The power of volunteering! We caught up with some of The Barking Stink volunteer team
Like many of our projects, volunteers are playing a key role in The Barking Stink - a scented heritage project that we are currently running with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Our team of nine volunteers have been involved in a range of different activities and tasks, from researching stenches and stinks from Barking’s past in the archives to carrying out their first oral history interviews. They’ve attended heritage technology hacks, searched thousands of photos, helped to facilitate reminiscence sessions with local older people, and enjoyed plenty of tea and cake along the way. We asked some of our volunteers about their experiences so far…
What are you enjoying most about being a volunteer for The Barking Stink?
It's great being part of The Barking Stink team. So much of interest to uncover, in order to preserve it for posterity. The area itself is currently under massive regeneration and development so needs must. Researching archives is truly enlightening. Without the past we would not have the present which we enjoy today
- Melody Cohen, volunteer and Barking & Dagenham University of the 3rd Age member
I enjoyed learning the skills about doing oral history and I do look forward to interviewing people to collect their interesting stories not only for this project, but also for the other projects in the future! And the most precious things that I have gained from this project is the time of working with older volunteers. It was enjoyable to listen to them sharing about their lives and experiences!
- Jamie Cho, heritage and museum studies student and volunteer
It’s been great fun working with other volunteers and heritage professionals. Even though I have lived in the Borough for 32 years, I have learnt so much about the hidden industrial history and lives of Barking residents. It has inspired me to seek out other history projects to get involved in as a volunteer
What have you learnt and discovered as a volunteer?
Being permitted to view original historical documents is a privilege. Such beautiful handwritten pen and ink script. Of course new skills are being learned. Good for the old grey cells! One of the most amazing realisations, for me personally, is that people long gone had the foresight to record the events of the time as well as storing them. To see life as it was and is has managed to hook me in well and truly.
- Melody Cohen
Aside from the odd thing of researching smells using a computer, sometimes while looking for one thing you get side-tracked into an additional rich vein of information and off you go down that side track. One of these was The British Newspaper Archive’s reports from the early 20th century. Whilst researching, I found some very bizarre and curious headlines that made me chuckle, including cautionary tales involving cabbages, ‘Death caused by laughing from pantomime’ and ‘Died from eating too many sweets’!
- Bill Onwusah
“The most remarkable story I have found is the sinking of Princess Alice. For one thing, the collision of two ships caused high casualties; for another, I have never imagined that polluted water can directly cost people’s lives. In Hong Kong, the worst case for releasing sewage I can think of would be people eating the contaminated fish and getting sick.”
“I’ve learnt lots of research skills such as scanning photos and maps and the skills to undertake oral history collection. I have been so impressed by the range and scale of material held in the archives at Valence House. A most horrid discovery was the reports of people fishing in the sewage in the Thames with nets to recover the accumulated fats (known as Thames Mud Butter)!”
Would you recommend getting involved as a volunteer to others?
I really like the morale of our team, in which everyone of us is so keen and enthusiastic about learning and helping re-present the disappearing Barking history. Whenever I met the other volunteers, I was deeply motivated to work harder. So, if you’re also a passionate person, you must get involved in The Barking Stink!
- Jamie Cho
There has been a great level of guidance, friendship and support from other team members and of course our leader, project manager Nikki, without whom none of this would be possible. To all reading this, get out there and do something!
- Melody Cohen