Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

21 posts categorized "The Listening Project"

23 October 2023

Recording of the week: A conversation right up our alley

In the Spoken English department we love dialects in all their varieties. Dialects are made up of accent, grammatical forms and vocabulary, and are often specific to or associated with a particular geographical location. As populations change, so do dialects, and therefore many people might think of these as a relic from the past, and even mourn their disappearance. But change is not loss, and so we’re always happy to find and share examples of dialect words in the wild – alive and well!

Photo of a alley in Derbyshire

This conversation from The Listening Project was recorded in 2021, between two strangers in different parts of England. They were brought together to discuss their shared interest in a topic they both have different names for: gennels and alleys.

Katie, a mature student in Sheffield, spent her daily exercise time during the Covid-19 lockdowns exploring new areas in her local community. This sparked an interest in the gennels that she and her family discovered. After setting up social media accounts to document their expeditions, she received lots of positive feedback. Katie’s photos were so popular, that she has since produced a charity calendar to showcase some of her favourite gennels around Sheffield.

Over in Tewkesbury, Bill set up a similar activity - Project Alleycat - five years ago, aiming to instil local pride and promote the preservation of the alleys near to him. This has involved working with local artists and creatives, and the project has so far produced calendars, tea towels, maps and a phone app. In this first clip he explains how it all started, from concerns about big developments, to pro-active plans to help improve the environment.

Listen to Conversation between strangers (C1500/2202) clip 1

Download transcript Conversation between strangers clip 1

Traditionally, people where I live call these passageways “twittens”, but there are a range of names for these in different dialects – snicket, jitty, cut-through, vennel, jigger, tenfoot, ope... Katie’s favoured term “gennel” also has spelling and pronunciation variants - is it ginnel or gennel? A hard or a soft G sound? There’s also some debate about the subtle differences between these words – do they run between or behind houses? Do they always connect roads, or can they have a dead-end? In this clip, Katie and Bill compare some of the definitions and pronunciations that they have heard, and the long conversations that these can inspire.

Listen to Conversation between strangers (C1500/2202) clip 2

Download transcript Conversation between strangers clip 2

Despite these differences, one of the things that both speakers agree on is how these gennels and alleyways bring local people together - beyond just connecting neighbours geographically. They have seen a number of community-wide benefits growing out of their hobby, from public artworks to charity fundraising and a strong sense of ownership for people’s favourite locations. In this final clip they discuss what the very local focus of their projects means to them, and some of the positive outcomes.

Listen to Conversation between strangers (C1500/2202) clip 3

Download transcript Conversation between strangers clip 3

You can explore more about the differences between dialects on the Sounds website. A good place to start is the BBC Voices project (2004-2005), where groups of people across the UK spoke about their local language, based on given prompts. These conversations were then analysed to create an inventory of linguistic features for different dialects, and you will find a wide range of variants for “passageways” included. It’s also possible to explore back further, with large linguistic survey collections from the 1950s, plus recordings from the early twentieth century. Today, from The Listening Project, I was pleased to hear that the use (and popularity of use) of “gennels” has not diminished over time.

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. From 2012 to 2022, people were invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC, and archived by the British Library. The full collection includes over two thousand recordings, preserved in full. You can listen to these through the Sounds website, and learn more about the project at the BBC.

All three audio clips are excerpts of 'Conversation between strangers Katie and Bill about passageways' (C1500/2202). You can listen to the full recording on our Sounds website.

Today's post was written by Sarah Kirk-Browne, Digital Multimedia Collections Cataloguer.

Image credits: Jonnie Robinson, Curator of Spoken English.

09 December 2022

'Exercise for all': Challenging barriers to access for disabled people

This Disability History Month, staff from across the British Library have collaborated on a series of blog posts to highlight stories of disability and disabled people in the Library’s collections. Each week a  member of staff will showcase an item from the collections and present it alongside commentary from a member of the British Library’s staff Disability Support Network. These selections are a snapshot insight into the Library’s holdings of disability stories, and we invite readers to use these as a starting point to explore the collections further and share your findings with us.

This selection has been made by Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Photo of Radha and SharonPhotograph of Radha Nair-Roberts and Sharon Williams © BBC

A key issue in 'Disability, Health and Well Being' is challenging the obstacles that can prevent people accessing services in their local communities. Reflecting on this concern, I was reminded of friends Sharon and Radha, who recorded an inspirational conversation for The Listening Project in 2018.

