Saturday 9 November 2013


Every Monday I participate in a reminiscence group in North London. It’s part of my apprenticeship, which began with a two-day course as soon as I arrived at the end of September. Pam was kind enough to offer me a place in this scheme, and she also invited Lorenzo to participate.

The students who took part in this course came from the most diverse backgrounds but had a common interest in reminiscence. Some had ample experience in social work; for example, Kate Moffatt, Julia Statman and Darren Gormley work visiting people with dementia who live alone. Kate told me it’s difficult to imagine how many lonely people live in this city, some of them for not having children, others for having their relatives too far away. Others use art as a way or reaching to people: Reena Clare, a sweet girl from Malaysia, uses her amazing drawing skills to illustrate people’s memories and Jo McCauley, who comes from Donegal,  uses music to awaken reminiscence. There were other artists, like Australian documentary maker and storyteller Dvora Liberman or Dutch painter Marenka Gabeler. Marenka has a very special relationship with the preservation of memory, as she’s making a project based on her dear grandma, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives in Holland.

I’d recommend you to visit Marenka’s blog in which you can find more about this beautiful work.

There were other participants I would like to mention here: Genevieve Rudd, Margaret Roberts, Joy Kirkup and specially my friend Christine Novy, a very enterprising woman who came all the way from Canada and who is about to start her own reminiscence group over there.

The second part of the apprenticeship consisted on joining the reminiscence group I have mentioned before. Only Marenka, Julia, Reena, Dvora, Jo and Kate decided to move on to this stage. I must say that I am impressed by the way they manage to make older people feel comfortable. I learn from them every day and I think they’ll become great facilitators.

In the reminiscence group we work together with a group of veterans: Pam and Caroline Baker are the energetic leaders, Sue and Kate also give a hand. Kate started to come to the reminiscence groups as a carer and, when her husband passed away, she continued as a volunteer. Sue always brings delicious homemade cakes for tea. They are joined by Jill and Ciare from Camden carers, the social workers who are the links with the families. And let’s not forget the man of the house, Alex, Pam’s husband, who is a great listener and has the ability of making people feel at ease (he’s also a great photographer).

On the first day, we met the rest of the participants. These are fascinating people with amazing lives to tell. For instance, Hermione, one of the stars in the group, followed the air force operations in Malta during World War II (when I suggested that she had been a spy, she started to giggle). Tom used to work in a brewery, where he met Fay, a remarkable woman with a cockney accent who is also an amateur singer and actress at the age of 77. Lyn used to ride around London in her Vespa when she was 17 and taught a little girl with no arms how to manage herself using her feet. Ludwig was in the commandoes and was (still is) a man who knows how to charm a lady. Lucy left her home at the age of 14 to work as a maid in Dublin. Trudy was evacuated to a farm in Cornwall during the Second World War. This memory cannot leave her. She’s amazed as how vivid it is compared to the sometimes blurry memories of what she did recently. June is an expert dancer.  Shirley is one of the persons who amaze me the most. In the first session, she looked a bit lost, but thanks to reminiscence and the expertise of my fellow apprentice Kate, she’s making incredible progress and now is one of the keenest participants in the group.

What do we do in these sessions? Basically, we help people to remember and share their memories. Each meeting has a topic: childhood, school, my first job, going out, weddings and relationships, etc. Pam suggests different exercises that facilitate the recovery of these memories.  We never ask them questions; we are just there to listen to what comes to their minds. Being able to remember and seeing how the rest of the participants celebrate what they say gives them confidence, and their relatives confirm that they are more open at home and look forward to the sessions. Also, these meetings give members of the same family or friends the opportunity to do something pleasant and rewarding together.

At the beginning I was also a bit lost. I was afraid of not understanding the people, of not knowing how to relate to them. But they made me feel welcome and at ease from the very first moment. Now I look forward to see them every Monday.

Photos: Lorenzo Hernandez                                  


  1. Cuanto más te leo más me doy cuenta de que teníais que estar ahí ahora, Marta. ¡Maravilloso todo lo que estáis viviendo! ¡Enhorabuena!

    1. Qué maravilla tener una seguidora como tú. Un gran abrazo y muchas suerte con los nuevos proyectos de Toastmasters.