Time was when

Time was when every house smelt of cabbage.

So may times I’ve gone along to a reminiscence project expecting to find a group of chuckling Londoners telling stories about the olden days. It’s never like that. It’s always Up Your Street characters with a sprinkling of other possibly press-ganged others who are no way sociable and never want to share emails. Then there are the group facilitators who whilst  managing interns who spend much of their time doing filing online take on the role of history teachers with social consciences. What do I learn? Everything that’s Googlable.

I’ve been to disorganised, student unfriendly Archives, community centres whose staff never engage with anyone, been verbally abused, been invisible, been patronised and been ignored. Yep, happens to the best of us.

Many canny Up Your Street people who have always called a spade a spade and not been hampered by diplomacy do insist on free tea at meets or workshops in community centres/hubs because they know that they are just being used to do the workload of interns. There isn’t any payment available except in tea. Lately I was at an heritage project where we were told blatantly that the volunteers aka project participants were there to do the hard-slog research for the academics. So we didn’t: we didn’t go back.

Lottery Heritage money funds these pretend community- engagement projects. Pretend communities.

After the stint of time, after the paper fliers and tweeted adverts, when the hurly-burley’s done, there is never any continuation. Everything is done and dusted. No-one is invited to share their experience in the form of a written review. Obviously evaluation sheets are filled in but they’re designed cleverly so that cracks never form. For myself, I need to know I got some fruit from my taking part so am compelled to carry on researching. That initiative is neither recognised nor welcome. A real history teacher would encourage interest and spark something intellectual.

Heritage is just big business.

It’s all stale now. So when William Morris gave out its advert about whatever today I groaned. Are we nearly there yet?

My new year resolution is clear. Stop going.

Yeah, but I was there.

I went to a  weekly crafting workshop; I was the only participant. So not the first time I’ve been alone, trapped by good manners such that I’d stay until the session end.  In the local paper write-up, you’d think I’d been joined by hundreds.

I went to a poetry workshop and waited for more participants. I read aloud to myself.

I’ve been along to projects, taken along Up Your Street subscribers and then read on websites  how Age UK instead of Up Your Street was credited with rallying the troops. Age UK kept stumm.

Yesterday I went to a Capital Age Festival 2013  free art event and four others came. Six had signed up. Six from a whole Capital’s population, mind you. But I was there. Along came a passing woman with foul breath and matted wig an hour late, took up her scissors and glue and asked what we were doing here. I had asked myself the same but reeled off the usual reminiscence, oral history and coming together in the community mantras.

In the late afternoon I debated with an intelligent octogenarian friend, who’s seen it all,  the quality and definition of the Big Society and saw her disappointment at the fact,  known universally,  that the University of Third Age (U3A) has been taken over by the middle class. Those people who just wanted to stretch their brain without waving an ancient degree certificate are out of the margin of the margin.

Meanwhile in comes the glory of Birkbeck’s pre-degree course in art appreciation specifically targeting people without formal education. To boot, it takes place in Stratford east’s fair city next to The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in a new Birkbeck campus. Imagine. The University faces an annual  recruitment challenge. No Big Society outfit wants to use precious advertising resources promoting another outfit’s enterprises so unless Birkbeck goes overboard into the community no-one will know what’s on offer. That is of course where Up Your Street comes in generously. Last year Up Your Street co-erced  seniors to enrol and pick up bursaries to learn to learn all about art. They make up 50% of the intake.

Get the picture?