve enjoyed looking through photo albums and boxes of unsorted photographs. Whatever the archival method, it’s a lovely way to trigger memories.

I’m looking forward to visiting more Woolaway homes and will continue to share photographs, stories and reflections on this blog. I would love to hear more stories of life in and around the North Taunton Woolaway houses. If you would like to get involved, a home visit can be arranged by contacting the Woolaway Project Team on 01823 219 159 or northtauntonwoolawayproject@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk

I will also be at the Priorswood Christmas Market, Priorswood Place, 3-6pm, Tuesday 3rd December. I’ll be there running a stall with a Christmas activity linked to the project. Come along and enjoy a free mince pie and find out more about the Woolaway Reminiscence Project. 

Carolyn Lefley

Decorations and ornaments

How we choose to decorate our homes often reveals our sense of identity, interests and past. Ornaments, paintings, furniture and even room decor choices often have unique stories attached to them. Ornaments can form part of collections and can be added to by the inhabitant as well as gifted to them or inherited. One resident I visited recently has a beautifully presented sitting room, which is filled with hundreds of ornaments. The vast majority are housed in a large glass fronted display cabinet. The cabinet was divided into three sections: her own collection and those of her mother and father. Other ornaments were then carefully arranged into groups, nearly always with a story behind each item. To be surrounded by these items is a comfort, especially to those living alone, as a lot of the objects have been gifted and bring to mind celebrations, milestones and occasions with family and friends. 

The walls of the homes I’ve visited have been decorated with a mixture of family photographs and pictures of the natural world. I have noticed that there is a trend among the Woolaway homes for bringing nature into the home. For example this autumnal scene pictured above. This was in a home where the occupants were preparing to move house. The walls were nearly empty, but this landscape painting remained, perhaps left up so the room didn’t seem so bare for the final days in their home. These residents remembered when the area was only trees, before the houses were built.

Colour is also important in people’s homes. When I walked into one kitchen I instantly noticed the yellow theme: yellow walls, kettle, tins, ornaments, mats, pictures, post it reminders and even the Utterly Butterly tub. The resident explained, ‘Yellow is a happy colour and it brings the sunshine in.’ 

The home is a person’s private sanctuary and net curtains are often used. They let the light in, but afford privacy and also allow more identity to be expressed in the choice of pattern, which often references nature. This last photograph shows some floral net curtains with a suspended sun catcher, which apparently enthralled the resident’s grandchildren with rainbow lighting effects which played across the front room. 

I’m looking forward to visiting more Woolaway homes in November and will continue to share photographs, stories and reflections on this blog. I would love to hear more stories of life in and around the North Taunton Woolaway houses. If you would like to get involved, a home visit can be arranged by contacting the Woolaway Project Team on 01823 219 159 or northtauntonwoolawayproject@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk

Carolyn Lefley

Seeds, sheds and stories

All of the homes I have visited so far have included a tour of the garden, as an extension of the home. Even those in flats with shared gardens have fond memories of tending allotments and sharing herbs and vegetables with their neighbours. People’s gardens seem to be their sanctuary and joy is found in nurturing and growing plants. One resident has grown a fruit tree, from a seed from her native country, some thirty years ago and the tree now reaches up to her first floor flat window.

Another resident designed a fairy themed rockery for his wife which illuminates at night. I’ve also had glimpses into potting sheds, greenhouses and most interestingly, hobby sheds. One resident kindly showed me his ‘boat shed’ where he enjoys time to himself building intricate, miniature boats.

Walking around people’s gardens and looking into different sheds has triggered fond memories for the residents of gardening triumphs and family gatherings. But people are also now thinking ahead and beginning to pot up plants, preparing to take them on to their new homes. These plants, garden ornaments and sheds are part of people’s homes and they want to take these treasures with them. With the seasons changing and the leaves turning, residents will be tending their gardens less. Last month I was proudly shown a beautiful passion flower hedge in a front garden.

This month I walked through a front garden with a grapevine archway, with which the resident makes his own wine. The front gardens in the area are also seen as extensions of the home, with occupants sitting out to catch the sun, or in some cases chatting to neighbours passing by. 

