How can young people help older generations reveal the stories of our past?

Alfred Chung, Family Team Leader, Wai Yin Society
Ahead of our BAME-led funding event in Oldham this week, Alfred Chung, Wai Yin Society, reflects on the experience of running his intergenerational oral history and research project Happiness and Joy.

Chinese culture, festivals and project inspiration

Festivals play an important part in Chinese culture, with some dating back over 2,000 years. 

While the Chinese New Year is widely celebrated, young Chinese people know much less about the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and its relevance in Chinese culture. Falling each September, it celebrates the full moon at harvest time and the traditional belief in the love story between a hero, Hou Yi, who saved the harvest, and his wife, Change’e.

Nowadays, the festival is celebrated with family reunions, circular moon cakes, incense sticks, lion dances and the making and lighting of lanterns which have become the symbol of the festival.

Find out more about the festival

Working with young people

The Wai Yin Society has worked for many years with young people and has found that, despite its prominence in Chinese culture, younger generations were not aware of the importance of the Mid-Autumn festival. To change this, we set up the Happiness and Joy at Mid-Autumn Moon Festival project, thanks to a £30,200 HLF grant. During the project, young people discovered the roots and history of the Festival and the costumes and objects that form part of the celebrations. They also interviewed older members of the community about their memories of celebrating the festival - for many this was in China - and the differences they see today.

Support from HLF

Wai Yin received a lot of support from the HLF development team when we applied for this project including a pre-application meeting and invaluable guidance on the details of our project. In delivery, our Grant Officer was always on hand to answer questions and provide flexibility on altering the usage of the grant when the programme faced difficulties.

Oral history interviews – lessons learnt

One of the issues the young people faced was discovered during the interview process.

They wanted to find out if the experiences of celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival were different in the UK when compared to China. 

Many of the interviewees talked about their journeys from China to Manchester - yet while their stories were interesting, the young people felt that they veered from the main topic of the Festival. Our external review consultant felt that this would have been different if the interviewers amended their questions to ask about experiences in China first, then Manchester.

Building intergenerational links

“It challenged my stereotypes of teenagers. I really enjoyed talking to them.”

The project broke down barriers between younger and older generations. As one of our older participants said: “I enjoyed talking to the youth. Initially I resisted. Eventually I found that their skills needed to be improved. I found that they respected me as a senior, they were approachable, and it challenged my stereotypes of teenagers. I really enjoyed talking to them.”

Reducing the communication gap between generations was something we were very proud of. This gap is often caused by a lack of understanding, with some older people stuck in a traditional and protective mindset, while younger people experience things differently with new advances and changes in societal values. Projects like this can encourage generations to talk about their experiences, encouraging understanding of each other’s beliefs and ideas.

Project successes

“We forget that it is our parents and grandparents that were involved in parts of history and experienced these moments first hand.”

Despite the issues with the interviews, the project was deemed very successful by all, especially the dramatic performance which was performed at a celebratory event to coincide with the Festival. Researched and scripted by the young people, it was thoroughly enjoyed by all, including the older people who had been interviewed as part of the project. Some expressed a wish to take a more active part in the drama, which we hadn’t anticipated!

We hope that we can deliver a similar project again in the future. Quite often, we forget that it is our parents and grandparents who were directly involved in history. In future projects like this, we would encourage even more involvement from our older generations.

Our top three tips for other applicants

  • Consult with your service users to make sure the project is what they want
  • Budget for travel and snacks to encourage those who live far away or plan for evening sessions
  • Be flexible and understanding of your participants' circumstances. Some of our young people were carers for family members

We have greatly enjoyed delivering this project and we are eternally grateful to HLF for their support and encouragement. It is important that we keep our past and our heritage alive, and it is equally important that we share it with others in our local community.

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