Walton Warm & Toasty

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If you were trying to think of the ideal location for hosting the Warm and Toasty Club then Havencroft Court in Walton-on-the-Naze would probably present itself to you.

The Tuesday Memory Afternoon with Johnno and the charming residents was certainly warm. The toast wasn’t quite burnt, but the early September humidity meant that it was well done.

Which is a bit like the conclusion a couple of hours later after some shared memories, smiles and ginger-nut biscuits.

Well done all, etc.

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And so the Warm and Toasty journey continues. Having explored some of the memories of the more mature members of the Colchester community, Johnno and the team are now heading out to Coast to Coast over the coming months.

This means being very kindly invited into independent living accommodation such as Havencroft Court, and then entertaining and working with the residents to hopefully create something quite beautiful.

If you are searching for the Warm and Toasty blueprint, then it is all about bringing people together and using the growing confidence in the room to remember life stories, and then to simply enjoy the many personal achievements that have been made over the decades.

Tuesday started with a random rendition of Fly Me to the Moon. This definitely wasn’t part of the Warm and Toasty script, but it certainly hit the spot as the dozen or so ladies attending all joined in – word perfect as well.

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The conversation then turned towards cushions. It was concluded that this most definitely isn’t a generational thing. The only distinguishing feature for a cushion fancier is the length of your legs.

Chairs were pulled up, cushions were fluffed.

It was now time to tell some tales.

Johnno tried to lay down the ground rules. He had all the authority of a Head Teacher at a school where discipline doesn’t form part of the curriculum. In short: feel free to contribute anything whenever you want; we are hear to share and learn.

A brief scan around the room and you could see some of the mischief in the eyes of the residents starting to glow. These ladies had stories; come the end of the session and you couldn’t but help think that there was some more stored up glorious mischief that can tempted out in future weeks.

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The opening topic of ‘the first time’ was introduced. One of the ladies let out a very audible giggle.

Johnno was keen to hear about the first time that anything significant happened in the lives of the ladies of Havencroft Court: their first job, first dance, first car, first friend, or the first meal they cooked.

We heard about childhood tales of Wartime evacuation from the East End out to Norfolk.

“I had never seen the countryside.”

This rural scene then shifted back to the East End and a factory production line for the first job for one of the residents. Johnno was able to draw out the detail so that you felt that you were actually next on the production line, all ready to continue with the team work.

Some of the other observations put across a very palatable sense of the occasion:

“Rice pudding and jam – I will never forget that.”

It soon became clear that there was an age variance within the room. You should never ask a lady her age, but the openness during the session led to plenty of self-declarations.

Whilst some of the residents were being evacuated to Norfolk, others had yet to be born. This meant that the Memory Afternoon session wasn’t stuck in a singular time warp. A story was told, and then updated by a younger friend, explaining how their experience differed over a decade or so later.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of the session was simply the power of conversation. These are residents that live very close to one another and share in many daily activities. Yet here they were, finding out some of the life secrets from folk whom they already consider as a very close friend.

Some of the best stories came from the social, rather than the world of work.

“Saturday afternoon dancing at the Tottenham Royal and bunking into White Hart Lane!”

The young of today really haven’t lived.

“I miss the London buses.”

Now there’s something that you are unlikely to hear outside Liverpool Street station during the morning rush hour in 2016.

We heard tales of a what seemed like a unique West Ham roundabout.

“It looked like a horse and cart. You sat on the roundabout, and then the horse towed you around.”

Alton Towers should investigate such a ride for the new season.

The rag ‘n’ bone man, the muffin man and the fancy man. It was all enough to want to exit Walton and travel back in time to reference the ‘progress’ that we now find ourselves living in.

A beautiful story was shared by one resident about her childhood growing up in army camp:

“My first toy was a painted wooden butterfly. It was made for me by an Italian prisoner of war.”

The location then shifted to Ireland and stories of rural life and growing up on a farm. Harvest time seemed like hard work – even for the children.

A an incredibly personal story then followed, describing a childhood illness and the memory of the man that saved the young girl.

Meanwhile, back in London and one residents managed to hold something back about her time working the old GPO switchboard at Moorgate:

“I will have to stop there. I have signed the Official Secrets Act…”

And so that was the ‘formal’ first half of the Havencroft Court Memory Afternoon.

It was thirsty work, all of this memory sharing. Tea and biscuits then followed.

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Elvis, Perry Como and then more conversations characterised the second half of the afternoon.

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Johnno supplied the vinyl, the residents came up with the memories. A selection of historical Essex books also drew out a few stories. The share and share alike ethos was returned with some residents proudly having a Show and Tell with some of their personal artefacts that they kindly volunteered to be viewed.

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And so that was just one of the Warm and Toasty Memory Afternoons at Havencroft Court. Much like the stories themselves, these take time to develop. Trust needs to be built up to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable.

This project is working towards a final show. You don’t need to guess who the stars will be.

Warm and Toasty memories are made of this.

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