What do grandparents do all day?
The other day I went for a walk with my 14-year-old granddaughter, writes Caroline Green of Wetherby u3a.
We were drawing up a family tree with the younger members of the family following a Zoom birthday party with all the extended family.
I suddenly realised that the seven and six-year-olds in the family may not know exactly who everyone was who came to the ‘party’.
We started the project only to find we were right out of rulers so agreed to meet in town to go to the stationers and then decided to go for a walk along by the river for a longer walk in the snow.
We were talking about school and she said how boring everything was, just stuck at home every day, doing her schoolwork.
We chatted about getting back to school and being with her friends again and then she suddenly turned to me and with a look only a 14-year-old can conjure up said ‘What do you and Grandad DO all day Grandma?’
I could hear in her voice that the thought of a life being at home all day every day in normal circumstances is unimaginable.
This simple question made me think about how I have been occupied since I wrote this column in January. I remember talking about community and how important it has become in these times. In the absence of school and the U3A, the place in which we live and the people we share that place with, have taken on a greater importance than ever before.
We have a WhatsApp group in our neighbourhood started last March to support and help each other, and gradually over the last months, more and more people have joined. Lots of chat, neighbourly interaction, jokes and every manner of things comes and goes on an almost daily basis.
One day about three weeks ago I found an old photograph of a street party that had been held many years previously and posted it on the group site.
What followed has completely occupied my time and that of several others in the neighbourhood.
We have collectively set about researching the houses in our neighbourhood, using maps, photographs, deeds, and first-hand memories.
Some people used Ancestry.co.uk while others scoured the 1939 England and Wales Register and findmypast.co.uk and unexpectedly the National Library of Scotland (nls) has a wealth of maps.
This research has generated an extraordinary flow of memories. The telephone has been the starting point, and discussions between neighbours when out walking has produced so much information that we have gathered it all together to make an outline history of our area. Much of the documentation that has been unearthed goes back to the 1850’s with relevant maps and plans.
Of course, there are lots of stories, gossip, and laughter to go with the evidence. What we have achieved collectively is a document in which every house has revealed its own story.
A copy of the completed history will be delivered to each household in our neighbourhood, with the hope that when we are all able to get together once more as a community, we will have lots to talk about rather than COVID-19.
Doing this research has made me realise several things. That the past is important; that it takes time to delve into the past and we have plenty of that so it is an ideal occupation for now; and that having short term projects that can be started and completed within a limited time scale is important for our mental health. It almost does not matter what the project is - ’one man’s medicine in another man’s poison’ according to research by the British Medical Journal, in 2016, based on self-help interventions to improve mental health.
This approach has proved to be a saviour in COVID-19 times, not only for me but for my neighbours who have engaged in this project.
As a result of all this research, the answer to my granddaughter’s question about what I do all day, is to give her a copy of the completed history of our neighbourhood so that she has something tangible to hold on to.