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Panel discussion with Nina Mdwaba and Our Croydon elders

This conversation took place at Talawa Theatre Company’s Studio as part of a special screening of Legacy, a film by Nina Mdwaba. The discussion is chaired by Co-Curator and Co-Producer Lehni Lamide Davies and features participants of the film and community workshops.

Image Credit: Nina Mdwaba, Amina Jama, Shashi Parekh

Lehni Lamide Davies: Welcome - I would like everyone to introduce themselves.

Nina Mdwaba: Hi, I'm Nina Mdwaba. I directed this film and also was the dramatherapist delivering community workshops with the participants. I feel like I've gotten to know them really well and it's been a special experience.

Polin: Hi, my name is Polin. Everyone knows me as Pauline, but I'm not actually Pauline. I just go along with it because I can't be bothered. I decided to reveal my real name to Talawa Theatre when I came to the workshops. I thought it would suit better with a theatre, you know. Polin.  

At one stage I thought, what am I supposed to be doing? What is it all about? As the weeks went on, something kept pulling me here and I ended up coming and I am really pleased I did.

And tonight, wow.

Marie: Hello, my name is Marie Williams. When I got the workshop invitation, it said, ‘elderly people of Croydon’, and you know I said to myself, ‘I know I'm ageing, but I didn't know I fell into the elderly persons category’. I took no offence though, but it was interesting how people viewed me.

I remembered Talawa from all the things they used to produce. So I emailed Regina [Agard-Braithwaite, Talawa Theatre] Community Engagement Assistant, and I told her my age. I asked if I was too old for this project? And she said, no, you're welcome. 

I didn’t know what to expect but now I’ve done things I’d never have done before. 

Heather: I came on an invitation from Marie. We both have an interest in writing and I'm sort of on a journey of producing short stories. Marie told me, well, there's this place, you must come and see what it's like. So I did.

Through the workshops, I developed an interest in photography. One of the photographs that advertised [the Our Croydon project] was actually taken by me. It's of the giraffe sculpture in Croydon’s town centre and a little girl. There are lots of things about it that I'm particularly fond of. You know, the smallness, the bigness, the light, the dark. I'm really proud of that. For someone who's never actually held a camera before, that was a revelation.

Cliff: Well, what can I say? First of all, I have a confession to make. My name is officially George Blackwood, but I detest the name George, so you only hear me referred to as Cliff Blackwood.

Another confession, I am not a resident of Croydon. I made this clear initially, because I thought this was all going to be about Croydon and people who live and work or have some ‘real’ connection with Croydon. I thought, well, it's not going to be for me, but I was welcomed.

It's been a journey, as it has been for all of us, I'm sure. But it's been worthwhile, and indeed even more so having seen the film and the response and the number of people who are here to share it with us. I'm extremely proud and grateful.

Patricia: I am Patricia Learmond. When I first joined the workshops, I was so far out of my comfort zone. But I decided to see it through and kept coming each week. My favourite session was working with Lehni and Jeremiah [Brown, commissioned artist] at Stanley Arts. We were given 20 mins to interview each other. You can learn so much about someone in that time.

It's been a journey, and I must say, it was out of my comfort zone, but I'm glad I saw it through. I've enjoyed working with Lehni, Nina, Jeremiah, and just socialising with each other. I've enjoyed it.

Aeion: Good evening all. My name's Aeion. Though sometimes it doesn't matter what you call me. My dad never got my name right. And in fact, I think one of the characteristics of being Jamaican is that you can mispronounce people's names, call it what you want. Certainly if you're the older generation Jamaican.

Anyway, all that aside, I became aware of this project at an Association of Jamaicans coffee morning meeting. A’ishah [Waheed, Talawa Theatre, Community Engagement Producer] came along and told us about the project and initially it sounded exciting to those of us who are into storytelling, and felt they had something to share.

When we began the sessions, it was kind of amazing and it left us a bit puzzled as to how they were going to get these stories out of us, and what we let ourselves in for. 

Lehni: Thank you everyone. Nina, can you share the process that led to the film?

Nina: The journey was less structured and more organic. It stemmed from a conversation I had with Lehni. We were thinking about what we were aiming towards. I wanted to find a way to honour these stories and Lehni called me one day and I don't know who said it first, but one of us said film. We probably said it together.