I’ll finish this post with a lovely story recounted this week. I was sitting with a gentleman looking out of his window to his front garden and the road beyond. He started to reminisce about when he first bought his family to see their new home thirty years ago. Then he recalled his old job and its frequent proximity to his home!

‘I used to work on the buses and the route came past my house. If I was thirsty, I’d stop outside my house and pop in for a drink. Those were the Rhubarb and Custard buses, Ford Transit 16 seaters, the old B route’. 

I would love to hear more stories of life in and around the North Taunton Woolaway houses. Memories of what home means to you, homemaking, your family, your neighbours, what the area was like before these houses were built and when the houses were new (or new to you). If you would like to get involved a home visit can be arranged by contacting the Woolaway Project Team on 01823 219 159 or northtauntonwoolawayproject@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk

Carolyn Lefley

Woolaway memories

I’ve been visiting the North Taunton Woolaway project area for a few months now to develop the Woolaway Reminiscence Project. I’ve met with several residents who have been kind enough to invite me into their homes and share stories over a cup of tea. I’ve really enjoyed listening to local people’s memories and thoughts on what makes a house a home. As a photographer I’ve loved looking at residents old photographs of their precious memories of events that happened at their home. Such as the excitement of sending a daughter off to the church to be married. All of the homes I’ve visited take real pride in their gardens and have photographed them over the years to include in family albums. Another resident often grabs her compact film camera to photograph sunsets and snow scenes, then takes the films to the chemist for processing and printing.

Here are a selection of her snow scenes. We talked about how the familiar area is transformed by the magical blanket of snow. And how the heavy snow brings the community together, clearing paths, making snowmen and having snowball fights. 

A familiar theme at my home visits was how life has changed over the years and residents became nostalgic, telling me some great anecdotes. Such as this one:

‘My neighbour used to leave me her key, and if her wash load finished while she was out at work, I’d step over our low fence, take her washing from the machine and put it on the line for her. And I’d take it in if it rained’. 

Another family I visited have lived in their home for 48 years and are just in the process of packing and moving to a different area. I heard lots of lovely stories, such as being the first paperboy on the estate, making ‘dens down the lane’, remembering the area when it was an orchard. Travelling to Devon on holiday in a bubble car with three children sat on the back shelf. So many memories! Some poignant quotes from this visit were: ‘This house has been good to us’. And towards the end of the meeting ‘How do you make a home (up again)?’. The overriding feeling was ‘home’ is where family and friends are. 

The houses I’ve visited so far all had a well kept, traditional front room, with many ornaments and family photographs. A treasure trove for a photographer! It’s been lovely to hear some of the stories behind the objects and photographs. I’ve been making audio recordings of our conversations. Snippets of these memories might be transcribed into a final output for this project. It’s most likely going to be a book comprising of photographs and text forming a reminiscence project around the Woolaway houses. However, as I keep visiting residents and getting to know the area, the project might evolve into a different outcome such as a film or exhibition. 

If you would like to get involved or want to find out more about the Reminiscence Project just call into my next open meeting on 15th October 11am – 1pm at 27 Rochester Road. Alternatively a home visit can be arranged by contacting the Woolaway Project Team on 01823 219 159 or northtauntonwoolawayproject@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk

I’m very grateful to everybody who has participated so far and look forward to meeting more residents this month.
Carolyn Lefley

Share your stories over tea and cake

Residents are warmly invited to share their memories about life over the years in the North Taunton Woolaway houses.

The project will celebrate personal stories and shared social history. Plans for recording and sharing these stories will evolve in collaboration with residents.

Artist Carolyn Lefley is hosting three friendly, drop-in meetings at 27 Rochester Road – free tea and cake provided!

13th August
17th September
15th October
11:00am – 1:00pm

Please come along and share your stories, bring along any old photographs or objects to share.
Home visits can be arranged for less mobile residents.

If you would like to get involved or want to find out more about the Reminiscence Project just call into one of our meetings or contact the Woolaway Project Team
Community Office: Open Tuesdays 13:00-16:00 & Thursdays 10:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00
* Email: northtauntonwoolawayproject@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk

Telephone: 01823 219 159 / 0300 304 8000
Facebook: northtauntonwoolawayproject

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