In this recording, Sharon and Radha got together in Sharon’s home in Cardiff to discuss how their friendship developed and what healthy living means to them. They are both wheelchair users and first met a couple of years earlier at a conference. They quickly found common ground in their frustration at the lack of accessible exercise opportunities in their community. They both passionately support the rights of disabled people to manage their own health and well being, and decided to join forces to help improve this.

Both Sharon and Radha have life-long conditions, and they described their disappointment at only being offered finite and fragmentary physical and mental health services. After a spinal injury, Sharon spent a year in residential rehabilitation. But once this was completed, she was offered six weeks of Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy support, then left unsure what to do next. Radha has multiple sclerosis, and as her physical health began to deteriorate she became increasingly aware that the opportunities she wanted – and was legally entitled - to access, were not available in reality. In this clip they describe the importance of being able to find and use health services, and how the barriers for disabled people led to them beginning their campaign.

Sharon and Radha discuss the origins of their campaign [BL REF C1500/1730]

Download transcript

Over the years, as their friendship grew, Sharon and Radha shared different personal experiences of being disabled and this helped to inform their work. In the recording they recalled stories of public transport, trying to access help through local politicians and the work of charities connected to specific health conditions. They soon realised that although there may be some good examples of local services, there was often low awareness of them and insufficient funding across the board. Through their discussions and research they also agreed it was particularly important to emphasise services that are cross-condition and named their campaign 'Exercise for All' in response. In this clip they describe the importance of health and well being services for everyone in a community.

Sharon and Radha on health and well being services for all [BL REF C1500/1730]

Download transcript

One of the most moving parts of this conversation is Sharon and Radha’s reflections on how they transitioned from being able-bodied to their lives as wheelchair users. They explained the process of losing and regaining independence and negotiating changed relationships with family, friends, and themselves. The experience of giving up her career was particularly difficult for Radha, however they agreed that leaving work also opened up a new world of activity and friendship which has been essential for their well being. In this clip they describe their experiences of relearning a sense of self, and not being defined by disability.

Sharon and Radha on navigating changing identity and relationships [BL REF C1500/1730]

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Together Sharon and Radha have helped each other to re-examine and enjoy their lives. There have been many challenges, but they have also discovered new joys and reassessed what is important to them. In this final clip they describe the deeper meaning, positive energy, and rewarding relationships that they now feel in their daily lives.

Sharon and Radha reflect on their lives and friendships [BL REF C1500/1730]

Download transcript

Sharon and Radha were recorded as part of The Listening Project, which began in 2012 and came to an end in 2022. The project captured personal conversations between people on a subject of their choosing, for broadcast in edited form on a BBC radio programme and archived in full at the British Library. We currently have a collection of over 2,000 recordings, spanning across the decade from around the United Kingdom. They offer an intimate and unparalleled glimpse into people’s lives, and their wide variety of experience. There are many voices of people with disabilities in this collection to explore, covering a huge range of topics.

Reflection from British Library staff Disability and Carer Support Network member Barbara O'Connor:

Sharon and Radha express so well the power of the collective voice. Their sentiment is moving and matter of fact: this the way it is. It shouldn’t be. We’re going to do so something about it. Power in community, strength through constructive group identity. This could be the unofficial mantra of the British Library’s Disability and Carer Support Network.

The path to hell is paved with good intentions. Examples of fragmentary provision are legion. I still flinch when I recall queuing for my 1st Covid jab. The civic-NHS mobilisation was impressive; walkie-talkie wielding high-vis clad volunteers, hot drink stands, even water bowls for the tethered-and-treasured. Nothing was overlooked, except of course, my access. The disabled signage and the ramp were in place. An entrance wide enough for my wheelchair? Oops. Tethered-but-not-so-treasured.

I find the conversation about the transition from able-bodied to less able-bodied uncomfortable. I’m only midway through the process and I struggle: grieving for the body that I had; unsure of how to reconstruct me; wildly flailing between my coping mechanisms, namely those of questionable black humour, shock and awe and raging anger. For one thing I can be sure, consign me to the 'Oh Bless, Oh Brave' brigade and you’ll experience the latter.

18 July 2022

Recording of the week: ‘Living open-handedly’

This week’s selection comes from Holly Gilbert who was, until recently, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections at the British Library.

Colour photograph of Michael and Paddy

Photo of Paddy Taggart & Michael McEvoy © BBC

One of the many highlights of working with the Listening Project collection for nearly a decade has been the joy of hearing the wisdom that other people have gained from their own lived experiences.