At the time, I was the dramatherapist on the project. Lehni and Cecilia [Wee, Co-Curator and Co-Producer for Our Croydon] were very open to me making the film, and the rest is history. It was really about honouring the stories of the participants. There were many amazing personalities and energies in the space and we really wanted to capture that in a film as something that could be archived and could remain for present and future generations.

Lehni: To give some context, the process took over twelve weeks of workshopping. Sometimes we had smaller groups and sometimes we had bigger groups. We brought in incredible artists. One of whom, Jeremiah Brown, led a beautiful workshop on photography and storytelling, and then also gave cameras to some of our participants to make images. Some of those images were featured in the exhibition at Croydon Clocktower.

We also had felix taylor [commissioned artist], who is a composer and sound artist. felix led a workshop on deep listening, sound making and graphic scores. There were a lot of different creative activities going on in the space. 

When I look at you all as participants, I'd love to find out what your thoughts were about all that creativity happening, and what resonated with you, or surprised you.

Marie: For me, it was the session that was run by felix. We got a chance to bring in our favourite music, talk about our favourite song, and why it was so special, what memories are evoked. We played Nat King Cole, When Will I See You Again, all those 70s singers, you know.

And then felix said, we're going to look at the composer, Samuel Coleridge Taylor. And you know, he's classical music. I don't like classical music. It's very boring and it's sad. And I can find a million reasons why I didn't like it. But as we went along, felix asked us to get a piece of paper, and when you hear the music, you make certain graphic designs, what it represents for you. 

I’d never done this before. I thought, what am I going to put on my paper? And then he taught us about deep listening, looking at abstract sounds. And I must admit, when it was time to draw, I took a little while to start and I looked over at a few people's paper, I said, okay, they have done a squiggly thing, let me put a squiggly thing. And then I said to myself, just listen to the music and do your own thing.

When I went home, I said to my husband, ‘do you know, I have a different outlook now on classical music!’ I even went as far as to go on the computer and find some. So, from then I've been listening to classical music and really, really appreciating it.

Lehni: That’s amazing.

Patricia: In the final workshop, we had to bring something in to draw. I brought my granddaughter's christening gown. They were all saying that I was showing off because I could really draw. I was one of the best at drawing with my christening gown. And I think it was Aeion saying, ‘Oh, Patricia, you're just a show off because you can draw.’

Aeion: Well, I admit, the one thing I cannot do is draw.

I can write, I like writing, and some of the sessions that appealed to me were those that involved poetry and other forms of literature. And I enjoyed learning about Samuel Coleridge Taylor and some of the trials he had to go through.

To tell the truth, I enjoyed every one of the sessions, but I'm that kind of person. I try to find some enjoyment in whatever I do.

In the sessions, we learned so much about each other. There's so many things that resonate. We can't tell them all, you know, but this is a start, and I think it's a very good start.

Lehni: Thank you so much for sharing about your process. This project was also an archiving project. We had a few archiving sessions, and I wanted to find out from you all what you discovered.

Nina: We went to Black Cultural Archives as well as the Croydon Museum and we had some wonderful sessions, looking at all sorts, from Game Boys, to books, dolls, magazines. Things that we may take for granted and think are mundane and boring. Those things signify when someone lived. And, I think that became the catalyst for this film.

The next session was interviewing each other just to hear each other's thoughts, attempting to use all the different styles of archiving that we were taught. So there was a creative means, which Patricia spoke about - taking an item that was already kind of representative of something that was important to you. Taking a picture of that because we looked at pictures as being a form of archiving. And realising that the story in that picture was so important. You've spoken about your granddaughter's christening and that's something I really wanted to capture in the film because it was such a special moment to hear you talk about it in the session.

We had Polin's objects which we heard so much about. Every time the Prefect tie story came up, everyone would gather around Polin. We had these moments of sharing artefacts, photos, writings and objects that were sacred to us as a community, but also felt like they could be sacred to other people. It represents the time we spent together and for future generations to see that there's these amazing people who make Croydon, who live in Croydon, whose lives breathe energy into Croydon.

Lehni: Thank you. I want to ask about the archiving sessions of Black Cultural Archives and with the Museum of Croydon. What stands out?  

Heather: It surprised me, the sorts of things that would be in archives, really. You wouldn't imagine that things like dolls and minutes of meetings and all the things that really affected our lives are actually archives.

Also, we have access to this. Council meetings that talked about immigrants or schools, our education system. These are all archives. So I was really surprised by what was being archived. It makes me ask, who are the archivists? 

Lehni: Really great question. Thank you.