The recordings are mainly conversations between two people who know each other well so it is almost inevitable that some profound insights are made in the course of what can often be quite deep and personal discussions.

As I leave the British Library for a new path in life I’m thinking about the parallels between meditation and wild swimming that two friends, Michael and Paddy, discuss in their Listening Project conversation in Belfast. They talk about how they met through their shared interest in both these activities and remember some of the swims they have been on together.

They describe the magical experience of being immersed in nature and the wildlife they encounter in and under the water.

They also discuss how being in water allows you to see things from a different perspective, and reflect on the meditative and philosophical side of swimming as well as how much fun it can be.

In this extract Paddy describes very eloquently what you can learn from the nature of water and how it can be applied to life on land as well. I invite you to turn up the volume, let go and jump in!

Listen to Michael and Paddy

Download 'Living open-handedly' transcript

Listen to the full conversation on the British Library Sounds website

11 July 2022

Recording of the week: Trailblazers in women’s sports

This week’s selection comes from Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

EURO 2022 promotional flyer

Last week, the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 competition kicked off in Old Trafford. This is the second time England has hosted the tournament, and there are live matches in stadiums across the country. With an exciting and inspiring summer of women’s sport ahead, I would like to highlight this conversation recorded for The Listening Project in 2021.

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. Since 2012, people have been invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and archived by the British Library. You can listen to over one thousand recordings in full on our Sounds website, and learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website. In this recording, archived in full as British Library call number C1500/2124, two pioneering sportswomen discuss their successes and experiences.

Leah Caleb started playing football at infant school, joining in with the boys in the playground. As her love of football grew, her mum heard about a new women's football team called Chiltern Valley run by Harry and June Batt. Leah joined the club aged 11, and at just 13 she went to Mexico to take part in the 1971 Women's World Cup. At the time, the media were comparing her footballing skills to George Best, and interest and ticket sales for the competition exceeded all expectations. 

Although she was representing England and played in front of crowds of 90,000, the team was not recognised by the Football Association or the then Women's Football Association (WFA), and on their return home they were banned from playing for three months. You can read more about the WFA’s reaction to this event in the WFA Archive held by the British Library at call number Add MS 89306. However, this sequence of events paved the way for much greater recognition and support for women’s football, leading to the huge popularity and excitement for the 2022 Euros that we are seeing today.

In this clip, Leah describes her love for the game:

Listen to Leah Caleb

Download Leah Caleb transcript

Joining Leah in this conversation is Dana Abdulkarim, who was the first Muslim and Arab woman to represent England in any sport. Like Leah, she was also 13 when her football career was taking off. She was encouraged to go for trials to play for England, but an injury combined with attitudes around her faith and participation in the sport proved to be a challenge. Instead she focused on rounders, which at the time felt more inclusive. She had great success and subsequently gained 67 England caps. She then went on to become Britain's first hijabi Muslim PE teacher, encouraging future generations of girls in sport. She is also a speaker, writer, and trustee at the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation and the Chance to Shine charity.

Leah and Dana talk together about their trailblazing experiences as women in sport across different generations. They also discuss the challenges they have faced and their hopes for the future.

In this second clip, Dana talks about how things are changing for the better in school sports, and how much she is looking forward to the Euros:

Listen to Dana Abdulkarim

Download Dana Abdulkarim transcript

Get involved with preserving women’s football online:

The British Library is part of the UK Web Archive, which has an extensive collection of content from sports clubs (amateur and professional), fan sites, football research and events. There is no distinction in the collection based on gender, and we are working to ensure that information, discussion and creative output related to the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 competition is preserved for future generations. Anyone can nominate UK published websites for inclusion in the UK Web Archive by filling in our nominations form.

You can read more about the UK Web Archive’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 collection in this recent blog post by Curator of Web Archiving, Helena Byrne

13 June 2022

Recording of the week: More than a headteacher

This week's selection comes from Sandra Agard, Learning Facilitator. 

'More than a headteacher' is how cousins Michelle Campbell-Davies and Rachel Clarke describe Betty Campbell, or Nan, as they knew her, in their chat recorded for The Listening Project to mark Black History Month in October 2021.

Bronze statue of Betty Campbell in Central Square, CardiffStatue of Betty Campbell in Central Square, Cardiff. Photo by 14GTR via Wikimedia, Creative Commons attribution CC BY-SA 4.0.

As the two cousins recall their family history and 'Nan’s legacy,' they painfully remember that as a child their Nan wanted to be a teacher – the response from her headteacher was 'it was never going to happen!' She went on to prove that teacher wrong!

Betty Campbell not only went on to be a teacher, she became the first Black headteacher in Wales. She was a trailblazer in Education and Community in Butetown, Cardiff.

This recording offers an insight into her remarkable life, legacy and all that she accomplished for her school, her community and for multi-culturalism.

According to Michelle and Rachel, their Nan had a 'clear vision on what equality looks like.' This entailed the importance of representation in the positions of power. One has to have a seat at the table to make decisions. Betty Campbell made sure she was at the head of table. As they put it, 'Nan was the boss!'

The cousins emphasise that their Nan was a pioneer for Black History Month. She made it her mission to promote the experiences of Black people and their contributions to British society through education. She also got involved in local politics by becoming an Independent Councillor. Originally, she planned on being a candidate for the Labour party in the local elections, but she was not selected. Undeterred, she decided to run as an Independent and, of course, she won! The words 'no' or 'can’t' were certainly not in her vocabulary.

Michelle and Rachel discuss their Nan's legacy [BL REF C1500/21254]

This then is the public face of Betty Campbell - head teacher, pioneer, councillor, trailblazer - but there are also the intimate memories of family moments.

Betty Campbell was not a very good cook. She also took terrible photographs, never waiting for anyone to be ready. No posing for her!

She loved singing in the choir.

She loved to travel and she made friends everywhere. Her granddaughter Michelle laughs at the memory of them all going to Canada to stay with people her grandmother had recently met in Butetown. For the cousins she was 'young at heart,' despite her advancing age.

As the cousins reminisce, they constantly say that they could not have progressed in their respective careers if it had not been for their Nan.

'I wouldn’t be the person I was if it was not for Nan,' says Michelle.

Nan gave them the confidence to pursue their dreams and destinies and the strength to navigate the constant challenges that they encountered in their daily lives.

Indeed, one of Betty Campbell’s mantras was, 'if you want something you have to go out and get it,' and she definitely did!

Betty’s achievements have earned her a spot among the 100 Great Black Britons; her place certainly deserved.

Betty Campbell left a lasting legacy for her family and the community.

---

Sandra A. Agard is storyteller, writer, playwright, poet, cultural historian, and author of children’s books including, ‘Trailblazers: Harriet Tubman’ and ‘Amazing Women in Black History’. Sandra is a member of the British Library staff CRED Network and Learning Facilitator.

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. Since 2012, people have been invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC, and archived by the British Library. You can listen to over a thousand of the recordings in full through British Library Sounds. You can also learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website.

The British Library is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Celebrating Beryl Gilroy which explores highlights from the archive of Beryl Agatha Gilroy, one of London's first Black headteachers. You can explore the free exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at our St Pancras site until 26 June 2022.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

04 April 2022

Recording of the week: Elvis on our minds for half a century

This week's selection comes from Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer (Digital Multimedia Collections).

Elvis image'45 RPM Elvis Presley Separate Ways b/w Always On My Mind' by A.Currell. Creative Commons attribution CC BY-NC 2.0.

Fifty years ago, on 29 March 1972, Elvis Presley recorded the single Always On My Mind. Despite only reaching number nine in the charts, in 2013 it was voted the UK's all-time favourite Elvis song. Last year during the lockdown, The Listening Project brought together two strangers who both perform as Elvis tribute acts. In their long discussion, Tony and Sal cover everything from their first introductions to The King, experiences with audiences, and the commercialisation of Graceland. Both enjoy celebrating the legacy of Elvis Presley and bringing his music to new audiences. In this clip they discuss some of their own favourite songs and eras of Elvis.

Elvis tribute acts discuss their favourite songs [BL REF 1500/2177]

Download transcript

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. Since 2012, people have been invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC, and archived by the British Library. You can listen to over a thousand of the recordings in full through British Library Sounds. You can also learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

06 October 2020

What if your home had ears?