The central question that was running through right from probably the middle, session five or six, was this question of legacy. “What is my legacy?” Which you started the film with. It fed into everything. It fed into the artists’ work. It fed into our experiences as curators and producers. So I'm going to ask you... to share for us what you hope the legacy of this film would be as we close tonight.

Polin: It's great to find out, to think about what is our legacy, what is my legacy? I have discovered my legacy through this project. I was sitting on it. Whatever you choose can be your legacy. Whatever turns you on, that is your legacy. And my legacy right now is my children, my grandchildren, stories from my school days, whatever I can bring out and open up to others and share, that will be my legacy.

I'm so glad that this project has brought this out of me. It took me out of myself. Things I've been taking for granted, not knowing that I could even share the prefect tie. I thought, what's all that about? Put it away. But it came back out and helped me to realise I have a lot to share. 

Marie: I pondered it for a while. And I was thinking that, you know, the legacy that we leave behind, should have an impact.

Each time I think about legacy and Croydon. So many negative things have been happening in Croydon on a daily basis. Hopefully, it won't always be like this because when I came to live in Croydon, Croydon was never like this. It was peaceful. You could get a nice house to buy at a reasonable price, you know, your neighbours were friendly. Everything was all right.

So I say the legacy is what we have done here. The community we’ve built. The younger generation can look at the things that we have done, even on the film, and the things we have spoken about.

Croydon can be good. It will one day be good again. It is just going through a little rough time now, but it can get better. It will get better. We have to live in that hope and that's what I hope for. Getting better, living better, restoring Croydon to its former glory.

We tend to think of our legacy in terms of our children and our grandchildren and for me, I think it's about what you've contributed and how you feel in Croydon. I must say I've travelled around quite a bit in this country but when I come back to Croydon I always feel as if I'm at home, you know, despite the difficulties.

I know we've had lots of difficulties recently. It got so bad that I remember I was on a course, and I said I was from Croydon, and everyone sort of laughed as if, Oh, gosh, that's such a terrible place, you know. Why, why would you want to live in Croydon? 

Now it's about shifting that focus. I think the film and what we've done so far, hopefully does that. I'm very much interested in education and learning. And I think there's still a lot of learning to be done. And perhaps we need to learn from the past as well as prepare for the future. 

Cliff: Legacy. What does it mean? It means a lot, and it means everything to everyone. I don't particularly see anything specific about my legacy. What I find inspiring is that I've lived through, like people of my age, all sorts of changes. We've seen more changes in our generation than I think any other has, or likely to see.

I often say to myself, well, what am I doing? What have I done that I would consider to be a legacy? Well, I'm going to be quite simplistic about this. Everything.

I feel that if our generation is able to pass on the experiences that we've had and the devices that we've used in order to overcome them, it will enable future generations to develop for themselves the necessary skills in order to take this legacy that we're leaving them forward. That's the only thing I can wish for.

I’d like to leave you with a sentence out of two letter words: If it is to be, it is up to me. Thank you.

Patricia: I would say my legacy is my daughter and my grandchildren and also the Association of Jamaicans UK coffee morning ladies. I enjoy being at coffee morning. I would say, yes, that's my legacy and also Croydon is my legacy.

Aeion: I would hope that anybody seeing this film, particularly younger people would see a group of elderly people sitting down talking about their experiences, and not just crying despair. The idea is to encourage. Every generation faces difficulties, and every generation has a way to overcome. So I would hope that the legacy of this film is that it started something where a community can come together and think about the ways in which they've overcome things and worked together.

I think that when people hear these different points, I would hope that it challenges their thinking and gets them into action one way or another, because that's life. You don't achieve if you don't try. So do try a thing. Whether you're in doubt or in hesitation, try a thing, consult your elders.

Nina: There's something so beautiful, important and crucial about intergenerational conversations. There's so much to learn from our elders. I come from a culture where it's very much encouraged to sit with your elders, have conversations, see what they think.

And I think similarly, it goes the other way as well. I think there's things that this generation has to teach as well. I hope that the legacy for t
his film is more intergenerational conversations. And respecting tradition, respecting elders. When you have respect, you have connection. There's something quite special about having these relationships intergenerationally, because we're all people with different life experiences and, hopefully, we can continue to see different perspectives and be open. I hope this film encourages that.

Lehni: Thank you all so much for listening and for being present.

Our Croydon was a project led by Talawa Theatre Company in partnership with Museum of Croydon and Stanley Arts, part of London Borough of Culture.

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