We have all spent much more time at home since coronavirus abruptly changed our daily lives this spring. Perhaps, like me, you’ve paid more attention to the sounds within your house - the whistle of the kettle, the clack of the keyboard, the grumble of bored children, the chirp of birds outside. I’ve also been contemplating how we occupy our domestic space: who cooks and washes up, where do children play, which creatures live in and near our home and how has this changed within our own lifetimes? For the new British Library web resource, If Homes Had Ears we have delved into the vast treasures of the Library’s Sound Archive to explore the sonic landscape of the home. Key to this resource are the voices and memories of people speaking about home life over the last 140 years. We invite you to open your ears, draw back the curtains, and listen, discuss and reflect upon what makes a home.

If Homes Had Ears is grouped into five areas found in most homes: the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room and the garden. There are three discursive and thought-provoking articles for each space, and the web resource features over 70 fascinating audio clips to intrigue the listener. We hope the sound clips we will be a springboard for reflection and discussion and will provoke the listener to think of their own experiences.

Homepage for If Homes Had Ears showing articles list
Homepage for If Homes Had Ears showing articles list

No web resource on the home can ever cover all types of experience, but we have worked hard to try and ensure a variety of voices and sounds from different UK regions and nations, and stories from people who have migrated to the UK. We have included examples of different social-economic situations, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, genders and time periods. The oldest recording is a 1911 edition of the popular song ‘When Father Papered the Parlour’, but we also explore the memories of a Welsh seamstress recalling her childhood in the 1880s. The most recent material was recorded in spring 2020 on memories of gardening.

I love this clip of Marjorie Atkinson describing the scullery in her family’s home in the North East of England in the 1920s:

Marjorie Atkinson describes the scullery

Download Transcript – Marjorie Atkinson on the scullery in her childhood home

What would children today make of the scullery in Marjorie’s home? In contrast, what might be the reaction of listeners from older generations to sisters Yasmin and Lana speaking in 2015 about sharing a bedroom?

Yasmin and Lana on sharing a bedroom

Download Transcript – Yasmin and Lana Coe describe sharing a bedroom

In this extract Immunologist Dr Donald Palmer recalls the front room of his family’s home in London, a space of great importance to his parents who had migrated from Jamaica in the 1960s:

Donald Palmer describes the front room

Download Transcript – Donald Palmer describes the front room

For each room we have created a short montage of audio clips, brilliantly animated by students from the London College of Communication, who have responded to these audio soundscapes creatively and with sensitivity. Here is Jachym’s animation of the sounds of the kitchen:

Download Transcript – The Kitchen

There is plenty of family friendly material (my children have been singing ‘Beans, beans good for the heart’ for weeks!), but we have not shied away from difficult topics too – as the home is not always a place of happy memories. In this extract Tricia Thorpe describes an incident when she was resident in a psychiatric unit as a teenager in the 1980s:

Tricia Thorpe describes an incident in the psychiatric unit

Download Transcript – Tricia Thorpe's experience of living in High Royds Psychiatric Hospital

There are also clips discussing menstruation, abortion, aging, family structures in the LGTBQ communities and funeral rites. Where we feature this more challenging content, this is flagged in both the introduction to the clips and the audio item descriptions, so that listeners (and their teachers or caregivers) can decide whether listening is appropriate.

This resource has been over two years in the making and is part of the 5 year Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It has been a true collaboration led by Mary Stewart (Oral History), Holly Gilbert (Digital and Multimedia Collections), Harriet Roden and Charmaine Wong (both from the Learning Team) with invaluable input from Megan Steinberg (former Learning Assistant), Chandan Mahal (Learning Projects Manager) and latterly Yrja Thorsdottir (Learning Team). Enormous thanks to colleagues from all across the Sound Archive for content suggestions and the support of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Intellectual Property Team, Web and Learning Teams. The greatest thanks, as always, must go to the speakers, sound recordists, performers and musicians – as without them there would no sounds in our archive to unlock.

Blogpost by Mary Stewart, Curator of Oral History.

05 October 2020

Recording of the week: We’re gonna be parents!

This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

C1500 0776 David and Mairead

Husband and wife, David and Mairead, are expecting a baby any minute now! Mairead is already in labour and they came across the Listening Project booth while taking a stroll through a park near the hospital as a distraction from Mairead’s contractions. They decided to stop and record a conversation in this liminal moment while waiting for their baby to appear.

David and Mairead (BL REF C1550/776)

They reflect on their experience of pregnancy and look forward to being parents with both excitement and trepidation. They discuss which words they will use for ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, while referring to their baby as ‘cub’, and reflect on a future of feeling more and more out-of-date as their child grows up.

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between David and Mairead can be found on British Library Sounds.

Follow @CollectingSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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